Friday, February 8, 2008

Right wing talk radio... Republican sheep in wolves' clothing?

Unless you've been living without electricity for the past few months, you've probably heard (or at the very least, heard about) the rage directed toward John McCain by various famous conservative talk radio personalities. The radio crusade against McCain in favor of Mitt Romney on the basis of "true conservative" credentials featured AM stalwarts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham expressing disgust at the idea of a McCain victory.

They warned listeners that every Huckabee vote would serve only to propel the untrustworthy closet liberal, McCain, toward a nomination. They tried to rally the base for Romney. Then, Super Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, it was clear that their strongly-expressed preference for a McCain defeat didn't translate into voter action.

What does that mean? What does it tell us about conservative talk radio when a concerted effort by on-air personalities who are often perceived to be the vanguard of Republican/conservative movement politics are unable to deliver?

Some people will tell you it means that we're witnessing the death of the genre. Conservative talk radio is on its way out, its influence dwindling. Maybe it's overstepped its bounds. Enough people are arguing that right wing gabbing is on its deathbed that one of its practitioners feel a need to address the claim. Glenn Beck recently ran down the "talk is dead" argument and presented his case for the genre's vitality.

Beck contends that he talks, people listen and it all ends right about there. Sometimes, they follow along. Sometimes the listeners do their own thing. Strangely enough, that isn't the usual kind of crazy Beck peddles. He might be onto something. In a hard-to-read mish-mash of bizarre punctuation and spelling, another fan of conservative talk makes an argument similar to Beck's: It's just entertainment and perspective, it isn't control or power. This might be the first truth upon which Lonnie Walker's Blog has stumbled.

At first glance, those minimizations of talk radio's power seem more like excuse-making or back-pedaling. After all, we know that folks like Rush, et al., enjoy claiming influence and trade upon their ostensible king-maker status regularly. It feels like the claims of impotence are forced. Do you think you'd see such modesty if Romney trounced McCain? Probably not. Even Beck tries to take credit for "focusing" voters on issues like immigration.

The "we're just shows, we don't boss people around" arguments are, most likely, attempts to mitigate the appearance of irrelevancy. It's as if an admitted weakness is somehow better than one denied. Even though the motivations might be wrong, the argument is probably right.

Talk radio can't swing a national election process. There are many listeners, but not THAT many. If the audience was that huge and that responsive, the talkers would all have big-time TV shows. At the very least, they'd find sponsors who didn't shill gold investment schemes and medicated foot powders. If Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham could spark movements, they wouldn't be hanging out on the AM dial.

Right wing talk radio has a limited audience and a limited ability to effectuate change out in the "real world". The jabberers get a lot of press and attention, but they just don't amount to much.

The funny thing is that many on the left have feared the talk radio bogeyman, believing that it really might hide under the bed some day. Democrats worry about the (bullshit) Fairness Doctrine and consider reviving it. Liberals have fits listening the latest spew of nonsense from chronic diarreaha of the mouth victims on the radio. All this time, they didn't need to be afraid of the monster people listened to on their commutes to work. Conservative talk radio hosts are sheep in wolves' clothing.

You see, I don't think right wing gabbing is in decline. I don't think it's losing power.

I don't think it's ever been important in the first place. Orange Punch described Super Tuesday as a test of talk radio's real powers. If it was, the mouths didn't pull down A's.

I didn't always feel that way, but it's starting to make sense. What if all of this attention paid to talk radio has been misdirected from the beginning? What if people (at least most of us) have never really taken these jerk-offs seriously in the first place? What if the emperor really is ass naked when you drag him out from behind the microphone. Have some of us been worried about an institution that has less influence than Kennedy family endorsements (and we know how powerful those are)? Maybe talk radio just isn't a very big deal...

What about talk radio being at the forefront of past conservative resurgences, you ask? Consider the possibility of coincidence. Could it be that the railing right of radio was simply playing a tune that was compatible with public perspective anyway? You know the old saying about a broken clock, right? It has the time correct twice every day, people. Maybe that's been the case with talk radio.

Mary Schmidt seems to agree with me. I found her marketing-oriented blog and she applies expertise from her field to this issue:

"So it goes in any kind of marketing - simply turning up the volume doesn’t work anymore. And, your past “success” could have nothing to do with you. For example, the 'influence' of talk radio could, in fact, be nothing more than a coincidence. People were frightened, so they voted for the Ramblin’ Rove machine, which was pushing all the fear buttons. Rush and his clown crew blatting away just happened to be the noise going on at the same time."

Glenn Beck says:
"No matter the reason, the point is that our listeners have their own brains. They make up their own minds. Talk radio may be one source of information, but it's certainly not their only one."


Stop talking about the death of talk radio and start realizing that it's never been a huge force in the first place.


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1 comment:

  1. "The funny thing is that many on the left have feared the talk radio bogeyman, believing that it really might hide under the bed some day. Democrats worry about the (bullshit) Fairness Doctrine and consider reviving it. Liberals have fits listening the latest spew of nonsense from chronic diarreaha of the mouth victims on the radio. All this time, they didn't need to be afraid of the monster people listened to on their commutes to work. Conservative talk radio hosts are sheep in wolves' clothing."

    Totally agree with everything you just said. And I have to say that it is especially decent to read you calling out that Fairness Doctrine on the bullshit that it is.

    Even as most of my life was spent as a more conventional liberal, John, I never really understood why liberals were so afraid of talk radio. It was annoying and bullshit and ugly as all shit. But I didn't understand why my liberal friends were so up-in-arms about it.

    "Were we right or not?" was always my question. Today I come to the conclusion, "Liberals, like everyone else, are right about some things and wrong about other things, I think. Conservatives, like everyone else, are right about some things, and wrong about other things, I think?"

    But the point is that, at some level, politics is still like diagnosing a car problem. Either you have the right solution or you don't. There's no reason to get all self-righteous and trying to shut down the dumbass across the hood who keep diagnosing everything an electrical problem when you seem really confident that it's a transmission problem. Either it is or it isn't. No shouting or self-righteousness needed.

    The problem in politics is that we get too focussed on who is delivering the advice and not focussed enough on the problem underneath the hood.

    And while political and cultural questions obviously have qualities that are more transcendant than engine problems, at some level they are still a question of, "Does this answer solve our problem?" And if it doesn't, no need to vilify or demonize the people on the radio or across the hood who keep shouting fan belt when you know damn well that it's the flywheel (or at least you think that you know it's the flywheel). Either it's the fuckin' flywheel or it's not. And so there's no need to shut down the folks who are crying fan belt except to maybe turn down the volume on your radio so that you can figure out whether it's the fuckin' fan belt or the flywheel. If it's the fan belt, it doesn't make any goddamn difference whether the obnoxious prick on AM radio said it's the the fan belt or not. It's the just the goddamn fan belt, and he's still a fuckin' prick. And if it's the flywheel or something different altogether, well, then, you have some idea of what to do next and how much you can trust that guy in the future.

    You may or may not think that a car diagnosis analogy fits political questions. I think it does, these days, because I see politics in a much more practical light, at this point in my life. Either your ideas do some good or they don't. And if they don't, there's no fuckin' use defending them as if they do just because they were yours. Bill Bradley is one of the most decent, true blue men I have ever seen in politics, I think, for all of our disagreements. But I doubt Bill could overhaul my transmission. I could definitely be wrong about that because that motherfucker does about every other damn thing in the world (how is it fucking possible that a person could be a Rhodes' scholar, graduate from Princeton with honors, set the NCAA record for most number of points scored in a post-season game, win 2 NBA championships, be a pillar of the U.S. Senate, and run a very decent campaign for U.S. President and settle down into investment banking? Bill can fuckin' do anything). And if Bill can't change out my transmission, he just can't. It's not a matter something to hung up on.

    Either our ideas solve/best address the problems we are tackling or not. It doesn't have to be an ego-fest.

    Which is exactly why talk radio pisses us off so much. Because it is a fuckin' egofest. And the egos are all telling good liberals, like me most of my life, that we are wrong and they are right and that's that. Which wasn't enough to keep me from playing Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schleshinger when I worked for Henry Helgerson, the Democratic ranking minority member on the House Ways and Means committee, at the time, right out of college, John (Henry has since lost his seat in some sort of "not living in his district" shadiness). Henry fuckin' hated hearing Rush or Laura as he would come into the office each day, I'm sure for the very reasons that most liberals conventionally want to muzzle these assholes. I wasn't too fond of them, either. But I was more confident, I suppose, in my reasoning capacities to sort bullshit from reasonable ideas.

    And that's why I so appreciate your calling out that Fairness Doctrine on its bullshit. Because that stupid fuckin' argument, even as a liberal, always reaked of weakness and weakmindedness to me. Why can't people just fuckin' listen to what they don't like and then say, "That sounds fuckin' weak. No reason to muzzle it. It's weakness is clear on its face without me doing a goddamn thing. And if people fuckin' follow that weak ass shit they're fuckin' morons for following it."

    So then it is kind of encouraging to hear that maybe people don't follow that horse-and-pony show as easily as we thought they did.

    You know what I found to be the most effective rebuttal to Rush Limbaugh for my largely conservative family, John?

    Introduce them to more thoughtful conservative thinkers.

    This Christmas, I gave my uncle Tommy and my uncle Danny, our resident far right wing family members in my family - to Tommy and Danny's credit, they both keep up with politics relatively well for guys with high school educations, my uncle Tommy, especially, and they are more Fred Thompson conservatives than Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee conservatives, if that gives you some notion of my working class roots; my uncle Tommy unintendedly introduced me to Frederick Kagan (he had a copy of the Weekly Standard in his shitter) who is the military historian I am most impressed with, right now, and who happens to be a conservative - copies of John Keegan's military history work. John Keegan is an excellent and very thoughtful British military historian. And even though he doesn't seem to advertise it really openly, I'm pretty sure he's a conservative. He writes like a conservative, he drops little hints, here and there, and he's a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, a British conservative daily, for God's sakes. So I'm pretty sure he's a conservative. He also happens to be really fucking brilliant and someone whose work I am really impressed with every time I read him. And, this Christmas, Tommy and Danny both seemed to finally get it. It wasn't about conservatives having all the right answers. It was about some conservatives and some liberals and some people with or without such labels who have more answers in some areas of life and everyone having some answers in life and not having answers in others. And that is whether you are fucking "Nothing is beyond my superpowers of discipline and intellect" Dollar Bill Bradley or not. We all have limits. It's just that in politics, we are more want to acknowledge the limits of our intellect and understanding because the stakes are high and because noone likes someone else telling them how to think, no matter how smart they say they are or even how smart they may in fact be or not be. That's why Plato always reeked of intellectual snobbery to me, even as I shared his concern that politics needed to get smarter.

    Dude, can I get a little nostalgic and say that the broader thinking in these posts, lately, very much takes me back to our meaning of life conversations in Wichita, Kansas oh so many years ago, now. Those conversations don't mean anything, necessarily, except to us. But it's cool to have them again. I think after the sightings in Texas, recently, we still need to find some resolution, even if its temporary, on this question of UFO's and their existence. And I think with some life experience and with Valentine's Day, we should probably debate the merits and shortcomings of Richard Bach's notion of love in Bridge Across Forever (did I ever tell you that you were the first person to confess an appreciation for Richard Bach to me since my days growing up in Unity Church where Richard Bach is the cat's meow? I fuckin' love Richard Bach, romantic that he is, and his barnstorming Jesus.)

    I should probably take a shower, here, dude.

    I think you and I know that the bottom line on Glenn Bleck, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Schleshinger and all of the rest of the dredge on talk radio is not that they are conservatives. It's that they're fuckin' morons. And even morons have a point, once in a while. So let them talk and let people get sorted out for themselves whether they have something to say or not. And let intelligent people have more reasonable forums for discussion.

    Did I tell you that I got kind of a snotty response from Joe Nye when I emailed him. I admit that my email was kind of awkward given that I don't know him. But it definitely made me appreciate, John, that in a million years I'd rather have a conversation about politics in a dingy, roach-infested crackhouse with John Brown than have snotty conversations with Harvard professors any day of the week. Maybe I was snotty. Who knows. I'll talk with you about it when I see you.