We hope you read our #TCOT Tuesday profile of the National Review‘s Jonah Goldberg two weeks ago. Today, enjoy our exclusive interview with him.
Why do you love Twitter?
I find Twitter to be a deeply pernicious yet horribly addictive source for hopefully productive procrastination. I will say that Twitter is a pretty useful news feed. If you’re following the right people, you can get a real sense of where the stories of the day are going; you can catch things that you might otherwise have missed very easily, and it is sort of a fun place to goof off. I don’t know that it is necessarily a boon to western civilization.
When did you open your Twitter account?
I don’t know. I think it is about two years old, but I started it and stopped for like, six months, or something like that, or a year, because I couldn’t really figure out why the hell I was doing it. Some people really liked what I was doing on Twitter, so I would run in to people who would say, you know, I really wish you’d get back on Twitter…to me it was about as strange as someone coming up to me and saying, ‘I really wish you’d get back into interpretive dance.’ And then my agent explained to me that it actually is a very useful thing for promoting your books and all that kind of stuff, and I started noticing that other people I respected were on Twitter, so I gave it another shot and kind of got hooked.
And I try to tell myself that this has been actually a productive use of my time for when my book comes out, so if could have 40 or 50 thousand followers by then, then hey, that makes sense because simply, the “sitting in the back of study hall making wise ass jokes to your friends” aspect of it is not the best case for it, given all the other things I could be doing with my time.
You are up to about 32,000. How do you plan to gain more followers?
My goal has been about 40,000 by May 1, when my book comes out. Beyond that, I don’t think I’ll give it up, since I’ve kind of gotten the bug. It would be nice to just continue gaining followers as far as the eye can see, but I don’t know, I refuse to do much that is different than what it is I’ve already been doing, which is sort of mix of weird pop culture references and jokes. I don’t think it works as a medium where you’re going to fake anything, so I just basically just have fun with it and say the things that are funny or interesting. I retweet things I think are funny or interesting. That it is catching on is very nice, but I don’t have any grand strategy to it.
My dad once gave me the advice about writing, “every sentence you write needs to be either important or good.” Now obviously that’s unattainable in reality, but as an ideal it is a pretty useful way to think about things. If it’s an important sentence, then the reader needs to see it and it is justified because it is important. If it is a good sentence, the reader doesn’t care if it is important or not, because the reader enjoys reading it. And I sort of have the same attitude about Twitter. If there are important things going on, you tweet about those–a poll just came out, or somebody was just assassinated or there is a new place to put cheese on pizza, these are important things that the American people need to know. And then, if you don’t have something important to say, if you have something good to say – and I don’t mean something nice or flattering, or altruistic, but as in entertaining – that is worth doing.
Why would a young conservative be interested in following you?
First of all, if you are extremely interested in the omnipresent of zombie outbreaks, then I am one of the must-follow twitterers, since I keep an evil eye on the horizon for potential zombie invasions. Other reasons to follow me? It don’t cost nothin’. I tend to be in the nix of conservative arguments and all the rest. If you’re looking to stay abreast of where those arguments are and all that kind of stuff I’m as good as anybody to follow. I usually keep the nudity tasteful.
I have no great argument for why you would follow me on Twitter. The point is that if you’re already on Twitter and you’re a conservative, I don’t really understand why you wouldn’t follow me. Not because I’m all that awesome, but because I think I’m more of a full spectrum utilizer of Twitter than most people. If you’re the kind of person that finds the stuff I tweet amusing or funny, then you should follow me, and if you’re the person who doesn’t, then you shouldn’t, and I will fondly bid you adieu.
What makes you conservative?
Mostly my tattoos. They’re very understated. They’re under my clothes. How do you mean, why am I conservative? I’m a conservative because I believe in what most conservatives believe in. You know, limited government, the sovereignty of the individual, a sort of robust American foreign policy, I don’t like high taxes, I like free markets. If you were on e-Harmony and you were looking for a conservative, that is one of the very few things that I would qualify for. The reason why I’m a conservative is more of a complicated question. The easy answer is I hold the positions I hold because I think they are the best positions. If I thought there were positions that were better positions, I would hold those. I’m one of these guys that in a very empirical way believes that conservatism is correct. I also have sort of romantic and metaphysical and philosophical views about conservatism. I think there is a kernel of utopian thinking about leftism is irreducible, unavoidable and dangerous, and there isn’t one to conservatism, but it depends on how deep in the weeds you want to get. But basically, I’m a conservative because I think conservatism is right.
When did you start getting interested in politics.
Very young. I think I’d been reading the New Republic and commentaries and National Review when I was probably 12 or 13, and I grew up in a very political house. Politics and the media was just sort of in the air. I didn’t want to become a journalist or a pundit or any of that kind of stuff until fairly late. I originally wanted to be a writer – to write sci fi and comic books and that kind of thing, and then I got into college, and realized I was so much more invested in politics and interested in politics than normal people are, that it became more and more of a sort of draw to me. I still have kind of romantic notions of doing other things some day, but I’m kind of enjoying where I am these days, so that’s why I do what I do.
What number one piece of advice would you give to young conservatives?
It’s funny – I get asked that question by young conservatives a lot, by young conservative interviewers like you, and it is a weird question, because there are a lot of people getting their start – are they getting their start as a professional journalist as a conservative? It kind of begs a lot of other questions…
In a sort of ‘general advice to young citizens everywhere,’ don’t just read the stuff you agree with, read the stuff you disagree with, too. Don’t just interest yourself in what is going on at the moment. It is crucially important, especially for conservatives. Conservatives believe that the past matters, and we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and so it is incumbent upon us to understand that the giants came before us. It is easy to be a glib kid who yells slogans and all the rest, and I actually happen to think a lot of the slogans are correct, but if you don’t know why you think they are correct, then you don’t get any credit for yelling them. Understanding that whether as a citizen or a journalist or a conservative activist, however you want to define these things, your education process doesn’t stop with college. It continues on. I don’t know any serious professionals in this wider world of ideas that don’t consider it important to keep learning, keep questioning, what they know and what they think and all the rest.
Don’t sweat – there is an attitude among young people, that time is getting away from them, that they need to hurry and catch up because doors are closing and all of the rest, I’m one of those people that thinks there is no such thing as wasted time, so long as you’re doing something productive that you’re learning from and having a diversity of life experiences is really valuable. In some ways, it is a lot more valuable than having your first piece published and any of that kind of stuff. Because when you look back on your life, or you’re just writing later in life, you want to be able to draw on that to add both flavor and a voice to your writing. People say that you write what you know, and that’s true, because if you don’t know a lot, it is reflected in what you write.
Be happy warriors. This is a good fight to be in. We are on the side of freedom and prosperity and of all the things that have made western civilization successful, and America in particular great, and defending those things shouldn’t feel like a chore. It should feel like a duty but also like a vocation. If you don’t enjoy it, go find something that you do enjoy. Life is too short to take as a career things you don’t enjoy.