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Talk Radio Killed Conservativism?

In my youth, video killed the radio star.  Now, Nate Silver suggests, conservative talk radio has killed conservatism.   John Ziegler, of whom I’ve never heard, is apparently an imbecile. QED.

This might be the key passage of my interview with John Ziegler on Tuesday, for it is, in a nutshell, why conservatives don’t win elections anymore. It is not that conservatism generally permits less nuance than liberalism (in terms of political messaging, that is probably one of conservatism’s strengths). Rather, the key lies in the second passage that I highlighted. There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.

Talk radio is about entertainment and drama, not persuasion.  Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage aren’t running latter-day Firing Lines; rather, they’re Howard Stern and Don Imus with a political bent.

For a variety of reasons, liberals have not done well in the talk radio genre.  But they’ve got every bit the talent for single mindedness as their counterparts on the right — as seen in a large chunk of the blogosphere.  It’s easier to build an audience by serving up healthy chunks of red meat, generating faux outrage, and flaming the passions of a single minded audience than to persuade people towards your point of view.  And the Netroots are much better at that than their conservative counterparts.  (It’s also true, I think, that most of the best analytical blogs are on the center-left; that’s a subject for another post, possibly later today.)

It’s worth mentioning, as an aside, that conservatism is far from dead.  It’s main electoral instrument, the Republican Party, has seen better days.   But that’s a cyclical thing in American politics.  Many had written the Democrats off for dead in 1991 and again in 2000.  There’s nothing like losing to motivate reform.

UPDATE: Stacy McCain thinks Silver is unfair to Ziegler.   The problem, though, is that Ziegler goes into attack mode when challenged rather than adducing evidence.  It’s an entertaining way to deal with a hostile caller to a radio show but an odd tactic for an interviewee.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    I don’t know. I work with a couple smart guys – small business owners too busy for much news or political introspection. Their drive-time conservative radio is both their entertainment and their source of political news. I ask them test questions like “what’s the debt?” and they don’t know.

    It’s not that they are dumb, it’s just that (perhaps like a lot of business-focussed conservatives) they don’t give it time.

    I do think Nate Silver is on to something. It rings true for me. When people have little time and get pre-packaged talk-radio arguments, that’s not good.

    (Contrast with the old surveys which show Daily Show viewers are more aware of general news and events than even viewers of television news shows.)

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  2. anjin-san says:

    Talk radio is about entertainment and drama, not persuasion.

    Well James, YOU may know that, but I suspect quite a few folks don’t. Just read some of the posts in here.

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  3. sam says:

    There’s nothing like losing to motivate reform.

    The question, can the Republicans reform?

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  4. James Joyner says:

    Contrast with the old surveys which show Daily Show viewers are more aware of general news and events than even viewers of television news shows.

    Those surveys say the same thing of Rush Limbaugh listeners. People who seek out political opinion are by definition news junkies.

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  5. Steven W. says:

    Rush is in a totally different league than Savage and, when liberals speak of “nuance” … that usually means lying. It’s the pot calling the kettle black when liberals say there’s no discourse or debate within conservative talk radio when, it can be easily demonstrated, therein lies much of the dissent from the ranks that has challenged President Bush and – even more so – John McCain over the years.

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  6. Brainster says:

    I have a hunch that a lot fewer people will be interested in Nate’s political thoughts than they were in his regression analysis of the polls.

    Perhaps he can do an article next on “Why the New England Patriots don’t win Super Bowls anymore.”

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  7. odograph says:

    James, I like the source page at Pew better. It gives the full results of the survey, for high/mid/low informed.

    Daily Show is still tops, but yes, Rush is in the running. That does surprise me.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    Here’s the graphic:

    And, really, you shouldn’t be surprised. If you’re interested enough in politics to listen to Rush three hours a day, you’re pretty well informed. I haven’t listened to him in years, finding that his shtick wore thin, but his show was always quite newsy and analytical.

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  9. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Talk radio is about entertainment and drama, not persuasion. Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage aren’t running latter-day Firing Lines; rather, they’re Howard Stern and Don Imus with a political bent.

    It’s obvious that you haven’t listened to Rush in a long time. His show, while having a large helping of entertainment, is all about persuasion. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade his listeners to vote for McCain in the last election even though he was less than enthused about McCain as the Republican candidate.

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  10. Our Paul says:

    This one I am looking forward:

    It’s easier to build an audience by serving up healthy chunks of red meat, generating faux outrage, and flaming the passions of a single minded audience than to persuade people towards your point of view. And the Netroots are much better at that than their conservative counterparts. (It’s also true, I think, that most of the best analytical blogs are on the center-left; that’s a subject for another post, possibly later today.) My italics.

    The debate on whether John Ziegler is an imbecile fails to look through the “huckster” filter. The man is a genius, for he has become a much praised entity on a variety of center right/hard right posts.

    What your friend Stacy (the other) McCain failed to discern is that the video is a trailer for a DVD now in production. The video will shortly be on sale and will conclusively show that (gasp) Obama’s election was the function of the long suspected left wing Main Street Media conspiracy. No lack of customers, 17% of the US population still believes Obama is or was a Muslim.

    Carl Bialik, the numbers guy over at the Wall Street Journal, takes another look at the validity of the poll, and has a host of links to satisfy the inquiring mind. (Always find a guy that has all the links you wish to use!!!) But, Nate Silver’s comments should be read. Normally phlegmatic, he really looses his cool over this one.

    One thing is for sure, the video smells of being staged, and has that malodorous whiff of racism. Over half of the folks shown are of color, and the necessary compliment of “ditzy” females are present. Talk about red meat for the base…

    Dare I post a snark? Strikes me you would not wish to have the base over for dinner, especially if you are serving rare steak!!! (Present company excluded)

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  11. just me says:

    I like to listen to talk radio when I travel long distances-and more for the entertainment value than necessarily looking for a source of news. I think I am a political junky but I would rather get my information from the internet (online newspapers and a variety of blogs). I get rather sick of talk radio and several on the right or left that think discourse on the radio or television (something I do not go near for news) means screaming and yelling at your opposition on a subject.

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  12. [...] James Joyner notes: It’s easier to build an audience by serving up healthy chunks of red meat, generating faux [...]

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  13. steve says:

    There are way too many who do not realize Rush and Hannity are entertainment. I guarantee you that at work I never hear anyone quote Joyner, but get lots of Rush quotes.

    Steve

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  14. Park Slope Pubby says:

    Are you nuts? do you have any idea how many people have been moved to conservatism by Rush and Savage and all the rest? Liberals always say how bad they are, but most of them have never listened, if you actually ask them. Rush is intelligent, analytical, invariably polite to the callers, and hysterically funny. Savage is much crazier, but also intelligent and funny and persuasive. I know many many people who have been converted by them.

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  15. Ottovbvs says:

    Mr Joyner is usually reasonably realistic but talk radio isn’t about political persuasion? That’s a stretch. Silver who has emerged during this election is clearly a very smart young man. Anyone who doubts me should visit his site. The analysis there during the election was totally realistic, although he’s a liberal, and far superior to that to be found at more established venues like RCP. It was also totally on the money in terms of the outcome. He made Ziegler with his bogus poll look like a complete twit. Now to return to the wider point he was making and that is the influence of the far right media, radio, tv, publishing on the fortunes of the conservatism in general and the GOP in particular. He has a point. This part of the media is a for profit operation dedicated to keeping on the boil the Republican base (roughly the 34% of the electorate who approve of the GOP in the latest Gallup poll). Now if you think the opinions and prejudices of the Republican base constitute a saleable proposition to the mass of the electorate over the next few years then you probably think that’s good idea. If you have concerns about their saleability and want to try and heal the divisions that are breaking out between the three legs of the GOP stool then it’s more of an open question. I fall into the latter camp. Brooks described Palin as a cancer on the GOP but I think the real cancer is the far right media. This monster has been created and now it’s dictating how the majority of the base conservatives think. In the age of Obama this is a recipe for political disaster. If you doubt me I’ve one name for you. Jim Gilmore of VA.

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  16. The ‘righroots’…

    THE ‘RIGHROOTS’…. The Washington Post ran an interesting, 2,300-word item today on conservative blogs and their future within (alongside?) the Republican Party. As far as leading conservative activists — online and off — are concerned, the right …

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  17. Black Friday Specials…

    Here is a great Shopping tip: You can get shoes for 3 dollars at the bowling alley. :o) Happy Holidays!…

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