I was catching up on some reading, when I came across this John Derbyshire article in the February 23rd issue of “The American Conservative.”
The article (How Radio Wrecks the Right) substantiates an argument that I’ve been having with fellow right-wingers for quite some time: the Conservative message has been muddled by messengers (and recipients) whose TV viewing habits appear to be far closer to “The Jerry Springer Show”, than “Firing Line.”
…perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.
It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought.
In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar. Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right. But however much this dumbing down has damaged the conservative brand, it appeals to millions of Americans. McDonald’s profits rose 80 percent last year.
Buckley’s “Firing Line” was intelligent and relevant. An erudite program where conservative ideology was discussed among intellectuals and politicos who never once descended into the trap of substituting ad hominem for ideology, or emotion for substance.
“Firing Line” and William F. Buckley are gone from the airwaves, and sadly, so is intelligent conservatism, replaced by rabble-rousers and carnival barkers disguised as commentators, who dare you to enter their tents, and insult you if you don’t. More concerned with ratings than the Republic, Limbaugh, Coulter and the rest seem to relish in their popularity among conservative sans-culottes, but the mantle they claim title to escapes them:
“I know I have become the intellectual engine of the conservative movement.” — Rush Limbaugh
“Rush, I knew William F. Buckley, Jr. William F. Buckley, Jr. was a father of mine. Rush, you’re no William F. Buckley, Jr.” — Christopher Buckley
Conservatism is a boring subject to many. There is little sensationalism in a debate among people of the caliber of Buckley, Burke, and Strauss on the Constitutionality of the Federal government’s funding of the Arts (to use and example) and the Founder’s original intent in penning the Copyright Clause. Modern-day Springer Conservatism, would have Limbaugh, Coulter, and Savage discussing exposed penises as an art form funded with YOUR tax dollars, in an effort to elicit an emotional response from the listener.
Therein lies the problem with today’s brand of Conservative media personality…they claim to work toward advancing conservatism by making conservatism about “feeling”, not thinking, and political ideology grounded in emotion is, and has always been, the place where liberalism dwells and thrives.
Ideas must be marketed, and right-wing talk radio captures a big and useful market segment. However, if there is no thoughtful, rigorous presentation of conservative ideas, then conservatism by default becomes the raucous parochialism of Limbaugh, Savage, Hannity, and company. That loses us a market segment at least as useful, if perhaps not as big.
Conservatives have never had, and never should have, a problem with elitism. Why have we allowed carny barkers to run away with the Right?