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What We Had Here Was Not a Failure to Communicate

The day before the election, the New York Review of Books posted a rant about right-wing radio and TV hosts by Yale professor David Bromwich.

Regarding Rush Limbaugh, Bromwich mixed faux analysis (“Limbaugh seldom speaks overtly about race,” but “no careful listener can doubt that race is an element”) with personal insults (Limbaugh is a “demagogue” with a “sadistic streak” who “mixes truth and falsehood at pleasure” and is “almost infantile in his self-love”). Bromwich’s analysis of Glenn Beck was that he is a “charlatan” with an “alarmingly incoherent personality” who exerts his “strongest enchantment” when he “goes awry.” Nuanced.

It was surprising to see an article composed of little more than ad hominem attacks published in a journal with intellectual pretensions – but perhaps it simply reflected the well-known fact that left-wing intellectuals are hard-wired to write like that when they are scared.

Bromwich’s piece was a reminder of the leftist tendency to oscillate between love of the people in the abstract and disappointment in actually existing people. Two years ago, the people who attended Obama rallies were the people we were waiting for; two years later, the president’s press secretary told them to get drug-tested, the vice president lectured them to stop whining, and the president warned them he was beginning to think they were not serious. And those were the supporters; opponents were branded class enemies.

Bromwich attributes Obama’s political problems not to his policies or programs but to the absence of an effective communications strategy:

Looking back, one feels it was an astonishing negligence for the Obama White House to embark on a campaign for national health care without a solid strategy for fighting the tenacious opposition it could expect at the hands of Fox radio and TV.

Bromwich does not indicate what the strategy should have been — only that it should have been solid (solid strategies are the best kind). But if you can’t convince the public of your program when you have the mainstream media (CBS, NBC, ABC), public television (PBS), the most established cable news network (CNN), the “news” show most watched by young voters (The Daily Show), and unlimited access to the bully pulpit, it is not likely that your problem was the hands of a single network. More likely it was the people.


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