Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Conservatism

Refining and Enlarging the Public Views

I want to bring to your attention (just briefly and in case you missed it) to something that was said in the comment section under my Conservative Malaise? post.  It seems to me that it is something that merits more thought and consideration than it appears to be getting--even in the best of the critiques of this so-called "brain-death" looming in conservatism.

The commenter "SjB" writes: 

"I am one of the 'great unwashed masses' (despised by purists) who is struggling with the steep learning curve in American politics. I am also one who has read some of the articles complaining about us with revulsion . . . Recognize that we are not stupid, you aren't the only ones who would like to stuff a napkin in Beck's mouth at times.  [On the other hand] [r]ealize that Beck treats us with respect, as do all of the Fox hosts and guests. What do you offer us? Stop griping, start sharing your knowledge, and help us get up to speed or please duct tape your keyboard."

Rush always likes to parody those on the left who seem to believe that his audience consists entirely of "mind-numbed-robots"--giving evidence that these leftists have no respect for the autonomy and intelligence of the public.  Are there some slack-jawed yokels who hoot and holler and pant with fever after every word some particular host may say?  Uhhh, sure.  But I'm afraid that it's also true that some "intellectuals"  imitate these performances when it comes to their own versions of "rock stars" too . . .  The point is that the default assumption ought not to be that any one commentator or intellectual has a monopoly on the truth and, similarly, no one should assume that whenever any given intellectual or commentator makes a misstep or is guilty of an inconsistency, that he and his friends "in the know" are the only ones who see it. 

Back when I was a young graduate student and I began to do some teaching on the side, wise professors of mine used to caution me to remember "that guy in the back of the room."  The "guy in the back of the room" is the guy who, though quiet and unobtrusive, may know more than you do (and certainly much more than you think he does).  When it comes to the occasional (o.k., maybe even the regular) outrageous outbursts of some radio and television personalities, I'd venture to guess that there are a lot more "guys in the back of the room"  in the watching and listening public than either side of this debate has been willing to recognize.

The goal of smart conservatives ought to be to draw them in.   

Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 3 Comments

I basically agree. We need political principle and political action. Thus did I cheer for the tea partiers, the town hallers, and the Washington marchers. And how can we not think that the conservative media in general is a good thing for the conservative movement? (That doesn’t mean that all conservative media people are equally palatable to me -- I just can't support Beck.) I remember when Newt and company took control of the House; Rush was rightly given some credit for stirring the public to that end. As you imply, conservative intellectuals should seek to be a positive influence within that media.

I agree that the tea parties, town hallers, ect. are a good thing but they should not be over interpreted. The tea parties were basically a protest of right-leaning constituencies that consume right-leaning media (like talk radio, Fox News, the conservative blogosphere). That such protests were decentralized was very encouraging since the last major outburst of center-right activism was the 2004 Bush campaign and that was both a Bush/Rove operation and when it was gone nothing took its place in 2008. But we should also remember the fairly narrow social base (white, middle class, middle age and conservative) of the protests. Any future conservative victory must include the forces represented by the tea partiers, but they should not be confused with the general public. The town halls were a little more encouraging. They seemed to include a buch of basically apolitical old folks who were afraid that their government benefits would be cut. On the one hand that represents and expansion of the coalition. On the other hand, the expansion was on the basis of entitlement programs that most conservatives know are unsustainable in their current form.

2. I don't think that dividing the pro-Beck vs.anti-Beck (or fill in Limbaugh or Hannity or whoever) side based on intelligence or sophistication makes sense. The problem with many Limbaugh/Beck arguments aren't exactly that they are simplisitic, but that they assume a certain worldview and body of knowledge. When Beck warned that the Obama administration threatened "totalitarianism like you've never seen before" (the quote is from memory but I am being true to its substance and he did use the t-word), I think he was assuming that the audience was familiar with certain Hayek-derived ideas about the results of greater government control of the economy an certain Jonah Goldberg (and others) derived ideas about the dangers of romantic statism - even if those ideas were gotten second or third-hand. The problem with the statement is less its hyperbole than how the hyperbole combines with a certain kind of insularity. If one is not familiar with those ideas, Beck just sounds like a big nut. That doesn't make Beck's audience (which sometimes includes me when I am driving at 5:00 PM) dumber or smarter than any other audience (it is to their credit that they have those ideas in their heads), but that the statement is pitched to a certain fraction of the public that is already inclined to agree with him.

But recognizing that the audience for Beck (or whoever) is distinct from the general population primarily by its preexisting conservative commitments also means that it is talking down to nobody to question particular statements made by the hosts or the limits of their appeals. Real respect would mean taking them seriously enough to consider both the good and bad that they might do and challanging what one believes to be mistaken statements or bad advice. I think not doing so leads to fuzzy thinking.

That last comment was Pete. Sorry.

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