There’s a good Jonah Goldberg column today in the LA Times. He talks about the stupid war on Rush Limbaugh and, more generally, on conservative talk radio and its vast audience. Of course, the broad political strategy from the Democrats in this is to try and shame ordinary people away from listening to arguments other than their own and to conflate all conservatism with the most extreme of the shouters. And there is an element within conservatism that has it’s own reasons for wishing to help this along. Along with it is a host of predictable over-reactions to all of this from the vociferous defenders of talk radio and its audience. As I watch it, I can’t help but think everyone is losing his mind in trying to talk about it. It looks like a lot of nothing to me.
This is really nothing more than a continued re-hashing of an un-winnable debate within conservatism about tastes and inclinations that we saw emerge first with the nomination of Harriet Miers and then with the selection of Sarah Palin. Democrats tried this attack on Limbaugh without success in the 90s and the early 2000s--and now they’re back at it with the help of some of us. The both unfair and substantive point on one side is that there is a kind of low-brow brashness inherent in the format of talk-radio and TV. With a good number of notable exceptions, there is some merit to the point and there are, certainly, some outspoken jackasses in the format who are there for no other purpose but self-glorification (though, I think, not Rush). The both unfair and substantive point coming from the defenders of talk radio and a more populist conservatism generally is that their critics tend to come off as bi-coastal elitists, ivy-league snobs, and effete kowtowers. With a good number of notable (and not so notable) exceptions, there is also a fair amount of merit in this critique. And, as it goes, I think the merit in this critique ought to be taken more seriously than the merit in the other. For the perceived turning up of the nose is much more inexcusable. Why?
There is something unseemly (and amazingly stupid) in the attack coming from sophisticates and leveled at the so-called unsophisticated. Urbane sophisticates ought to be able to develop a more effective method of persuasion and, part of that development ought to include some contemplation of the possibility that there is something deeper and also good within those they wish to persuade and refine. Else, why bother? They ought to keep in mind Lincoln’s credo that one attracts more bees with honey than with bile. The problem between the two sides of conservatism stems from an inability or unwillingness on both sides to understand the other and, perhaps, from a bit of jealousy for the popularity of one or another personality. But those who cannot master this art of persuasion without giving offense perhaps do not deserve the attention they seek. And those who have reached their summit in the persuasive arts, should be left where they are unmolested. It makes no sense to tear down one side of the foundation in order to build up another.
There are and always have been/will be yahoos glomming on to the conservative movement both as would-be leaders and as mind-numbed followers--just as there are on the other side of the political spectrum. Unless their offenses are grievous, there is no cause for commentary about them. And there will always be a sometimes unfair debate about which side of the political spectrum attracts more nuts. The truth is that there’s probably a pretty fair distribution on both sides. It proves nothing so . . . so what?
I think that what I find most offensive about this whole debate is that it is an attempt to strong-arm the argument by attaching shame to it--Rahm Emmanuel and the Dems have one reason for it and certain elements within conservatism have another. Let people think for themselves and they may surprise you. Despite the disappointing outcome of the last election . . . Americans really are not stupid. We should all show a little respect for that; especially the winners.