Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


How to Argue with Potential Friends (Nevermind the Idiots)

This is nicely demonstrated in this exchange between actual friends, Charles Murray and Jonah Goldberg (both of whom, again, weigh in on Steve's Washington Post article).  Jonah also weighs in, with much candor, about the pros and cons surrounding the "what if" scenario of his book being released under a kinder, gentler title. 

Categories > Conservatism

Discussions - 3 Comments

A nice couple of posts Julie. I agree with you Malaise post almost in total. I tend to side more with Hayward and Murray over Goldberg's more positive take on Back

On the more specific claim from Goldberg that Beck is turning people to reading the Founders, etc., I think that is a claim that cannot be supported.

Yes, Beck has had the excellent R.J. on his show and has publicized his book, but as you note the people are not philosophers, and the progressives are dry and dense to get through as any German thinker.

Still, in interviews with him, I do not hear R.J>'s name as a must read as much as I hear Cleon Skousen and his book the 5000 Year Leap. In the Beck wars, then, I consider him a negative.

The Goldberg/Murray exchange has been about the most productive such discussion about Beck et al. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. I don't think the rabid populist vs snobby brainiac frame for this debate is really all that helpful. When looking at Beck, (and Limbaugh, Hannity ect.), the audience for populist conservative media is distingiushed from the general public by intelligence but by its conservative commitments. It already buys into the conservative narrative of recent American history. This influences how the audience responds to particual statements by the hosts. When Obama responded the way he did about cutting taxes for most and raising taxes on the rich, conservatives either agreed that it was socialism or could see what conservatives who called it socialism were driving at. People who hadn't already bought into the conservative narrative saw overreaction and hyperbole. That doesn't mean that those other people couldn't be brought along, but calling Obama a socialist was likely to distance one from those folks rather than win them over.

2. The audience for those hosts also develops an investment in the host. The listeners and viewers don't just get information. The programs provide the satisfaction of seeing their ideals proclaimed (where they seem scorned or ignored in the rest of the culture) and their enemies assailed. They get the reassurance of seeing that someone is out there telling the public the things they believe and that the audience is a community that includes millions along with oneself. But this investment also means that they might react to the host. The occasional goofy (or even poisonous - Beck and the western concentration camps) statements are glossed over. Hyperboles are forgiven or enjoyed. One tends to forgive ones friends. But someone who does not have those preexisting commitments might be repulsed at both the host and their bitter end defenders.

3. I like Murray's description of his intended audience - that of someone who does not already share his opinions, but is willing to give him a fair reading. The populist conservative media primarily appeals to people who are already conservatives. Nothing wrong with that, but they are not a majority and the populist conservative media's approach might, if that is the conservatism that most people hear, alienate more people than it attracts. We should keep in mind Murray's idea of the audience that might be willing to listen but that will recoil at the cheap shot, the hyperbole, and the partisan double standard, the rudeness justified by the idea that finally someone is speaking up for our side..

4. The point is not to ostracize the populist conservative media or its audience. The point is to construct a rhetoric that can speak to both the conservative and the potential recruit at the same time. Sometimes that will mean not following its lead. With Sotomayor, the low hanging fruit was the "wise Latina" comment, the empathy thing and the Ricci case. Those were what the populist conservative media lead with because they fit into frames of racialism and judicial politicization. That was fine if you already had thenarrative in mind that empathy = liberal decisions. If you didn't then it just seemed like noise. It wasn't that they were bad issues as much as they played differently to different audiences. Conservative politicians (like the ones in the Senate) might have been better off highlighting judicial liberalism's opposition to the death penalty, the Second Amendment, and bans on partial birth abortion. It wouldn't have been as emotionally satisfying initially but it might have been a valuable investment in winning over people who agreed with conservatives on those issues and who never considered that this might make them judicial conservatives. The last guy to really master the art of talking to both conservatives and selling conservatism to nonconservative was Reagan.

in point one I meant to write that the conservative populism in not distinguished from the general audience by its intellgence (meaning neither higher nor lower). Left out the not. sorry.

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL:

Warning: include(/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2009/10/how-to-argue-with-potential-friends-nevermind-the-idiots.php on line 479

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/sd/nlt-blog/_includes/promo-main.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:/opt/sp/php7.2/lib/php') in /srv/users/prod-php-nltashbrook/apps/prod-php-nltashbrook/public/2009/10/how-to-argue-with-potential-friends-nevermind-the-idiots.php on line 479