John Derbyshire on Rush and talk radio (highly recommended)

From The American Conservative magazine

…are there some downsides to conservative talk radio? Taking the conservative project as a whole—limited government, fiscal prudence, equality under law, personal liberty, patriotism, realism abroad—has talk radio helped or hurt? All those good things are plainly off the table for the next four years at least, a prospect that conservatives can only view with anguish. Did the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Savages, and Ingrahams lead us to this sorry state of affairs?

They surely did. At the very least, by yoking themselves to the clueless George W. Bush and his free-spending administration, they helped create the great debt bubble that has now burst so spectacularly. The big names, too, were all uncritical of the decade-long (at least) efforts to “build democracy” in no-account nations with politically primitive populations. Sean Hannity called the Iraq War a “massive success,” and in January 2008 deemed the U.S. economy “phenomenal.”

Much as their blind loyalty discredited the Right, perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.

At a recent dinner party with a group of psychoanalysts and educators, I asked whether anyone listened to Limbaugh.  The representative answer was a rhetorical, “Why would I?!”  That’s an entirely reasonable response, of course.   But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s possible to understand contemporary American politics unless one does listen to talk radio at least occasionally.  There’s no question that neither the Clinton impeachment nor the Bush election would not have occurred in the absence of conservative talk radio and both those events were extremely consequential.  And if one is to understand how the tenor of discourse in America has descended to its present level, then one must attend to conservative talk radio.

But, as I’ve argued earlier here, there’s a consequence not just for the nation but for “conservatism” as well.

Much as their blind loyalty discredited the Right, perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.

It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought. Where once conservatism had been about individualism, talk radio now rallies the mob. “Revolt against the masses?” asked Jeffrey Hart. “Limbaugh is the masses.”

 

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5 responses to “John Derbyshire on Rush and talk radio (highly recommended)

  1. Pingback: Remember The Fifth of November? | The Radio Kitchen

  2. Chef

    That’s one hell of a fine site you have up there. Hats off to you.

  3. If you voted democrat, you voted for Commuinism! We not exactly, but everyone that controls or obtains high office from the dem side of the isle seems to be a liberal collectivist. The local dems where I live are sane rational patriotic people. I live in Mass. and but when you get to the Boston/state level there be moonbats. If Bill Clinton had taken out Osama Bin Laden in 1998/99, we would not have had 8 years of George Bush. Bill Clinton was actually more of a fiscal conservative than Reagan I read some put forth a very good argument recently. As for President Obama, the people in his background that shaped his charactor read like who’s who of Marxists in Amerika. I hope he turns out to be a good president and he has done some good things. But, frankly I think he and the dems are determined to go forward with Fabian Socialist “CHANGE” in America. Socialism, including National Socialism in Germany killed 100 million people in the last century. How many will it kill in this this one? The right wing talking heads are truely bombastic and the liberal collectivists will have them silenced with the return of the enhanced “Fairness Doctrine” (Can you say sensorship cormrades). Now back to my Zenith 7000 Transoceanic…

  4. Red Green

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume you are part of that talk radio audience.

    You toss around a number of terms here (liberal collectivist, socialism, National Socialism) in a manner which indicates you haven’t bothered to study up and figure out what they actually mean or have represented historically. Essentially, you are repeating what Rush or Levin or Hannity say, obviously assuming them to be authorities on such subjects.

    Let’s just take your example of “National Socialism”, the label for the Nazi movement under Hitler. I gather that because the word “socialism” is part of the title, you presume some identification between Nazism and “socialism”. That’s fairly odd in that one group of people the Nazis took great care to isolate and gas or execute in some other manner were German (or Austrian or Polish, etc) socialists. Not to mention the war between Russia and Germany.

    You are being encouraged by the folks to whom you listen to be lazy in thought and in your own education. You are, in short, rather an exemplar of much of what Derbyshire writes about in his piece above.

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