The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Grabbing the Other End of the Rope

Posted on | December 7, 2013 | 130 Comments

Rush Limbaugh occasionally says, “I don’t need ‘balance.’ I am balance.”

That is to say, when all the major institutions of politics, media and culture are dominated by liberalism, the conservative who aims to critique and counterbalance the regnant ethos need not concern himself too much with presenting The Other Side of the Story.

As Limbaugh also likes to say, if you don’t like what you hear on his show, you can turn almost anywhere else — ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. — and get the opposite viewpoint. The rise of conservative alternative media, especially Fox News, has somewhat attenuated Rush’s status as a lone dissenting voice, and conservative commentary now flourishes online, so it is possible to find an echo-chamber on the Right (what Julian Sanchez called “epistemic closure”). And during the Bush presidency, the Left created institutions (notably Media Matters) based on the dubious theory that Fox News and other conservative media had too much influence.

That theory cannot be reconciled with the facts:

NBC Nightly News  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9.3 million
ABC World News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.2 million
CBS Evening News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.3 million
Fox News (The O’Reilly Factor) . . . . . . . . . . . 3.2 million
MSNBC (Hardball with Chris Matthews) . . . . . 940,000
CNN (Anderson Cooper 360) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 605,000

Fox News is, as it proudly boasts, Number One in Cable News, accounting for 68% of the cable news audience. Add in the major network evening news broadcasts, however, and the total news audience is closer to 30 million, of which Fox’s share is about 11%.

In other words, 89% of news on TV is reliably liberal in its perspective, and the Left’s obsession with Fox News is absurd. Why should Media Matters have an annual budget of $10 million to counteract the influence of a network that gets 11% of the news audience?

This understanding of how liberalism continues to dominate the news media should inform how we view the mission of conservative alternatives and, for those of us who operate within the universe of conservative New Media — including bloggers and those who use Twitter, Facebook, e-mail newsletters and podcasts to spread the message — it should shape our understanding of that mission.

Could I write a bullet-point presentation on the insights to be gained from this kind of analysis? Sure, but anyone can look at the data and draw their own conclusions, and one of the most valuable insights is that no one has a monopoly on truth. No blog is an island, as I like to say, and it is important to avoid the narcissistic temptation of thinking that your site is the Only Site That Really Matters, defining the limits of the known ideological universe, a one-stop source for Everything Anybody Could Ever Need to Know About Anything.

All of the forgoing 400-plus words are a sort of preamble to explaining why I sometimes “go off on a tangent,” as critics might say, writing about relatively obscure topics (e.g., “Free Kate“) that some readers view, quite rightly, as being outside the mainstream. Regular readers have come to expect this from time to time, but as it is not my habit to explain or justify my actions — just do the work, and let the work speak for itself — occasionally even the most loyal reader may complain.

“Gosh, Stacy, enough with Bill Schmalfeldt already!” or, “Why aren’t you writing about that awful thing John Boehner just said?”

  1. Modesty of Ambition: How much difference will it make for me to become the 423rd conservative blogger to denounce Boehner’s latest betrayal of the conservative grassroots? Will Boehner even notice? Who am I to imagine that my own criticism would add anything useful or helpful to the discourse?
  2. Avoiding Redundancy: If every blogger takes the same approach to covering current events, we are merely divvying up the same “pie” of readership. Suppose that there are five or six major national news stories being discussed on Fox News, being linked at the top of the Drudge Report and so forth. Unless I have something distinct to add to the discussion, what is the benefit to readers — or to myself — of jumping aboard the punditry bandwagon on every one of those big stories, or any of them, for that matter?
  3. Independent Judgment: Don’t outsource your decision-making to others. Don’t let other people tell you what to think, and don’t let other people decide on your behalf what is important. Part of what we despise about the liberal media is their godawful groupthink herd instinct: “Look! A school shooting! Cancel everything and go wall-to-wall 24/7 on this! Get me a banner chyron: A NATION MOURNS.”

This last point is another case where Rush Limbaugh’s example is helpful. Some days, Rush will begin his show by talking about golf or football — it’s just what he feels like talking about that day — and invariably, he’ll get complaints from listeners who call in to ask, “Why aren’t you talking about The Big Story?” As if Rush were obligated to spend all three hours of his show discussing whatever the latest political headline is at The Drudge Report. Limbaugh doesn’t outsource his decision-making. He didn’t become the most successful radio host in history by letting other people do his thinking for him.

There are some stories that everybody in the news business really is obligated to cover, e.g., a presidential election campaign. But even then, we don’t all have to cover the story the same way, and there are other stories that remain newsworthy.

The Apotheosis of a Secular Saint

Nine hundred words into this explanation, I hope readers get the general point. Maybe you don’t understand every choice I make, and I seldom bother to explain my choices, but just because you don’t know what I’m doing doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m doing.

So . . . Nelson Mandela.

Prior to his death Thursday, Nelson Mandela wasn’t a topic to which I’d ever paid much attention, but in the past two days I’ve written three long posts totaling something like 5,000 words:

Have I “gone off on a tangent” here? That thought crossed my mind this morning when I saw a few posts on the subject (including Doug Hagin at Daley Gator and Bob Belvedere at the Camp of the Saints) and felt the urge to write another long post.

Wait a minute. Why am I doing this? If I write yet another Mandela post, won’t it look like I’m obsessed with this story?

Sometimes you really have to second-guess yourself like that. Step back and ask whether you have lost perspective.

So I had to go through the process of remembering exactly what it was that got me off on this particular tangent. Thursday afternoon, I was working on something else (and babysitting my newborn grandson) when news of Mandela’s death was announced. The coverage on Fox News was not really different from the idolatrous praise issuing from every liberal media organ and, even checking Twitter — where I’m following 5,000 feeds, at least 80% of which are conservatives — I didn’t see much counterbalance to this apotheosis.

Saint Nelson of the Blessed Necklace,” indeed.

Once I’d changed my grandson’s diaper, fed him a bottle and rocked him to sleep, therefore, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work, and I kept it up Friday when, with the TV turned to MSNBC, I consumed a steady diet of the over-the-top effusion of obituary praise to which my own fact-based writing was intended as an antidote.

Well, too much antidote can be a poison and, as noxious as is the liberal media’s lopsided depiction of Mandela’s legacy, you can only go so far to balance it before you start writing “Happy Tales of Apartheid: Recalling the Halcyon Glories of the Botha Regime.”

And that ain’t in my job description.

Like I said, it helps to step back occasionally and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” In this case, it was about an obvious example of media bias that I did not see other conservatives hastening to correct. And, worse, you had people like Max Boot at Commentary trying to sell conservatives a shiny Whig-history version of Mandela, to produce an Official Conservative Narrative from which no one might deviate without being deemed Unacceptable in Polite Company.

So . . . farewell, Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk.

Atheists, Madmen and the Cult of Progress

Think Progress has done us an unintentional favor by publishing “The Right Wing’s Campaign To Discredit And Undermine Mandela, In One Timeline,” a handy reminder for these youngsters (and Max Boot is only 44, which makes him a callow punk in my book) that those who stood athwart history yelling “stop” — to invoke Buckley’s description of the conservative mission — were generally of an opinion contrary to those expressed by some of their presumptive heirs.

Eminent alumni of elite universities are not prone to intellectual modesty and, although I’m sure Max Boot (BA, Cal-Berkeley, ’91; MA, Yale, ’92) could provide a plausibly persuasive argument for his moral superiority to Russell Kirk, excuse me for saying that Boot shouldn’t bother writing that argument, because I’m not buying it.

“Where it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”
Viscount Falkland, 1641

“Thanks to our sullen resistance to innovation, thanks to the cold sluggishness of our national character, we still bear the stamp of our forefathers. We have not (as I conceive) lost the generosity and dignity of thinking of the fourteenth century; nor as yet have we subtilized ourselves into savages. We are not the converts of Rousseau; we are not the disciples of Voltaire; Helvetius has made no progress amongst us. Atheists are not our preachers; madmen are not our lawgivers. We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made, in morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity.”
Edmund Burke, 1790

“My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”
G.K. Chesterton, 1923

An attachment to cultural inheritance, a preference for tradition over “innovation,” a skepticism toward the Cult of Progress — by such impulses is the conservative guided, disdaining political fads and intellectual fashions, and respecting the wisdom of his forebears.

My own forebears were, of course, all Democrats. My mother was especially stubborn in her partisanship and once, when I was about 13, she gave me a brief lecture on the virtues of partisanship.

One person, she explained, can make little difference in politics. Your ability to defend and advance your political interests is only effective if you do so through the instrument of your party. People who say, “I vote for the man, not the party” are therefore fools, blown around by the wind and prone to believe whatever they see on TV, because when you vote for the man, you get the party, and if the party in power is not your party, you don’t have any real influence.

Why did my mother feel the need to tell me that? At the time, I was somewhat mystified, as this sermon on party loyalty seemed to come out of nowhere, a fully elaborated argument delivered in response to some casual remark I’d made while my mother was driving me to school band practice. Not until many years later did it dawn on me: I was 13, and so that must have been in the fall of 1972.

My mother voted for George McGovern!

Understand that my parents were New Deal Democrats who had grown up on Alabama farms during the Depression and for whom FDR enjoyed an exalted status perhaps exceeded only by Jesus Christ and Bear Bryant, not necessarily in that order.

But in 1972, even such staunch Democrats balked at the prospect of voting for George McGovern against Richard Nixon.

My parents were Democrats, yes, and remarkably liberal in the context of the times, but they were also quite patriotic, anti-Communist and, because my father worked at the Lockheed aircraft plant in Marietta, their own economic interests were directly affected by the Pentagon budget which those damned hippie peaceniks proposed to slash. (God bless the military-industrial complex!)

Confessions of an Ex-Democrat

My mother died when I was 16, so by the time I had reason to reflect on her 1972 lecture on party loyalty, it was too late to ask her, but what I’m pretty sure inspired it was that she had been arguing with my father about how they should vote. Maybe Dad was thinking about voting for Nixon. My mother, however, was clear: Always vote for your party.

That lecture stuck with me, and I remained a proudly partisan Democrat for years. Yes, I voted for Mondale in ’84, but didn’t even bother voting in 1988 because, really, what the hell was the point of voting for Mike Dukakis in Georgia? In 1992, however, I thought Democrats had finally come to their senses by nominating two moderate Southerners, Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Al Gore of Tennessee, and naively believed that at last we had vanquished the ridiculous ghost of McGovernism that had haunted us for 20 years.

Oh, foolish hope!

Scarcely had Bill Clinton finished the oath of office before he embarked on a series of left-wing initiatives that he had perhaps promised in various speeches or policy papers, but which I — relying on the news media’s depiction of the campaign — had not realized were part of his agenda. What I thought I was voting for was deficit reduction and some help for the working class. (Am I the only one who still remembers the “middle-class tax cut” that Clinton promised but never delivered?) The best way to describe my disillusionment in 1993-94 was what someone said about Clinton’s Cabinet appointments: He promised us a “Cabinet that looks like America” and gave us a Cabinet that looked like the Dukakis senior campaign staff.

Like my mother said: You vote for the man and you get the party and, within a year of Clinton’s election, I realized the Democrats had become a party that not only didn’t give a damn about me, but was in fact openly hostile to my interests and beliefs.

It’s weird how I’d made it all the way through the Carter presidency and the 12 years of Reagan-Bush without noticing this. But I was in college when Reagan was elected and, having grown up as a Georgia Democrat, my natural sympathies were with Carter. And I wasn’t remotely “political” at the time, more interested in women, beer and rock-and-roll than anything else. After graduation, I lived a few years as a happy-go-lucky bachelor, working hard to try to get ahead and playing hard when I wasn’t working, and there wasn’t much time left over to pay attention to what was going on in Washington, D.C. Sure, I became a journalist, but from 1986 to 1991, I mainly worked as a small-town sports editor, and politics had no impact on local sports.

By the time Clinton became president, however, I had become an assistant special projects editor at the daily Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune. I had also married a fine Christian woman, bought a little house and had three kids (our twin sons were born five weeks before Election Day 1992). In other words, I was now a responsible adult, a taxpayer and a citizen with a mortgage and a family, and a job that required me to pay attention to the tide of current events.

There was no single “Road to Damascus” moment, but the revolution in my political allegiance was quite rapid once it dawned on me: Bill Clinton was not my president and the Democrats were not my party. Clinton’s loyalty was to Ivy League intellectuals and radical interest groups — NARAL, the gay-rights lobby, environmentalists, gun-control fanatics, ethnic identity outfits and every other subversive hippie “cause” imaginable — and the collective influence of these various left-wing fringe groups on the Democrat Party was such that it had become hostile to the interests of everyone whose pursuit of the American Dream involved hard work and free enterprise.

God damn you Bill Clinton, and God damn the Democrat Party.

Having been lectured by my late mother about the value of partisanship, when I turned, buddy, I turned.

Those damned Democrats had hoodwinked, bamboozled and betrayed me. They had ripped me off, sold me out, stabbed me in the back and fucked me over, and from the moment I realized what a chump I had been, my mission has been simple: Revenge.

The Democrat Party must not merely be defeated, it must be utterly destroyed — humiliated, annihilated, wiped from the face of the Earth so that only a smoldering crater is left to mark its former existence — and my complaint with the Republican Party is that it is overcrowded with half-hearted weaklings and simple-minded hacks who lack the requisite cunning and relentless bloodthirsty eye for the jugular necessary to accomplish this work of political destruction.

See, this is what I understand about politics: It operates on a Newtonian principle. For every action there is an equal and opposition reaction, and the way you make a difference is not by aiming for the moderate center, posturing as The Voice of Reason.

Ultimately, there are only two sides in the fight, so if you’re not doing everything you can to help your friends (and, of course, hurt your enemies) then you’re pretty worthless in politics. To hell with moderation. Winning in politics is about gathering a mob, whipping them into a frenzy of hatred, and making sure they understand that the other party is to blame for whatever it is they’re pissed off about.

Politics is a tug-of-war, and if you see things going in the wrong direction, grab the other end of the rope and pull as hard as you can.

Things have been going in the wrong direction for way too long, and people ought to be more pissed off about it than they are. Sometimes I become angry that other people aren’t as angry about it as I am.

So if I occasionally lose my temper and go off on a tangent, try to understand what I’m doing: I’m pulling as hard as I can, and we need more people pulling on the right end of the rope.

Balance? I don’t need balance. I am balance.

 

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