Here are the top three things that have genuinely surprised me listening to Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, Laura Ingraham, and Dennis Prager on the local right-wing radio station the past month or so:
For an ostensibly uber-populist medium, there’s sure an awful lot of complaining about the ignorance and weak will of the American people. For every denunciation of the elitism of prayer-banning, lesbian-loving, terror-supporting liberal judges (who are just like the Islamo-Nazis in their lack of faith in the people, Laura Ingraham reminds us), there are two or three denunciations of the gullibility of our Bush-betraying, 9/11-forgetting, sacrifice-disrespecting electorate. ABC’s docu-drama, Hugh Hewitt insists, was assailed by the Democrats because it had the potential to remind an ungrateful citizenry of the risk posed by the bad men and the weak men who wouldn’t fight them. Michael Medved is doing his part by quizzing his callers about their ability to match terrorists with the buildings they tried to blow up – and then mocking them for not keeping up with the news. Turns out it’s the conservatives who are the pointy-headed know-it-alls.
More surprising has been the preponderance of product placement. Having trouble sleeping well as your kids return to public schools full of multiculturalism, sodomy, and self-esteem? Laura Ingraham can recommend a really comfortable mattress. Stressed over the preponderance of porn on the net? Michael Medved has just the safe-surf product for you – and it blocks those annoying pop-ups too! Looking to find a nice home safe from hoodlums and single parents? Check out Hugh Hewitt’s real estate agent!
And here some of us thought there were underlying contradictions between social conservatism and laissez-faire capitalism…
But perhaps the biggest surprise of my dalliance with the medium has been the enduring popularity of George W. Bush among some of the supposed leaders of a base that’s supposedly up in arms against the man. Sure, there’s talk of differences with the President, but it’s mostly that: references to having differences with the President in the context of defending him. Part of the explanation here is that Bush is a very conservative president. Call me cynical, but leading conservatives’ increasingly shrill protestations to the contrary are in large part about protecting the conservative brand from an unpopular product. These folks don’t seem to have gotten that memo (neither have the liberals who go on about how Bush isn’t conservative). But I think there’s something more going on here aside from policy.
These radio hosts spend less time defending the conduct of Bush’s war than they do the sincerity of his religious faith – which, they insist, is what maddens the left about him most. George Bush, like Hillary Clinton – who’s done much less for the left than Bush has for the right – has a popularity with a certain base as an icon based not just on what he believes but on what his beliefs and his biography together suggest about the kind of person he is (Paul Waldman would say this is about ethos rather than logos). Just as Clinton has a certain base of support that will stay loyal because she’s a brilliant woman who built a successful career and has withstood years of nasty attack by right-wing radio hosts, no matter what she says about trade of flag-burning, Bush has a certain base that will stay loyal because he’s an ostensibly straight-talking Texan who doesn’t respect the New York Times or the UN, no matter what he says about spending or immigration. Bush and Clinton each have a certain following who will cleave to them in good part because of the vituperation inspired in the other side. I think it’s clear, between Clinton’s loyalists and Bush’s, which group I think is getting taken for more of a ride.