Where’s the Argument?
P.J. O’Rourke notes that, while the volume has gone up, actual debate has largely gone out of American politics, as both sides merely hector their own.
Arguing, in the sense of attempting to convince others, has gone out of fashion with conservatives. The formats of their radio and television programs allow for little measured debate, and to the extent that evidence is marshaled to support conservative ideas, the tone is less trial of Socrates than Johnnie Cochran summation to the O.J. jury. Except the juryÃ¢€”with a clever marketing strategyÃ¢€”has been rigged. I wonder, when was the last time a conservative talk show changed a mind?
A generation ago there wasn’t much conservatism on the airwaves. For the most part it was lonely Bill Buckley moderating Firing Line. But from 1964 to 1980 we went from Barry Goldwater’s defeat with 38.5 percent of the popular vote to Ronald Reagan’s victory with 50.8 percent of the popular vote. Perhaps there was something efficacious in Buckley’sÃ¢€”if he’ll pardon the wordÃ¢€”moderation.
I tried watching The O’Reilly Factor. I tried watching Hannity shout about Colmes. I tried listening to conservative talk radio. But my frustration at concurrence would build, mounting from exasperation with like-mindedness to a fury of accord, and I’d hit the OFF button.
Does the left have this problem? Do some liberals feel as if they’re guarding the net while their teammates make a furious rush at their own goal? NPR seems more whiny than hectoring, except at fundraising time. There’s supposed to be a lot of liberal advocacy on TV. I looked for things that debased freedom, promoted license, ridiculed responsibility, and denigrated man and GodÃ¢€”but that was all of TV. How do you tell the liberal parts from the car ads? Once more I resorted to books.
To answer my question I didn’t even have to open Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. But having done so, I found these chapter headings: “Ann Coulter: Nutcase,” “You Know Who I Don’t Like? Ann Coulter,” and “Bill O’Reilly: Lying Splotchy Bully.”
Michael Moore’s previous book was Stupid White Men, titled in a spirit of gentle persuasion unmatched since Martin Luther, that original Antinomian, wrote Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants. Moore’s new book, Dude, Where’s My Country?, contains ten chapters of fulminations convincing the convinced. However, Moore does include one chapter on how to argue with a conservative. As if. Approached by someone like Michael Moore, a conservative would drop a quarter in Moore’s Starbucks cup and hurriedly walk away.