quit talking about talking heads

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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27 Responses

  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.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

      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.)Report

  2. Avatar Kyle says:

    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.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Kyle says:

      Meh. I say take the battle to the field of ideas. Harping on the people themselves does almost nothing. Critique their ideas, but leave them out of it.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I agree, which is why I spend so much time on your blog.

        Personally, I think as long as there’s an incentive to engage in these kinds of rhetorical feints it remains difficult to move towards more substantive discussions.

        As for substantive criticism of the tone, “truthiness”, and incivility that R&B bring to politics and policy discussions, do you think there’s a place for that and/or can such criticism be parsed from rote ad hominem attacks?Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    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.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    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.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    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.Report

  6. Avatar EngineerScotty says:

    Why not?

    After all, the blowhards of the left-wing are routinely ignored. Other than when they are held up for occasional ridicule. 🙂Report

  7. Avatar RTod says:

    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?Report

  8. 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.Report

  9. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    Beck as entertainer is a better journalist than the entire staff at NBC!Report

  10. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    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.Report

  11. Avatar Herb says:

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

    Yes!!! I propose this goes for anything written on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, too.Report

  12. Avatar Rincewind says:

    Wasn’t there once someone who said:

    Never argue with an idiot. They’ll drag you down to their level and beat you over the head with experience.Report

  13. Avatar ErikaF says:

    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.Report

  14. Avatar Underwriterguy says:

    If I say I pay no attention am I guilty of talking about them?
    And criticizing R&B, exposes you to being called a racist, does it not?Report

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