Monday, March 16, 2009

A Harmless Little Fuzzball: Talk Radio

John Derbyshire explains how conservative talk radio, which once energized the right-wing by giving a much needed voice to the center-right, is now preventing a rational, contemplative, conservative conversation from taking place. Frankly, I have to agree with him for the most part.

Honestly, when President Obama began fingering Rush Limbaugh as the head of a leaderless Republican Party, and Rush, for his part, spouted off with a provocative diatribe against Obama, I didn't really know who was being more foolish.

Rush is an entertainer after all, he is not a politician nor a statesman. This doesn't mean he doesn't have real influence. That said, Jon Stewart is also an entertainer and one could argue he had more influence with the electorate than Rush did in this last election cycle - his guy won it all. Does President Obama look petty going after a loud mouth heckler in the crowd? In my opinion - yes. Is it good for ratings for Rush to hope out loud that the new President fails? Well, yes... Is it good for the conservative cause? No way.

Back to the larger point in Derbyshire's article that talk radio has become a hindrance to intellectually based conservative ideological branding. Instead - as he puts it - in place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar.

This sentiment is true of many of today's talk radio juggernauts like Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Mike Gallagher, Bill Cunningham and to some extent Rush himself. Salem Radio's Hugh Hewitt is a well informed cheerleader for the center right movement who nauseates rather than insults. Michael Medved is a strange duck in that he offers his show to liberals and kooks supposedly to draw a contrast to the sanity which is conservatism, but he just as often stoops to their level of discourse (which isn't saying much) and bringing himself down in the process.

Spend ten minutes with Michael Savage and you'll see
cheap, childish and familiar with bells on. Savage is the ying to NPR's yang. Frankly he's a disgrace. He makes some excellent and valid observations, but the uncontrolled thoughtless stream of conscious ranting ranges from off-putting to disgusting.

Speaking of NPR (or National Palestinian Radio as I like to call it) and its extreme popularity, falling just behind Limbaugh in the ratings, only proves there is a market for a calm and reasonable approach to talk radio. I know a lot of people who just can't stand blowhard talk radio and leave the dial tuned to NPR 24/7. I suspect some of it is an aversion to constant commercial interruptions which makes us all subject to ADD-like episodes. It's more than that, it's a one sided conversation that allows the listener to think a little without all the insults. Many of these people don't recognize they are being fed a hard left liberal, anti-Israel, often anti-capitalist slant on NPR. Unlike all flavors of conservative talk radio NPR will never admit to a bias. That's fine. The larger point is that center-right talk radio could learn a thing or two from NPR.

Bill Bennett's Morning in America is the closest of the conservative radio shows to NPR's style, preferring wit and wisdom to browbeating and bloviating. Here again Bennett suffers from the short attention span of commercial radio - and the fact he on so early in the morning. It is often very good radio. Also on Salem Radio is Dennis Prager, a radio veteran and a fair minded thinker who has examined the world and its choices and wound up choosing conservatism. He once said the first time he voted Republican he felt like he had just sinned. So ingrained in his Jewish upbringing was liberal left politics that he found himself always at odds with common sense and common good when he supported the Democrats. Both Bennett and Prager prove that there is something other than Rush Limbaugh's mighty wind on the conservative dial. I would challenge anyone to listen to them for more than a week and try to pin them with the lowbrow label.



TJ Willms said...

Limbaugh gets under Republican's skin because after listening for any length of time they are forced to look inward at themselves and most find they are ashamed at what they see. Unfortunately for all of us Rush is more often right than most of our supposed Republican "Leaders." He offers such a black & white difference between ourselves and the democrats that it makes those looking for the political cover of obfuscation when they have failed so dramatically very, very, angry. When you try to contrast (white) with shades like egg-shell, cream, or light beige it's almost as effective as trying to explain the difference between black and really dark grey. Most people can't see any difference. I submit that is exactly why republicans were trounced in the last two general elections. John McCain kept trying to paint himself a subtle shade different from his predecessor, and got his ass handed to him.

I will agree that Dennis Prager and Bill Bennett are excellent hosts. If you listen very closely, you will get a similar principled message as what Limbaugh puts out there everyday. Rush's philosophical statement of "demonstrating absurdity by behaving absurdly," sometimes makes it difficult to separate what is radio guy schtick from thoughtful argument. He should put it out there more often as people tend to forget that is what he is doing. But the republican party owes Limbaugh a debt of gratitude for educating and entertaining a public that would have long ago forgotten that there is a republican party, as ineffective as they have been. He is also doing them a great service by showing them what failures their current strategy of "going along to get along" is making them. It makes republican politicians uncomfortable to see what they have become and now they want to lash out at the only person with the guts to point it out.

Rush didn't anoint himself the leader of the republican party, The Obama propaganda ministry of Carville, Begala et al did that. But when Mr. Steele decided to show his ass on national TV arguing about it the way he did. Well that pretty much showed everybody that there is no leadership in the republican party. That leaves the rest of us looking to Radio Guys for it.

StaticNoise said...

Fair points about Limbaugh. But unfortunately he is preaching to the choir. Women and center-left men hate him with a passion. Being tight with the "base" is fine, but winning over the middle is what wins elections. That's why a calm (women like calm) and intellectual approach (left-leaning men like intellectualism) is going to win over people who don't really like nanny-state socialism. In this day and age the messenger has to be as appealing as the message. Many people are turned off by smug, in your face bloviation regardless of the message.

TJ Willms said...

I guess we'll have to disagree on this one, because in the middle I see an ocean of intellectual laziness. People who do not want to be troubled with thinking. They rely on fleeting often mistaken impressions and how they feel rather than looking for any deeper substance. Limbaugh and his compatriots may not be doing any good but they are certainly not doing harm to the republican cause. They've been taking care of that themselves. By acting just like the Democrats.