David Brooks in today’s NYT:
In 2008, after McCain had won his nomination, Limbaugh turned his attention to the Democratic race. He commanded his followers to vote in the Democratic primaries for Hillary Clinton because “we need Barack Obama bloodied up politically.” Todd Donovan of Western Washington University has looked at data from 38 states and could find no strong evidence that significant numbers of people actually did what Limbaugh commanded. Rush blared the trumpets, but few of his Dittoheads advanced.
Over the years, I have asked many politicians what happens when Limbaugh and his colleagues attack. The story is always the same. Hundreds of calls come in. The receptionists are miserable. But the numbers back home do not move. There is no effect on the favorability rating or the re-election prospects. In the media world, he is a giant. In the real world, he’s not.
But this is not merely a story of weakness. It is a story of resilience. For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P. They are enabled by lazy pundits who find it easier to argue with showmen than with people whose opinions are based on knowledge. They are enabled by the slightly educated snobs who believe that Glenn Beck really is the voice of Middle America.
Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:
Brooks has an interesting thesis today: that high-profile right-wing media figures don’t have the sort of political power that a lot of people, especially Republican politicians, think they do. Maybe he’s right. But several of the data points he assembles to make his case don’t seem all that convincing to me.
Start with his opening point, which he spends the most time on: Supposedly radio talk-show hosts proved their powerlessness by failing to deliver the nomination to Mitt Romney or keep it from John McCain. I don’t believe these guys really were boosting Romney through the winter of 2007, as Brooks has it. In my recollection, you saw a spate of high-profile conservative endorsements only after the New Hampshire and even the Florida primaries. For whatever reason — I suspect it was the hard-to-predict dynamics of a multi-candidate field — a lot of these folks did not endorse until it was too late for them to have an impact. Maybe their tardiness is an example of their lack of political sense; but it is at least possible that they could have exercised real political influence with a better strategy.
Jonah Goldberg at The Corner:
In many respects, this is precisely what conservatives have been saying about the New York Times for years. It is an extremely parochial organ geared to a readership that thinks it’s cosmopolitan and objective but is really an arrogant niche. The irony is that the conservative critique of the Times is being vindicated every day as the newspaper’s relevance and readership steadily shrink. Meanwhile, even if talk radio’s clout isn’t as impressive as some think, it’s doing a heck of a lot better catering to its “niche” than the Times is catering to theirs.
Isaac Chotiner at TNR:
Brooks wants to scold Democrats for acting as if Limbaugh and Beck have “control” over the party. And then a paragraph later he ruefully admits that Republican officeholders submit to the crazies! He cannot have it both ways. If Republicans are going to “surrender” to Limbaugh, then Brooks should not scold Democrats for mentioning Limbaugh’s power.
It remains true that immigration restriction will never win elections on its own, and it is also true that candidates who present themselves as nothing other than restrictionists are not going to win in the absence of any other compelling message. Hayworth and Graf were primarily restrictionist candidates, and they lost during an incredibly bad year for their party. There were more than a few supporters of “comprehensive reform” that also lost that year, because voters repudiated the GOP mostly because of the war that almost all Republicans, including both restrictionists and pro-amnesty types, continued to support. This is the real weakness of the Republican Party that Brooks can never bring himself to acknowledge in his analysis. It does not help make his case against both popular and populist conservatism, because most mainstream conservatives of all stripes are implicated in this foreign policy failure, and few more so than Brooks himself.
What Brooks fails to mention is that McCain and Huckabee did as well as they did during the primaries partly by avoiding the issue of immigration or, in Huckabee’s case, by simply reversing his immigration stance. How many times did McCain claim that he had “learned his lesson” from backlash in 2007? Of course, he had learned only that he and his allies could not be as obvious in their contempt for rank-and-file conservatives. In any event, he ignored immigration throughout the primaries and the general election, because he knew that there were no votes to be won by talking about his record. One moment Huckabee was the media darling, a folksy “compassionate” conservative who spoke to the NEA and defended mass immigration, and the next he attempted to make himself a populist firebrand aligned with the Minutemen and Chuck Norris. Furthermore, the problems most mainstream conservatives claimed to have with Huckabee concerned his fiscal record and his flirtations with foreign policy realism. Penalizing that sort of “deviationism” would likely not trouble Brooks quite so much. Brooks also fails to mention that the candidate favored by many of Brooks’ reformist conservatives, Giuliani, flamed out even more spectacularly than Thompson. As out of touch and unrepresentative as Limbaugh et al. may be, the reformists are even more so.
Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:
But the proposition that Brooks dismisses is arguable. Limbaugh and Beck may not represent a set of issue positions as much as an attitude about politics, one that is very common to Republican base voters, and one that, thanks to the contingencies of geography, demography, campaign finance rules and Congressional morays — must be embraced by GOPers in most of the country in order to keep their seats. It is undoubtedly true that there is no Beck or Limbaugh “majority” — and that the loudest voices on the right are those that tend to vote anyway — objects in the mirror are farther away than it’s supposed. I know that Limbaugh’s GOP and Beck’s GOP — although Beck is really best described as a conservative who doesn’t like the GOP — is not Brooks’s GOP. But it’s the GOP distilled to its essence. And it’s one reason why, midterm gains next year notwithstanding, Republicans must incorporate these elements into whatever coalition it builds for the future.
In the main, arguing with Brooks is not that different from arguing with Rush Limbaugh. Let’s leave aside the fact that Brooks has quoted white supremacist Steve Sailer, claimed that immigrants bring with them a “culture of criminality”, and spends a great deal of time hippie-baiting, because my point here is about policy positions not rhetoric.
I’ve read nearly every column Brooks has written for the past eight years. They tend more towards personal profiles and cultural musings than policy pronouncements. The main policy positions I’ve seen him espouse are (1) support for the Iraq war, (2) support for vouchers/opposition to everything about our current educational system, and (3) concern-trolling about Democratic budget deficits (for whatever reason, the Bush budget deficits were not problematic for him). These are, of course, all positions that Limbaugh takes too. Obviously, you all know how the Iraq war turned out, but it’s also worth noting that political opposition to a robust stimulus package has had dire consequences.
It’s nice to believe that if so-called reasonable people of good will got together and stopped listening to “extremists”, then everything would be well and good. It’s just not true. Plenty of completely and utterly disastrous policy decisions are supported by so-called reasonable people of good will.
Steven Hayward in WaPo:
Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.
President Obama has done conservatives a great favor, delivering CPR to the movement with his program of government gigantism, but this resuscitation should not be confused with a return to political or intellectual health. The brain waves of the American right continue to be erratic, when they are not flat-lining.
[…]The blend of entertainment and politics is not unique to the right (exhibit No. 1 on the left: “The Daily Show”). And it is perfectly possible to conduct talk radio at a high level of seriousness, and several talkers do well at matching the quality of their shows to their intellectual pedigree. Consider Hugh Hewitt (Michigan Law School), Michael Medved (Yale Law School), William Bennett (Harvard Law and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas) — all three of these brainiacs have popular shows on the Salem Radio Network.
With others — Michael Savage and “Mancow” come to mind — the charge of dumbing down is much more accurate. Rush Limbaugh adheres to Winston Churchill’s adage that you should grin when you fight, and in any case his keen sense of satire makes him deserving of comparison to Will Rogers, who, by the way, was a critic of progressivism. Others among the right’s leading talkers, such as Sean Hannity, seem unremittingly angry and too reflexively partisan on behalf of the Republican Party rather than the conservative movement (they are not the same thing).
Hayward at The Corner:
I’m already getting an avalanche of angry e-mails from Mark Levin fans complaining bitterly about the absence of any mention of him in my Post article, assuming (wrongly) that this oversight means I am critical or dismissive. I’m tempted to refer them to my favorite insider lightbulb joke: How many Straussians does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: None — the light is made conspicuous by its absence. Let me say it clearly here: Mark is a very bright light.
The omission of Levin from my piece is conspicuous, but was a combination of deliberation and space limitations. Mark is a special case, and I could have chosen him instead of Glenn Beck for my approving case study at the end, but I decided to go with Beck because he’s in everyone’s cross-hairs at the moment, and also because I don’t think Mark needs to learn anything from me. I think Liberty and Tyranny is an excellent book, exactly the kind of book we need that explains in a serious way how liberalism has unraveled the Constitution thread-by-thread.
Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:
As I’ve noted before, Mark Levin’s book does explain conservatism in a serious way — at times I’d go so far as to say that it describes it elegantly. But the most conspicuous flaw in the book, contra Mr. Hayward, is that it doesn’t explain “how liberalism has unraveled the Constitution” — it asserts that “Statism” has unraveled the Constitution, it never attempts a step-by-step account of the mechanisms by which this happened, and it never grapples with liberalism as it is actually practiced in the United States, instead relying on a straw man belief system that pretends as though people on the American left are basically freedom hating. It is useful to compare the book to Road to Serfdom, a book that actually does articulate a step by step process whereby leftist public policy undermines freedom.
I am not surprised that Mr. Hayward would find content in the book to praise, but I am puzzled that he offers that particular compliment, as it is unjustified by the content of the tome.
Scott Johnson at Powerline:
My friend Steve Hayward is author of The Age of Reagan. In this coming Sunday’s Washington Post Steve asks whether conservatism is lacking at present in the cranial department. It is both a thoughtful and thought-provoking column.
In the column Steve discusses the current imbalance between the intellectual and populist elements of the conservative project. He concludes with some kind words for Glenn Beck, whom I have been inclined to view, perhaps unfairly, as a self-promoting buffoon with a touch of Lonesome Rhodes added for good measure
Peggy Noonan in WSJ:
You know the current media environment. You think I’m about to say, “Boy, what’s said on cable, radio and the Internet now is really harmful and dangerous.” And you’re right, and it is. Some of the ranters don’t have the faintest idea where the line is. “They keep moving the little sucker,” said the William Hurt character, the clueless and unstoppable anchorman, in “Broadcast News.” They’ve been moving the little sucker for 20 years. But it’s getting worse, and those who warn of danger are right.
Two examples from just the past week. A few days ago, I was sent a link to a screed by MSNBC’s left-wing anchorman Ed Schultz, in which he explained opposition to the president’s health-care reform. “The Republicans lie. They want to see you dead. They’d rather make money off your dead corpse. They kind of like it when that woman has cancer and they don’t have anything for us.” Next, a link to the syndicated show of right-wing radio talker Alex Jones, on the subject of the U.S. military, whose security efforts at the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh show them to be agents and lackeys of the New World Order. “They are complete enemies of America. . . . Our military’s been taken over. . . . This is the end of our country.” Later, “They’d love to kill 10,000 Americans,” and, “The republic is falling right now.”
Jesse Walker at Reason:
I’m going to stop quoting long chunks of the column, partly out of mercy for my readers and partly because I’m starting to feel like a heckler. I just think it’s remarkable (though not unprecedented) that Noonan can switch so easily from denouncing other media figures’ apocalyptic rhetoric to spouting apocalyptic rhetoric of her own. How easy would it be to turn her own arguments against her? (“Stop reading this and ask whoever’s nearby, ‘Do you find yourself worrying about Glenn Beck’s safety?'”) The novelty of her article is that she explicitly ties her fears of a pending catastrophe to a yearning for a strong hand to “rescue America from the precipice” and “lead through this polarized time.” The strong hand of…media “Elders.” Like William Safire. And, um, “Walter Cronkite, Bob Novak, Don Hewitt, Irving Kristol.” Yeah, she included Novak. I guess she never saw him on Crossfire.
K-Lo at The Corner:
In her latest column, Peggy Noonan warns about the “ranters,” but it’s worth noting who she is talking about. Unlike many who criticize talk radio (especially when the name Rush Limbaugh appears), Noonan is not lying about people’s records. And while you might say she’s a romantic, waxing nostalgic about the late “elders” of the media, every civilization can probably do with some civic romanticism.
UPDATE: Will at The League on Hayward