quit talking about talking heads

quit talking about talking headsGuess what?  Talk radio hosts and cable tv stars like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck say crazy, paranoid, flame-baiting, stupid, awful things.  Surprise!

They do it for the ratings.  It’s a ploy that is very, very successful.  It works on the right a lot better than on the left for sociological reasons beyond my understanding.  It makes the television and radio broadcasters a great deal of money.  It makes the stars a great deal of money.  And they get fantastic pulpits from which they can grind out their populist ire, churning up whatever angst or fear already exists amongst the grassroots fans who adore them.  They lie, they exaggerate, they race-bait and call names.  They represent the lowest form of debate.

And it’s high time we stopped talking about them

That’s right.  Limbaugh may be contemptuous and he and his ilk may represent a cancer within conservatism, but talking about them endlessly, pointing out their every fault, their every foible, their every stupid or ugly sentiment – it just gets old.  And not only that, it serves very little practical purpose.  My own flirtations in anti-talking-head blogging taught me that.

I’d rather hear constructive ideas than another lament over Mark Levin’s intellectual dishonesty or anger management issues, or whatever.  I mean, who are we really trying to convince?  Not the fans, surely – their minds are made up.  And for independent minded people, these talk radio types hold very little sway to begin with.

Who, then, really benefits from conservatives attacking conservative talk-radio hosts?  If the answer is reform-minded, sensible Republicans, then I have to ask – do these sensible types, these independents and moderates benefit more from attacks on Rush than they would from some constructive ideas or strong policy suggestions?  Probably not.  So who benefits?

When you focus on attacking Rush and Beck and Levin you stoop to their level, plain and simple.  It’s inevitable.  You play at their game and by their rules.  And let’s face it, that’s a game you just can’t win.  You don’t like them because they fight dirty, but you can’t beat them unless you fight dirty, too.  And if you fight dirty – well – you no longer have any legs to stand on.

It’s an exercise in futility.  Give it up.

Update.

See also Noah Millman who wants the crazies to piss on the sleeping bags – or something like that….

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27 thoughts on “quit talking about talking heads

  1. Here’s a conversation I have regularly with a very liberal blogging friend of mine:

    Me: Why do you keep posting stuff about Glenn Beck? Are you just trying to drive traffic to your site?

    Friend: I talk about him because he and Rush Limbaugh are the voices for the Right at the moment and what they say matters.

    Me: Really? Because none of my conservative friends like them.

    Friend: Well a lot of conservatives do like them which is why their ratings are so high.

    Me: Don’t you think a significant number of their audience is actually liberals looking to be outraged and indendents looking to be entertained?

    Friend: A very small %. But millions of conservative Americans rely on them for their talking points.

    Me: I know politically it benefits you to say that and that if Americans think Rush is a typical conservative it equals votes for your side, but you don’t REALLY believe that, do you?

    Friend: Yes, I do.

    Me: Why don’t you read some intelligent voices that lean to the Right like Ross Douthat or Megan McArdle or even my super-awesome blog? We don’t sound like Rush.

    Friend: Your audiences are tiny and insignificant and therefore a waste of my time. When you all have 10 million readers per week I will call you the Voice of the Right. Until then, Beck is my man.

    Me: I give up.

    The point I’m trying to make with this dialogue is that many conservatives can’t resist bashing these tools because we hate being associated with them. It’s like the outrage you feel when someone on the internet calls you a liar and you know you aren’t. That conversational impotence is so frustrating that you can’t help but lash out. Liberals want America to believe Rush is giving conservatives their marching orders when from my window he’s looking less and less relevant. So we get frustrated and tell Rush to shut up. Liberals don’t hear us (or don’t care) and Rush keeps right on chugging. it’s a vicious cycle.

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    • I only worry about what those particular talking heads say in the following situations. 1) When republican office holders begin to repeat their talking points. 2) When what they say makes me worry that a deranged listener is going to shoot someone. (I don’t think that all of their listeners are deranged or likely to shoot someone. I think that deranged people might get some ideas as to targets from them though.)

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  2. Ostensibly you’re right, but I think moderate/center-right attacks on Rush & Beck make sense for the same reason R&B attack low hanging political fruit. It’s not about the attack, it’s about the audience.

    Attacking R&B as crazy, right wing loonies, accomplishes two goals. It reinforces you (and consequently your ideas) as being reliably not crazy. It also, and I think Freddie would agree with this, gives you a certain amount of credit when critiquing outside of your caste.

    Which is why so many liberals scoff at conservative complaints about runaway spending. “Where was this concern when Bush was in office…” they ask. It’s a good question, but it’s not a question, it’s meant to shut down criticism. Silence, whether it is or isn’t, looks like tacit approval.

    I guess I don’t think the attacks/laments gain much for the authors but I think not speaking out against R&B carries with it certain real risks of being lumped together with R&B, whether deserved or not.

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  3. Could this same argument be used against The Next Right’s attacks on the WND birther types?

    I’m thinking that it could.

    I’m someone who thinks that attacking the birther types is something that will result in the Republican party better off in the long run… and so I’m confused. Help me out.

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  4. For Shame E.D. In your last paragraph you had a prime opportunity to use the pig saying and you didn’t trot it out! Cliche lovers everywhere weep. I’ll roll it out for you:
    If you wrestle with a pig you both get dirty; and the pig likes it.

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  5. When training puppies, it’s important to reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior.

    It’s important, because when it comes to puppies, attention is the reward. And puppies think the rewarded behavior is the good behavior, even it you’re yelling at it for pissing all over the carpet. So the rule of puppy training is really about training the puppy’s owner to praise it when it does good stuff like piss outside. It’s about training the owner, not the puppy.

    In this case, I really don’t see a difference between talk-radio hosts and puppies. Both react to reward of attention.

    All for ignoring the blow-hards, too, unless they come out with some well-researched fact-based truth. Then, please, kiss away.

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  6. While I agree with E.D. in principle, and with others posting that the harpies on the left are more or less ignored, I think both points miss one big fat elephant in the middle of the room: For right or wrong, Beck, Limbaugh, the Fox anchors and other media demagogues have become the de-facto leaders of the right. That makes it hard not to focus on them.

    I mean, the few times I’ve heard Randy Rhodes on Air America (an hour or two of my life I will never get back) has left no doubt in my mind that she is a shrill, vitriolic, hyperbolic crank whose rants are so so detached from logical thought as to make me think they are based more on a desire for ratings than any actual belief system. But for now, elected Democratic leaders are not forced to go groveling to her for an apology if they say something she disagrees with. Nor did Obama ever feel the need, when campaigning, to go repeatedly on her program for no other reason than to fawn over what a fantastic, patriotic American she was, and how she was the country’s last, best hope for survival.

    The conservative movement, tragically, it seems to me, has abandoned its tradition of confidence in long-term focus on coherent, logical argument to win the day. Now it just seems to want a few more votes or rating points immediately, even at the expense of its credibility over the long haul.

    How do you not pay attention?

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  7. Generally, ignoring the talking heads can be an acceptable course. On the other hand, when people who actually *are* elected officials start parroting talking heads, you need to attack the official for being stupid. This isn’t really about “Liberals” and “Conservatives”.

    People (not just liberals) are convinced that Rush & Hannity & Beck are leaders of the Right (not Conservatives) because when those guys are criticized by elected officials on the right (Republicans), those officials wind up apologizing. Whether or not the views expressed by the talking heads is representative of Conservatives or not, that’s a pretty damn big problem; if for no other reason that it’s silencing Conservatives inside the Republican party.

    Put another way; yes, both political parties (and both ideologies) have their lunatic fringe. Yes, generally, the lunatic fringe ought to be treated as the lunatic fringe. But in this instance there’s a definite case that sensible Conservatives have been marginalized inside the Republican party.

    Conservatives can talk about good ideas, and that’s great for open debate, and great for Conservativism, and the exchange of ideas… but if Conservatives don’t acknowledge that the *Republican party* has seriously run off the rails *and try to fix the party*, the ideas are actually going to be less useful. It is going to be difficult to find political entities who will negotiate in good faith with someone who has no political presence, or whose only political presence consists of a party of nutbars.

    Put another way, if I’m a moderate or a centrist and I need to negotiate with parties on either side to get what I want done, if one side isn’t a useful partner I have to skew to the other side. If I can’t find a useful set of Republicans and a useful set of Democrats that I can bring together for a centrist solution, because the Republicans are off the edge of the world, I have lost the ability to push for Conservative ideas with the Democrats that I may only partially agree with.

    A less wordy response: if you’re worried about Conservative political thought, you can ignore the talking heads. If you’re worried about political reality in the Republican party, you can’t. You can’t win political battles with just ideas, you need the ability to achieve consensus. To achieve consensus, you need to be able to attract centrists and moderates.

    You’re not going to get that when your negotiator is going back on Rush to apologize for calling him a blowhard. He has no credibility.

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  8. And it’s high time we stopped talking about them.

    For that, those holding political office with conservative constituencies need to lead them in a different direction from the places where they are currently very willingly if not enthusiastically following R&B and others, rather than running to catch up with R&B at the head of the flock. Playing a constructive role in health reform would have been a good way to do that; loudly & repeatedly denouncing and perhaps shunning Joe Wilson might have been another; rejecting the traps set against ACORN another; taking conspicuous not of and denouncing the clear racial subtext of the 9/12 marching another; there were countless other opportunities; there can be more. I have any doubts whether any of those will be seized — I hope they are. For now, Rush and Beck are leading Republican officeholders just as much as they are the conservative grass roots — because they are. Until that changes, it’s not serious to say that what Beck & Limbaugh say doesn’t matter, or that it shouldn’t be talked about. Dream on.

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  9. Michael, RTod, and Pat have valid points. Rush, Beck, et al all should be ignored. However, when Republican congressmen take Becks and Rush’s statements as facts, and incorporate them into their platforms of the minute, we can’t just ignore the talk show extremists. When GOP members have to apologize to Rush, that’s the problem. There are rational GOP out there, but they’re drowned out by the masses of brown stuff spewing from the radio. We need rational GOP to say straight out, “That’s stupid”. The extremist right has forced out the more moderate (and intelligent — sorry, Michelle Bachmann is a true example of the extremist fringe in Congress) GOP, which means they are marginalizing their power. We need to encourage the more rational GOP (and Democrats, too) to simply disregard the talk show crud, or to rebut Beck and Rush as needed.

    True, we don’t need to focus on the traffic wrecks everyday. We do need to fight against the egregious lies and pick our battles. Let’s not waste our time and sanity on every lie they utter — that could take forever.

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