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.