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Fox in the Chickencoop?

As I rarely parse an Obama speech and I never watch Fox news (not getting it and other cable news in my basic cable package, so I have no idea who Glen Beck is), maybe I can offer some unprejudiced insight into the recent contretemps.  Krauthammer attempts a principled objection--though he misses the point about Madisonian factions:  Factions are not "legitimate"; they are by definition unjust groups, who misuse the fundamental commitment to liberty.  So the real objection to Obama's shunning of Fox (he spent a couple hours before a group of leftist journalists dismissing it as "talk radio") is his assault on liberty--his misunderstanding of the freedom of the press.

For all their leftist inclinations, a significant number of journalists don't want to be known as anyone's stooge.  The Fox infection will spread quicker than the swine flu.

As evidence see the NY Times on Fox's effect on the MSM:

White House officials said [...] they noticed a column by Clark Hoyt, the public editor of The Times, in which [leftist Clarence Thomas hater] Jill Abramson, one of the paper's two managing editors, described her newsroom's "insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio." The Washington Post's executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, had already expressed similar concerns about his newsroom....

"This is a discussion that probably had to be had about their approach to things," [Obama political strategist David] Axelrod said. "Our concern is other media not follow their lead."

In fact, perhaps the most effective media purveyor of conservatism (next to Rush and Fox) is C-Span radio and news.  (Have I let the cat out of the bag?)  For without its coverage of otherwise obscure think-tank speakers and panels, many eminent conservative voices would get no significant hearing at all.  And their book programs may be the best thing on tv (save the excellent baseball playoffs this year).

Categories > Journalism

Discussions - 13 Comments

I like the way you model a range of strategies to explore a topic. Lots of people might stop at a simple search, but the options and the power of newer tools has made quick immersion learning a really fun thing.

I like C-SPAN, but who watches it? No, Fox News + Rush are the the purveyors of modern conservative thought. The think tanks need to find a more populous way of spreading their messages.

It's a sad but true fact that politics is, at its heart, selfish and emotional. Our Founders understood this...did they appeal to "sweet reason" to solve our problems? NO! They set up a government at war with itself to constrain runaway emotion and self-interest. All of us who prefer reasoned "discourse" had better come to grips with this, and soon. Beck and his "ilk" are simply a counterreaction to the "faith" in "hope" and "change" that is destroying the country. Hyperbole is necessary today.

Actually the founders did appeal to Reason. quotable Jefferson:

"I hope that we have not labored in vain, and that our experiment will still prove that men can be governed by reason."

"Everyone must act according to the dictates of his own reason."

"I have so much confidence in the good sense of man, and his qualifications for self-government, that I am never afraid of the issue where reason is left free to exert her force."

"Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind."

"Every man's reason is his own rightful umpire. This principle, with that of acquiescence in the will of the majority, will preserve us free and prosperous as long as they are sacredly observed."

"I hold it certain that to open the doors of truth and to fortify the habit of testing everything by reason are the most effectual manacles we can rivet on the hands of our successors to prevent their manacling the people with their own consent."

Red is right that right intellectuals need better ways to get their message out. He is also right that Fox News and talk radio are the dominant ways in which conservative ideas get out to the public. The problem is that those two news sources appeal primarily to those who are already conservative and sometimes do so in ways that the persuadable might find repulsive or scary.

One thing to keep in mind is the part of the public that is open to conservative policies and conservative critiques of liberal policies, but has not already bought into the conservative narrative. This group could be brought along, but only if conservatives respect the sensibilities of its members and remember that ideas which might be clear to conservatives might seem absurd to this group because of differences in frame of reference. Saying that you want Obama to fail might seem (in the proper context) reasonable to many conservatives but horrible to the above group. Telling the members of that group that they should listen to Limbaugh is no real answer. Democracy Corp did a study of this and even though it is a liberal group, conservative ought to look at its findings. The url is
http://www.democracycorps.com/focus/2009/10/the-very-separate-world-of-conservative-republicans/?section=Analysis

As for hyperbole. Sometimes hyperbole is good for getting attention, but sometimes it just alienates people who might otherwise have been willing to listen to you. Beck isn't an answer to Obama's rhetoric. Hope and change (and it was alot more than that too - including knowing when to distance himself from overheated liberal rhetoric) worked because it energized liberals and seemed reasonable to moderates. Obama was able to unite the liberal and the persuadable. Beck is good at appealing to many of the people who are already on the conservative side. Nothing wrong with that. really. It wasn't like Olbermann and MoveOn prevented Obama from appealing to the center. But he did it by not sounding like Olbermann and you never heard him complaining about General Betrayus

There is a difference between leaders and cheerleaders.

"There is a difference between leaders and cheerleaders."
-Other than attire?

A lot of leadership roles are pretty close to cheerleading, a lot of soliciting standing ovations or claps, giving recognition, giving thanks...praising and recognizing what the leader/chearleader wants to see more of. Of course the thing is that no one disputes the difference, but the fact that a distinction has to be made says something about how close the roles have become.

When you can lead by apportioning praise and blame, get people to clap and chant or boo and toss beer then as an effective cheerleader you are a leader. A leader of cheers...

John Lewis, I will take your leader of cheers over a cheerleader any day!

I think that the conservatives' problem is that there is no dearth of cheerleaders, but none of them are actually in a position to lead. I made some comment once about the Glenn Beck and the tea-partiers in DC that if he could make that many of that sort of citizen leave home to march at the nation's capitol, then maybe he was really a leader. I do not really think so. I may be wrong, but I think he has generated enough ill-will that he would have a hard time getting elected. Maybe he could move to some state where he would have a good shot at a majority of sympathetic voters, like Hillary Clinton did with New York.

If Beck could motivate the people that the Democracy Corp identified as conservative Republicans to vote for him, he could be a leader. The problem is that, if he could not expand his popularity beyond talk radio listening and Fox News watching self identified conservatives, he is a conservative Howard Dean. The problem is that Beck's whole approach is geared to appealing to people who are already basically on his side.

But Beck isn't really the problem. The problem is that politicians will confuse what works with conservative Republicans with what is needed to win over a national majority to conservative candidates running on a conservative platform. I remember Mike Pence (who seems like a quite smart guy) trying to explain the 2006 GOP loss of Congress in terms of Republican over spending and a need to get back to fiscal conservatism. On the one hand, conservatives disgusted with overspending was probably a nonzero factor. On the other hand, it was mostly wishful thinking to give that factor greater prominence compared to the Iraq War, high energy prices, and wage stagnation.

The Democracy Corp explanation of the difference between conservative Republicans and right-leaning independents on healthcare should be required reading for any conservative politician that is thinking about how to bridge the gap between the conservative base and those who might be won over to a conservative platform without giving up principles.

Of course Beck appeals to those already on his side, but he does more. Look at the shift in independents -- these people are being influenced by Beck every day.

As for "leaders," when's the last time conservatives really had one? If we stick with this organic growth in the conservative movement, a leader will emerge.

Redwald, I'd like to see Beck's audience demographics (rather than those of Fox News in general), but I doubt that America's independents and persuadables are being moved by Beck's style. My informal experience with my persuadable friends is that they consider Beck to be a malicious and demented clown. Their opinions of Olbermann aren't that different. This jibes with what I saw from the coverage of the tea parties, where the crowd was made up mostly of that fraction of middle class, middle suburban whites who have already bought into the conservative narrative. And this is complicated by degrees of conservatism as the Democracy Corp study showed.

I was listening to Beck yesterday and he was talking about healthcare reform. He was mostly negative and arguing that any healthcare reform must pay for itself since nothing else can be afforded. This tracks pretty well with the Democracy Corp findings that the conservative Republicans they interviewed were hostile to healthcare reform in principle. I think that the Democracy Corp's interpretation was a little off on that. I think it would probably be better to interpret the results as the conservatives interpreting healthcare reform as a buzzword for liberal politics (like social justice) and they are in any case more interested in cutting spending a and cutting taxes (or at least preventing tax hikes) and not very focused on healthcare policy. This track pretty well with Beck's position that healthcare reform had to wait on getting control of the budget - or in other words not the forseeable future.

On the other hand, the right-leaning independents wanted some kind of healthcare reform even if they were skeptical of Obamacare and unsure of which policies were best. There is a group of people out there for whom Obamacare vs conservative policies that will increase access to health insurance and cut the growth in premiums is a winning narrative for conservatives, But for that same group Obamacare vs lets-take-care-of-the-deficit-first-and -then-we'll-talk-about-healthcare-maybe is an agonizing choice. Conservative who want to beat government run healthcare will have to find ways to unite the two constituencies.

Another good article is in the Claremont Review of Books by Henry Olsen http://www.claremont.org/publications/crb/id.1645/article_detail.asp

The good news is that there is no inherent conflict in principle or policy preference between conservatives and a large number of Americans who can be won over by conservative policies. The bad news is that the two groups are divided by a common language (over things like "socialism", "healthcare reform" and "I hope he fails") and which issues to emphasize (like tax rates vs healthcare policy. Hoping that things will just work out if conservatives just keep doing what they've been doing is a good way for American conservatism to go the way of California conservatism.

Pete, while that Democracy Corps piece was very interesting and made me think that the interviewers had found the tea-party group whose meeting I attended a few months ago, it was also funny. The authors are saying, "Aren't these folks odd? Part of what makes them obviously odd is that they think that people like us think they are odd."

Nothing they said was a real surprise to me, but then I listen to NPR whose commentators are liable to say the same things. Yes, I also think that language is a barrier between conservatives and others all the way into the liberal realm. Beck and Limbaugh do not really help that, either.

Kate, I think you have a point. I do think that the Democracy Corp folks who wrote up the report have a bias, but they also seemed to be making a good faith effort to understand the conservatives they interviewed, even if some condescension leaked through.

It would be interesting of a right-leaning group did a similar survey with an eye towards crafting a rhetoric and policy agenda that includes those who are conservatives and those who are not, but who with the right approach, might support conservative candidates and policies.

Pete, I would have said that the cup of their condescension overfloweth, but maybe working at the community college makes me overly sensitive. What my colleagues say about the Right suggests that only a freshman student could possibly lean that way.

Yes, it would be interesting if some right-leaning group did a similar survey and all that you suggest. That is a very good idea, although it almost seems cruel and would take folks with more fortitude than I have got to listen and not comment in any way. When they get into the "Government is oppressive, but we need more government" merry-go-round my head spins.

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