Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Why Does Liberal Talk Radio Fail?

On HBList Joseph Kellard asked, "why does liberal talk radio consistently fail (when not funded by government), while free-market conservative talk radio prevails?"

It's a good question. Recent studies have showed, as I recall, that 90% of talk radio is conservative. Liberals such as Mario Cuomo and Jim Hightower failed at talk radio. Air America has financial troubles. The predominance of right-wing talk radio has some liberals wanting to bring back the Fairness Doctrine.

It has been said that conservative talk radio just mirrors America. The people are conservative, therefore talk radio is. If this were true, then why do elections indicate we are nearly a 50-50 nation? Why does right-wing radio prevail even in places such as New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles, where Democrat politicians succeed and conservatives are nowhere to be seen?

It has been said that the MSM is predominately liberal, thus talk radio is a reaction to it. People tune in to hear politically incorrect statements that one would never see in newspapers and television. This might explain some of right-wing talk radio's success, but not all of it. Again, elections would indicate that much more of the country agrees with the liberal MSM than is reflected in radio -- so why can't this point of view find a place in talk radio?

Here is my answer. Talk radio is a forum for opinion, which means rational, logical argumentation meant to persuade. In order to argue well, one must subscribe to and have confidence in reason. One must believe that rational argumentation is not a waste of time. Liberals, succumbing to two centuries of nihilistic modern philosophy, no longer believe in reason.

The Old Left had associated reason with socialism. By the 1960's socialism was discredited and the irrationalist New Left arose to replace the Old Left. By the time socialism received its final death blow in the late '80s-early '90s, the left had concluded from its failure that reason doesn't work.

In the meantime, the 1972 landslide defeat of McGovern by Nixon was a turning point for the Democrat Party. As New Leftists they realized that they could not campaign proudly and openly as who they are and win the Presidency. Since then the only two Democrat Presidents have been Southern governors who campaigned as moderates.

The left's philosophic loss of confidence in reason and the Democrats' bitter experiences with the American electorate have made them cynical about argumentation. To them it is about manipulating the prejudices and irrationality of the American people. They believe that when the right talks about God, guns and gays it stirs up emotions in Americans that overwhelm their capacity to think rationally. Same thing with patriotism. Al Gore's new book argues that right-wing talk is an "assault on reason."

When a faction no longer believes in the efficacy of reason -- despite the title of Gore's book -- what fills the void? Lies, smears and character assassination. Since the advent of Borking, we have seen the left rely more and more on ad hominem argumentation. It has become a regular Democrat tactic to release smears about Republicans late in October before elections. This recent post by James Wolcott, in which he smears Republican presidential candidates as animal abusers, is typical.

In recent years it has been bewilderingly difficult to understand exactly what the Democrats in Congress are fighting for. They attack Republicans, but they don't crusade for anything. I believe the roots lie in that traumatic 1972 election, in which they learned that openly fighting for big government is not the path to success.

After the 1972 election the Democrats did manage to defeat Nixon anyway by using the liberal media to mire him the Watergate scandal. This is another lesson that leftist baby boomers have not forgotten. Since then they have put enormous resources not into fighting Republican ideas, but into catching them in scandal. They had no answer to Reagan's conservative ideology, but they made the most of the Iran-Contra Scandal. Since day one of George W. Bush's Presidency they have struggled overtime to mire him in scandal. The best they've done is the ginned-up Scooter Libby trial. I take such meager results as evidence that Bush is the most honest, least corrupt President of my lifetime. (Bush's problem, in both domestic and foreign affairs, is that he follows his Christian morality too devoutly.)

There is another related reason the left does not thrive in a medium of opinion. Collectivism and statism are at war with reality. Setting morality aside (which the left has learned never to do, as the prevailing morality of our culture, altruism, is on their side), big government is not practical. The conservatives, as altruists, cannot make a moral argument against the welfare state, but they can argue its impracticality all day long, and this fills a lot of air time on talk radio. Liberals are crushed when the debate is about practical results. (Al Gore's crusade to destroy the economy in order to prevent global warming is currently being demolished by rational scientists. The left's best hope is to intimidate their opponents into silence by announcing that they have a consensus and anyone who disagrees is a wacko. When a scientist's career depends on government money, such a tactic is powerful.)

So liberals cannot be honest about who they are and cannot argue that their programs are practically better than their opponents'. They look at the American people with contempt and believe reason is useless with them. Is it any wonder they fail before radio microphones?

All liberals can argue for is the morality of altruism, because 2,000 years of Christianity have made the west equate altruism with morality. Unfortunately for the left and the right, arguing for self-sacrifice makes boring radio. It is about as interesting as a Sunday sermon or a pious lecture in political correctness. No ratings there. For the left that leaves ad hominem attacks and scandal mongering, which might entertain for a few minutes.

An hour is a long time to fill with talk when you really believe, deep down inside, that the only answer is force.

UPDATE: Revision.


Anonymous said...

"Talk radio is a forum for opinion, which means rational, logical argumentation meant to persuade. In order to argue well, one must subscribe to and have confidence in reason."

But the print media is also a forum for opinion. Yet the number of left-leaning newspapers and magazines vastly outweighs the number of conservative ones.

So how about this explanation: Talk radio is mostly conservative because people *who don't read* and are looking for confirmation of their world views tend to be conservative.


Mike said...


That's specious reasoning; talk-radio is known to be popular as listening material for people who are at work. They are being otherwise productive with their eyes and their hands, and have no time for leisure reading. The meme that rightists are anti-intellectual is always dragged into these arguments, but it's intellectually dishonest.

Anonymous said...

"Talk radio is mostly conservative because people *who don't read* and are looking for confirmation of their world views tend to be conservative

What a classic and condescending example of unjust stereotyping. This is actually an echo of Mario Cuomo who, when trying to explain away his dismal failure as a talk show host, infamously whined that Republicans "scrawl with crayons while we [Leftists] write with a fine quill pen."

The fact of the matter is that, according to a Pew study, Rush Limbaugh's program, the most successful talk show out there, has an audience that is MORE educated and MORE knowledgeable than that of a number of outlets catering to the allegedly more "sophisticated" and "nuanced" liberal elites such as The New Yorker, NPR, CNN and the NewHour, Only the readership of The Weekly Standard and The New Republic rated higher - and the Weekly Standard is hardly a liberal publication.

If talk radio is for people who "don't read" what does that say about NPR's audience?

Some fine quill pen, huh?

I have a pretty strong guess why Leftists do not do well in talk radio: No decent person can stomach listening to them for very long. And that includes a great many people who, for various reasons, usually punch out the "D" chad and not the "R" chad at election time.

NOBODY wants to listen to some whiny, bitter NIHILIST constantly rant on about how life sucks, how America and the West suck, how anyone who is successful sucks and ought to be made to pay, how Wal-mart sucks, how the future is bleak and everybody but them are a bunch of stupid, unsophisticated backwoods bumpkins from flyover country. Furthermore, NOBODY wants to invite into their homes, offices and cars a preachy PURITAN who becomes offended when people eat meat, smoke cigarettes, eat the wrong types of food, drive big cars, wear perfume, use bug spray, use motorized lawnmowers, use the word "he" instead of "s/he," crack funny jokes and, in general, smile and have fun.

It is only a very small percentage of the population in this country who has any desire to listen to that kind of stuff - approximately the same percentage of people who have actually tuned into such programs while they were still on the air. After all, misery loves company.

And the one audience that MIGHT be interested in hearing that sort of stuff - the BENEFICIARIES of Leftist "benevolence" - are too busy indulging themselves in Oprah's brand of emotionalism or, even worse, are watching so-called talk shows on television which "interview" guests on such lofty topics as "my girlfriend sleeps with other guys but I'm ok with it."

As far as the approximately 50 percent who do push the "D" chad at election time - well, there are many reasons for people to do that. Some do so merely because they are voting AGAINST the Republicans for some reason or another, valid or otherwise. Others do vote FOR the Democrats but are not especially interested in political issues in general and cast their votes for utterly mindless reasons such as tradition ("our family has always been working class and, therefore, always votes for the Democrats who look out for working folks") or social metaphysics ("if I politically disagree with my professors/fellow university students/fellow entertainment industry types/colleagues at work/acquaintances at elitist cocktail parties/etc., they will think I am some unwashed, unsophisticated bumpkin from flyover country who probably shops at Wal-mart and drinks the coffee sold at truck stops and gas stations.")

The fact is the more decent of the hard core Democratic voters (as opposed to Leftists activists), when they actually DO give an ounce of thought to serious political issues, are far more interested in EVADING and RATIONALIZING AWAY the nature and ideology of their party. The LAST thing they want to hear is some OBNOXIOUS FREAK articulate it in very explicit and militant terms.

That is also probably why people such as Tom Daschle began to freak out and hint at the need for the (un)Fairness Doctrine a few years ago when numbers came out about just how many people who classify themselves as LIBERALS regularly tune into Rush Limbaugh's program. Some "crayon," huh?

(The part about Democrats wanting to evade and rationalize away the nature and ideology of their party probably applies to a lot of Republicans as well. I think that is why the talk shows that do best ratings wise are those such as Limbaugh's which spend more time engaged in polemics AGAINST the Left than on crusades FOR the Right. There are a LOT of things about the Left that many commentators on the Right are able to do a perfectly decent job of ripping to shreds. While there are certainly many things the Right deserves to be ripped to shreds on, there are very few people out there on the Left who are able to do so without being thoroughly disgusting themselves in the process. Plus it helps talk radio that, thanks to spineless wusses such as Bush, even when the Republican are in power, the Left still tends to set the agenda and tone of the daily news cycle - which is what drives the subject matter of any talk show - far more often than not.)

Anonymous said...

Another reason that I did not mention in my previous comment why Leftist talk shows do not do well: Nobody with an ounce of self-respect wants to listen to a bunch of condescending elitists tell them that they are a bunch of dolts - especially when the things they are being called a dolt over things such as fidelity to their values (philosophically valid or otherwise) or pursuing their own material self-interest and happiness.

If one's motive is to persuade - well about the last thing that one should do is start out by insulting their audience's intelligence. That might work as a form of intimidation for the insecure and the social metaphysicians of the world - but it sure doesn't work with someone who is mentally healthy. But that is the very first thing that a Leftist does - indeed, it is a major building block of their entire world view.

The Left is riddled with pretentious, condescending, elitist snobs. And while plenty of people might be effectively intimidated and silenced by that - nobody wants to go out of his way to spend a lot of time around such a person.

To a Leftist, the average person in this country is a totally helpless, doltish waif - a stereotypical, toothless, inarticulate and half-literate backwoods Bible thupin' hick from Appalachia whose only hope of redemption depends on the infinite wisdom and nobless oblige of a more "cultured," "refined" and "educated" elite who have a keener understanding of just how nuanced and complicated the world really is.

Have you ever been around a school teacher who has taught 5 and 6 year olds day after day year after year? I knew such a person once - an Objectivist. This person was perfectly capable of holding an intelligent adult conversation. But whenever she had to explain a point that was intellectually complicated and had to be broken down, her tone and rate of speech was always that which one would use to explain something complicated to a 6 year old. And, considering her context, it was perfectly understandable and had nothing at all to do with her appraisal of the other person's intelligence level.

Now, listen to Algore whenever he spoke to an audience prior to his semi-deranged "angry" mode of recent years. He always sounded like he was talking to little kids - even though the audience was adults. The same was true for Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady - she always sounded like she was talking to second graders. And, since neither Algore or Hillary spend their days teaching little kids, on them, such a tone is a window into their soul on their appraisal of the general public's intelligence level. (Today, Hillary sounds either shrill or, when she is in front of black audiences, she does a very bad impersonation of a stereotypical Arkansas trailer park resident which is, of course, yet another, even worse, insult to the intelligence of her audience).

Leftists and ALL other types of elitists HAVE to talk down to their audiences. Their stock in trade is that, by virtue of their education, upbringing, ideology, etc., they have a monopoly on the superior wisdom that has been denied to the inferior dolts out there who need their help and benevolence if they have any hope at all for salvation. By contrast, if one held that the average person was capable of thinking on his own and acting efficaciously - well, why on earth would there be any need at all for Leftists or elitists?

Again - what kind of person with an ounce of self-esteem would want to take a moment out of his day to listen to what such a person thinks about things and, by implication, be insulted in the process?

One thing about Rush Limbaugh - you NEVER hear him talking down to his audience (unless, of course, they are from Rio Linda!).

And that is a virtue that you will find that Ayn Rand shared as well. Observe that her writings were targeted to a general public sort of audience - not "the well educated" or the "smart set" or the academic crowd or any other sort of self-proclaimed elite. I have no doubt that if some poorly dressed, heavily accented rural Southern Baptist preacher asked her an intelligent question, she would have without hesitation given him an intelligent and respectful answer and would not have acted at all condescending to a person she undoubtedly would know very well she would have all sorts of philosophical disagreements with. Based on everything I read about her, her default would have been to treat him as an individual with respect and intelligence until he gave her specific reason to do otherwise. THAT is the kind of person who is going to be able to put his or her point across persuasively and is not shy about interacting with those who disagree.

And one more thing: I put the notion of smearing the talk radio audience as people who "don't read" in the same category as pretentious, elitist professors who dismiss Ayn Rand as an author of "pulp fiction."

SN said...

Myrhaf, The 90% number is interesting. I assume people like Howard Stern and others in that vein form the other 10%?

Myrhaf said...

I wish I could remember where I read that statistic so I could link to it. I assume they are looking at AM talk rather than FM or satellite morning shows.

SN said...

I think I found the report you might have been thinking of.

Myrhaf said...

Hey, thanks for the link, Softwarenerd. I just read your comment today, over two months after you wrote it.

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