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Cliches conservatives say

Like many of us who pontificate for a living, my column-writing colleague Jonah Goldberg apparently toils away in daily frustration that so many people fail to take his political advice.

That would explain his new book, which takes on one of the world's least threatening problems, the political cliches that many people utter as a substitute for original thought.

It is titled "The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas." With a title like that, need I bother to mention that the author is a conservative?

As such, he focuses on the cliches that trouble him most, and they happen to be those that he has heard uttered by liberals. That's sort of like reading Playboy for the articles; it's interesting, but something important is missing.

I do agree that some cliches like "violence never settles anything" need to go, at least until we find a good substitute for the word "never." In fact, history offers many examples of violence settling things, although not always in ways that were expected by its initiators. Vietnam, Iraq and the secession of the Confederacy come immediately to mind.

But the more of Goldberg's book I read, the more appreciation I feel for the pithy power of the bumper-sticker truisms he ridicules.

The author doesn't like "Diversity is strength," either. ("Cool," he writes. "The NBA should have a quota for midgets and one-legged point guards!") Yet without getting into the deep weeds of affirmative action debates, this country has prospered as a result of its mulligan stew of ethnics -- its Pages and Goldbergs, etc., etc. -- and our ability, more often than not, to work together with a sense of common purpose despite our differences.

And surely Goldberg is not serious in his potshots at this old gem: "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Sure, he writes, "if the other man is an idiot." But, so what? An idiot can kill you just as dead as a sane man can. And even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was viewed as a terrorist by those whose segregated way of life he set out to upset.

In fact, I would argue that one person's cliche is another person's wisdom.

To illustrate and offer a bit of balance to what Goldberg has initiated, here are a few of the most annoying cliches, in my view, that I often hear from the political right:

* "We don't solve problems by throwing money at them." Sure. But you don't solve many problems by sucking money out of them, either.

* "Poor people need to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." Easier said than done, my friend. I tried to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and almost tumbled over on my head.

* "Keep the government's hands off of my Medicare." Not easy. You'll have better luck with your bootstraps.

* "Liberals love free speech as long as it supports the left." Unlike conservatives, who love free speech as long as it is does not come from the Quran or the Dixie Chicks.

* "America: Love It Or Leave It." Funny, but I haven't heard that one much since President Obama's election. Can we bring it back?

* "Why are all the news media slanted to the left -- except Fox News?" Maybe Stephen Colbert got it right. He said, "Reality has a liberal bias."

That was a joke. It's not a cliche, yet. But give it time.