WHEELING - This year's presidential election is shaping up to be "almost indisputably the ugliest election of our lifetimes," said political columnist Jonah Goldberg during a Thursday lecture in Wheeling.
Goldberg, a best-selling author, founding editor of the National Review Online and known for his conservative views on politics and the economy, spoke at River City Ale Works as the guest of West Liberty University's Economics Club and Center for Economic Philosophy. His columns appear periodically in the Herald-Star.
According to Goldberg, the all-but-certain duel between President Barack Obama and Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney pits an incumbent with a lackluster record against a challenger with "an authentic inauthenticity problem."
"Your signature legislation (health care) has never been popular, so you can't really run on your legislative accomplishments," he said of Obama. "You can't run on the economy, because the economy's no good. ... What you have to do is change the topic."
That, Goldberg said, has led to Democrat attacks on Romney for strapping his dog's crate to the top of the car on a family vacation nearly 30 years ago, and on his wife for supposedly never having worked.
"On one hand, it was superficial politics and sort of silly, but on the other hand it worked," Goldberg added.
Though Goldberg said it should come as no surprise he isn't rooting for Obama's re-election, he isn't exactly smitten with the former Massachusetts governor - who he described as an "honorable, decent man" but "not a great primary candidate." Romney "looks like the picture that comes with the frame," said Goldberg.
Goldberg also addressed what he called the "signature mistake of the Obama administration" - the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, widely known as the "stimulus" bill.
"It showed that you could stand up to Obama and not pay a terrible political price ..." said Goldberg. "You drop $1 trillion on the economy, you should at least get a pretty good sugar rush, right? ... And your only explanation for why it didn't work was that $1 trillion wasn't enough."
He said the administration's claims that the legislation created or saved 3 million jobs was "ludicrous," and credited its failure, along with frustration over President George W. Bush's attempts to distance himself from the conservative base, with the rise of the tea party movement.
On a broader note regarding political philosophy, Goldberg said regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, all people desire to be a part of something larger than themselves. Where the split between left and right occurs, he said, is how that desire manifests itself.
"Government cannot fill the hole in your soul. ... A cold, unfeeling bureaucracy 1,000 miles away cannot love you," said Goldberg. "Being left-wing doesn't make you wrong, doesn't make you evil, it just makes you confused about what the government can and cannot accomplish."
The question society should be asking, he argued, is not why poverty exists, but rather why wealth exists.
"Poverty is the factory preset condition of the human condition. ... We are born ... naked, penniless and stupid. ... What makes us who we are is what we get from civilization and what we put into civilization," Goldberg said.