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Jonah Goldberg Embarrasses Himself

In his Los Angeles Times column today, the man who styles himself the Churchill of opposition to liberal fascism takes aim at a surprising target.

Here's what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in Sunday's New York Times Magazine: "Frankly I had thought that at the time [Roe vs. Wade] was decided," Ginsburg told her interviewer, Emily Bazelon, "there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of."

The comment, which bizarrely elicited no follow-up from Bazelon or any further coverage from the New York Times -- or any other major news outlet -- was in the context of Medicaid funding for abortion. Ginsburg was surprised when the Supreme Court in 1980 barred taxpayer support for abortions for poor women. After all, if poverty partly described the population you had "too many" of, you would want to subsidize it in order to expedite the reduction of unwanted populations.

Left unclear is whether Ginsburg endorses the eugenic motivation she ascribed to the passage of Roe vs. Wade or whether she was merely objectively describing it.

Goldberg was just getting warmed up in these paragraphs, later adding:

If Ginsburg does see eugenic culling as a compelling state interest, she'd be in fine company on the court. Oliver Wendell Holmes was a passionate believer in such things. In 1915, Holmes wrote in the Illinois Law Review that the "starting point for an ideal for the law" should be the "coordinated human effort ... to build a race."


Unlike Bazelon, I for one would like to know whether Ginsburg believes there were -- or are -- some populations in need of shrinking through abortion and whether she thinks such considerations have any place at the Supreme Court.

And while we're at it, it would be interesting to know what Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor thinks about such things.

Goldberg's style of polite inquiry is something that one must get used to. The man earnestly wants to know, dawg gonnit, whether we will soon have two liberal fascists on the supreme court. Anyway, here, in context, is Ginsburg:

Q: Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid for abortions for poor women?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

This seems pretty clear to me. Ginsburg is saying that the lack of support for Medicaid-funded abortions surprised her because she assumed that unnamed people or groups would have wanted certain populations (i.e. the poor) to have more abortions. Considering that the main impetus behind forbidding Medicaid abortions came from the right, Ginsburg's "surprise" obviously refers to her realization that the right-wing did not want greater access to abortions for the downtrodden. Now, I know nothing about this subject, and I am far from knowledgeable about whether Ginsburg's assessment is fair (even she admits it was wrong!). But it is perfectly obvious that she is making a point that has nothing to do with Goldberg's article.

This leads to a more interesting topic. I had a drink with a conservative writer in Washington a while back who rolled his eyes at the mention of Goldberg's book. My drinking buddy stated that he and many other conservatives believed 'Liberal Fascism' was rather amusing and ridiculous. I was heartened--behind Goldberg's back, after all, even staunch right-wingers thought his thesis was a joke. But then it occured to me that the joke might be on the rest of us. Goldberg is a rather clever guy, and so I chalk up his decision to write 'Liberal Fascism' to purely financial motives. This column is just more evidence for my thesis. Again, Goldberg is not stupid; what are the odds that he happened to (grossly) misread a column in a manner that perfectly fits with the argument of his book? Hell, maybe he will even sell a few more copies today. Throwing away one's credibility might be short-sighted or sad, but who says it is not profitable?

Update: Upon reflection, I don't think I should have used an anonymous conversation to help make my point about Goldberg. Although I still stand by my argument, the anonymous conversation is not something he can refute, let alone reply to. And it was a mistake to include that in my post.

--Isaac Chotiner