Jonah Goldberg

The only good conservative is a dead conservative.

That, in a nutshell, describes the age-old tradition of liberals suddenly discovering that once-reviled conservatives were OK after all. It's just we-the-living who are hateful ogres, troglodytes and moperers.

Over the last decade or so, as the giants of the founding generation of modern American conservatism have died, each has been rehabilitated into a gentleman-statesman of a bygone era of conservative decency and open-mindedness.

Barry Goldwater was the first. A few years ago his liberal granddaughter produced a documentary in which nearly all of the testimonials were from prominent liberals like Hillary Clinton and James Carville. Almost overnight, the man whom LBJ cast as a hate-filled demagogue who would condemn the world to nuclear war became an avuncular and sage grandfather type. Down the memory hole went one of the most despicable campaigns of political demonization in American history. Even Sarah Palin hasn't been subjected to an ad in the New York Times signed by more than 1,000 psychiatrists claiming she's too crazy to be president (though I don't want to give anybody any ideas).

Then there was William F. Buckley, the founder of National Review, the magazine I call home. For more than four decades, Buckley was subjected to condemnation for his alleged extremism. Jack Paar (the Johnny Carson/Jay Leno of his day for you youngsters) was among the first of many to try to paint Buckley as a Nazi. Now, Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the New York Times book review section, who is writing a biography of Buckley, insists that Bill's life mission was to make liberalism better.

But it's Ronald Reagan who really stands out. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth, the Gipper is enjoying yet another status upgrade among liberals. Barack Obama took a Reagan biography with him on his vacation. A slew of liberals and mainstream journalists (but I repeat myself) complimented Obama's State of the Union address as "Reaganesque." Time magazine recently featured the cover story "Why Obama (Hearts) Reagan." Meanwhile, the usual suspects are rewriting the same columns about how Reagan was a pragmatist who couldn't run for president today because he was too nice, too reasonable, too (shudder) liberal for today's Republican Party.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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