Along the Tracks

Monday, July 21, 2003

Now that’s Rich

The Frank Rich column has now been read, and believe it or not, it is worse than I thought it would be. Oh, sure, he espouses the depth of the liberal mind and the “idiocy” of conservative thought. But rather than explaining why this dichotomy exists, and why the public prefers those idiot conservatives, he just assumes this to be some universal truth which everyone knows.

Instead of actually developing any explanation of “why liberals are no fun,” he sets up straw men as representative of all conservatives. First, it’s Bill O’Reilly and his short temper. Then, it’s the wacko Michael Savage and his failure on MSNBC - something I would credit to the intelligence of conservatives, who know a phony hate-monger when they see one (while at the same time, liberals are kowtowing to Al Sharpton who is running for president, whom Rich calls ‘entertaining’!). Roger Ailes gets the treatment next, with Rich claiming Ailes’ showbiz roots explain the success of the “agenda-driven” Fox News Network (Ailes has been masterful with Fox, but the key was when he and Rupert Murdoch agreed to go after a huge, unfilled niche audience).

Of course, there is the obligatory reference to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” which supposedly blocks worthy liberal TV and radio hosts from the airtime they deserve.

Finally, Rich pitches the “political cycle” argument, that as the tide turns against President Bush, conservative voices will become less popular and liberals will regain ascendancy. This rests on two assumptions, one unproved, the second clearly incorrect: a) President Bush will become unpopular to the point that “the public” turns to liberals for answers (possible but quite unlikely, in my opinion); and b) this conservative media success thing is just riding the coattails of conservative ascendancy in politics. Point “b” is demonstrably false.

Rush Limbaugh, the pioneer in conservative media success and still reigning king, skyrocketed to success in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, during the administration of the first President Bush. That Bush White House was not overly conservative - certainly not as conservative as the Reagan administration - yet Rush climbed to the top of the talk show heap. As I recall, after the election of Bill Clinton, many people - on the right and the left - were saying the “change in political tide” spelled doom for Limbaugh. Instead, his program continued to grow, and certainly was instrumental in getting conservative voters energized in ‘94 - the year the GOP retook Congress. Yet “the Comeback Kid,” Bill Clinton, came back two years later to win a second term. The “tide” was shifting a lot during the ‘90s, and somehow, Rush’s show kept growing, and new conservative voices began joining the airwaves. In 2000, Bush vs. Gore ended in a dead heat, with Bush taking the electoral college but Gore winning the popular vote - hardly conservative dominance. Yet conservatives in the media continued the upward climb.

The post-9/11 return of patriotism certainly didn’t hurt conservative messengers - but that’s because conservatives deliver a very traditional, Founding-Fathers kind of message which embraces patriotism as a force for good. Liberals who pooh-pooh these emotions (while validating every form of victimization proposed) are at a distinct disadvantage in a media market dominated by “average Americans” - not “average abortion advocates,” not “average reparations-seekers,” not “average anti-war protesters,” not “average environmentalists.” This does not mean the messages of the “victimized” claimants carry no weight with “average Americans.” Rather, “average Americans” weigh all the issues on a single scale, labeled “My America.” For the last 15 years - and for the foreseeable future - the balance has come down on the side of conservative messages. Example: I might believe affirmative action is a positive program, but I also believe in a strong defense, school choice and lower taxes: Advantage conservatives.

By tuning in conservatives in the media and buying books by conservatives, “average Americans” vote each and every day with their time and their wallets. Until or unless liberals develop a message which speaks to these Americans as a whole, rather than a disjointed collection of one-issue factions, they will fail to attract an appreciable audience, no matter how many networks they dominate and star spokespeople they develop.

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