Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sean Hannity

Couric Too Tough for Palin?

A snippet of a Sarah Palin interview with Sean Hannity is out. The subject is whether she would do another interview with Katie Couric:

“As for doing an interview, though, with a reporter who already has such a bias against whatever it is that I would come out and say? Why waste my time? No.”

“I want to help clean up the state that is so sorry today of journalism. And I have a communications degree. I studied journalism, who, what, where, when, and why of reporting. I will speak to reporters who still understand that cornerstone of our democracy, that expectation that the public has for truth to be reported. And then we get to decide our own opinion based on the facts reported to us.”

“So a journalist, a reporter who is so biased and will, no doubt, spin and gin up whatever it is that I have to say to create controversy, I swear to you, I will not my waste my time with her. Or him.”

If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a fan of many of the mainstream-media interviewers (or Couric’s comment about the “unwashed” Americans), but come on. How’s Palin supposed to broaden her appeal and show her mettle if she avoids settings in which she’s going to face skeptical questioning? Can you imagine Ronald Reagan pulling this?

Or, more to the point, who can forget George H.W. Bush telling off Dan Rather? It’s in hostile encounters that candidates show their stuff and demonstrate good humor.
Palin has become so accustomed to feeding the base what it wants to hear that she risks proving her critics’ point: that she is too divisive and, frankly, defensive to win the presidency. Rather than hiding from Couric, shouldn’t Palin invite her up for a bear hunt? I mean, isn’t that the sort of thing a strong-willed, defiant conservative woman would do?

A snippet of a Sarah Palin interview with Sean Hannity is out. The subject is whether she would do another interview with Katie Couric:

“As for doing an interview, though, with a reporter who already has such a bias against whatever it is that I would come out and say? Why waste my time? No.”

“I want to help clean up the state that is so sorry today of journalism. And I have a communications degree. I studied journalism, who, what, where, when, and why of reporting. I will speak to reporters who still understand that cornerstone of our democracy, that expectation that the public has for truth to be reported. And then we get to decide our own opinion based on the facts reported to us.”

“So a journalist, a reporter who is so biased and will, no doubt, spin and gin up whatever it is that I have to say to create controversy, I swear to you, I will not my waste my time with her. Or him.”

If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a fan of many of the mainstream-media interviewers (or Couric’s comment about the “unwashed” Americans), but come on. How’s Palin supposed to broaden her appeal and show her mettle if she avoids settings in which she’s going to face skeptical questioning? Can you imagine Ronald Reagan pulling this?

Or, more to the point, who can forget George H.W. Bush telling off Dan Rather? It’s in hostile encounters that candidates show their stuff and demonstrate good humor.
Palin has become so accustomed to feeding the base what it wants to hear that she risks proving her critics’ point: that she is too divisive and, frankly, defensive to win the presidency. Rather than hiding from Couric, shouldn’t Palin invite her up for a bear hunt? I mean, isn’t that the sort of thing a strong-willed, defiant conservative woman would do?

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The Chronically Unserious Dana Milbank

Fox News has an unparalleled capacity to cause liberal journalists to say really stupid things. Take the case of the chronically unserious Dana Milbank. (Who can forget this moment?) In his Washington Post column, Milbank opens things this way:

John Boehner, Haley Barbour and other Republican leaders held a “results watch” at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. For a true victory party, you had to go to Fox News.

At Rupert Murdoch’s cable network, the entity that birthed and nurtured the Tea Party movement, Election Day was the culmination of two years of hard work to bring down Barack Obama – and it was time for an on-air celebration of a job well done.

“That’s an earthquake,” exulted Fox’s own Sarah Palin, upon learning the not-unexpected news that Republicans would gain control of the House. “It’s a big darn deal.”

“It’s a comeuppance,” Fox News contributor (and Post columnist) Charles Krauthammer contributed.

“I have one word,” said Sean Hannity. “Historic.”

And Chris Wallace struggled for words. “A gigantic – not a wave election but a tidal wave election,” he envisioned.

This cheerleading on the final day of the 2010 election cycle was to be expected.

It was to be expected, and for a simple reason: what the commentators and reporters on Fox said is indisputable. Even President Obama, himself, referred to the results of the 2010 midterm election as a “shellacking.” And also Milbank’s former Washington Post colleague Howard Kurtz and Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of Politico used the word “bloodbath” to describe the election. So were Obama, Kurtz, Smith, and Martin “cheerleading” as well? So long as they don’t appear on Fox, the answer seems to be no.

Milbank decided to compound his tendentiousness by willfully misleading readers. Mr. Milbank writes:

The victory party would have to focus on the 60-seat gain Fox projected for Republicans in the House – an enormous win, though not at the upper end of the forecasts. Fox commentator Karl Rove, pleading for “perspective,” said it still qualified as a “blowout evening.” To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen. “This is a complete repudiation of the Democratic Party,” he proclaimed.

So which Democrats does Milbank leave off this list? How about Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Geraldo Ferraro, Joe Trippi, and Pat Caddell? Why would Milbank neglect to name any of these individuals? Because it would run counter to the narrative he’s trying to advance. Thomas Huxley referred to such things as “the slaying of a beautiful deduction by an ugly fact.”

The Washington Post publishes some of the finest columnists who have ever graced the pages of an American newspaper. But it also, alas, publishes Dana Milbank.

Fox News has an unparalleled capacity to cause liberal journalists to say really stupid things. Take the case of the chronically unserious Dana Milbank. (Who can forget this moment?) In his Washington Post column, Milbank opens things this way:

John Boehner, Haley Barbour and other Republican leaders held a “results watch” at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. For a true victory party, you had to go to Fox News.

At Rupert Murdoch’s cable network, the entity that birthed and nurtured the Tea Party movement, Election Day was the culmination of two years of hard work to bring down Barack Obama – and it was time for an on-air celebration of a job well done.

“That’s an earthquake,” exulted Fox’s own Sarah Palin, upon learning the not-unexpected news that Republicans would gain control of the House. “It’s a big darn deal.”

“It’s a comeuppance,” Fox News contributor (and Post columnist) Charles Krauthammer contributed.

“I have one word,” said Sean Hannity. “Historic.”

And Chris Wallace struggled for words. “A gigantic – not a wave election but a tidal wave election,” he envisioned.

This cheerleading on the final day of the 2010 election cycle was to be expected.

It was to be expected, and for a simple reason: what the commentators and reporters on Fox said is indisputable. Even President Obama, himself, referred to the results of the 2010 midterm election as a “shellacking.” And also Milbank’s former Washington Post colleague Howard Kurtz and Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin of Politico used the word “bloodbath” to describe the election. So were Obama, Kurtz, Smith, and Martin “cheerleading” as well? So long as they don’t appear on Fox, the answer seems to be no.

Milbank decided to compound his tendentiousness by willfully misleading readers. Mr. Milbank writes:

The victory party would have to focus on the 60-seat gain Fox projected for Republicans in the House – an enormous win, though not at the upper end of the forecasts. Fox commentator Karl Rove, pleading for “perspective,” said it still qualified as a “blowout evening.” To be fair and balanced, Fox brought in a nominal Democrat, pollster Doug Schoen. “This is a complete repudiation of the Democratic Party,” he proclaimed.

So which Democrats does Milbank leave off this list? How about Bob Beckel, Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Geraldo Ferraro, Joe Trippi, and Pat Caddell? Why would Milbank neglect to name any of these individuals? Because it would run counter to the narrative he’s trying to advance. Thomas Huxley referred to such things as “the slaying of a beautiful deduction by an ugly fact.”

The Washington Post publishes some of the finest columnists who have ever graced the pages of an American newspaper. But it also, alas, publishes Dana Milbank.

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Unmasked in Plain Sight

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin have thoroughly dissected the lameness of Obama’s speech last night on the oil spill. I agree with their takes, but was also struck by the reaction of the people in the Frank Luntz citizen panel featured by Sean Hannity in his Fox show after the speech. I expected them to find the speech weak, but I was surprised to hear so many argue that Obama’s rhetoric had focused on getting cap-and-trade legislation passed rather than on responding pragmatically to the oil spill.

This surprised me because Obama was actually oblique and nonspecific in his agenda-related references. Bill O’Reilly, in his discussions with Sarah Palin and Monica Crowley right after the speech, pointed out to them that Obama did not, in fact, press for the cap-and-trade legislation. He merely adduced the oil spill as a catalyst for reducing America’s dependence on oil and developing a sustainable energy policy. I suspect this absence of explicit policy references is what’s so particularly trying to the president’s supporters on the left. When Keith Olbermann, Howard Fineman, and Chris Matthews speak of Obama’s failing to project leadership, they mean Obama is allowing this crisis to go to waste.

But Frank Luntz’s panelists saw it differently. As far as most of them were concerned, Obama is not letting the crisis go to waste at all. Regardless of what he said, what they heard was that the president is more focused on passing cap-and-trade than on controlling the consequences of the oil spill.

If Luntz’s panelists are truly representative, as he labors to ensure they are, then there seems to be a decisive loss for Obama of the benefit of public doubt. The MSNBC pundits, for their part, were hoping to see Obama masterfully unite rhetoric, storytelling, and leadership to justify the carbon-tax program — justify it so thoroughly and inspirationally that its opponents would be confounded. It disappointed them not to get such a performance, but the absence of it was meaningless to the perceptions of the Luntz panelists. They held themselves undeceived: whatever he says, Obama is pushing for cap-and-trade.

This is a case in which the prosaic public mind is probably more acute than the perceptions of many in the punditry. Obama never achieved a soaring persuasiveness or any appearance of moral leadership in wrangling Congress to pass ObamaCare either. The American public spent painful months watching his detached, scheming Oval Office issue perfunctory sound bites by day while bribing and arm-twisting by night. It was a “Chicago machine” performance, devoid of even the superficial romance of true believers’ passion.

There is nothing today that justifies interpreting the president’s vagueness last night as a sign of moderation or judicious jury’s-still-out indecision. Frank Luntz’s panelists probably have Obama pegged. He’s pushing cap-and-trade. He may simply have seen no reason to provoke a backlash by making a more overt case on Tuesday evening. Doing so could well have been a tactical error, one that would have interfered later with ramming cap-and-trade through by holding congressmen at political gunpoint.

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Dick Cheney on KSM

Dick Cheney concedes to Sean Hannity in an interview worth viewing in its entirety here that he had Obama pegged wrong: Cheney thought Obama was “a liberal Democrat, but conventional in a sense,” but the president has turned out to be “more radical than that.” This portion of the interview centers on the KSM trial, which Cheney dubs a “huge mistake.” Cheney recounts the historic and legal precedents in which military tribunals have been used rather than civilian trials. By affording KSM a civilian trial, we are giving him “a huge platform” where he will be able to “proselytize” to a “whole new generation of terrorists.” We are, says Cheney, about to “give aid and comfort” to the enemy and run the risk of making KSM “as important or more important than Osama bin Laden — and we will have made it possible.” While pleading that he is not a lawyer, Cheney picks up on the contradiction between Eric Holder’s assurance that this is a slam-dunk certain conviction and the requirements of a fair, impartial trial.

The interview raises several points. First, as vilified as Cheney has been for years by the mainstream media, his arguments are widely accepted now, and his criticisms of Obama’s atrocious decision are shared by a large majority of the American people. When the administration and their media spinners repeatedly brush him off as “unpopular,” they are, of course, throwing out a non sequitur in place of reasoned argument.

And that brings us to the second point: since announcing the decision, the administration has yet to adequately answer the very questions Cheney and other conservatives have raised. Why give KSM a forum to spew his jihadist rhetoric and influence millions of potential followers? What guarantees do we have that national intelligence materials won’t be disclosed as they were in previous terrorism trials? What could be more “certain” than allowing KSM to be executed as he requested in the military tribunal system? Holder stumbled through one hearing. He should be brought back and grilled until satisfactory answers are provided.

Finally, the president, thanks to a skittish media, has yet to explain in detail what input he had into the process. We got the “tick tock” on the Afghanistan-war decision-making process but nothing on this decision, which has long-term and serious consequences for national security and the administration of justice. Did the president really tell Holder to deal with this? Did no one from the White House influence the decision?

Cheney remains perhaps the most frequent and painful thorn in the White House’s side. But that’s in large part because neither Congress nor the media are doing their job in asking hard questions and getting to the bottom of how this unprecedented and potentially dangerous judgment was arrived at. However, the voters do get the last say. The KSM trial will and properly should be a subject of debate in the 2010 elections by candidates who supported and opposed the decision. As for the former, they should be held to account for their willingness to fund Holder and Obama’s foolhardy legal escapade.

Dick Cheney concedes to Sean Hannity in an interview worth viewing in its entirety here that he had Obama pegged wrong: Cheney thought Obama was “a liberal Democrat, but conventional in a sense,” but the president has turned out to be “more radical than that.” This portion of the interview centers on the KSM trial, which Cheney dubs a “huge mistake.” Cheney recounts the historic and legal precedents in which military tribunals have been used rather than civilian trials. By affording KSM a civilian trial, we are giving him “a huge platform” where he will be able to “proselytize” to a “whole new generation of terrorists.” We are, says Cheney, about to “give aid and comfort” to the enemy and run the risk of making KSM “as important or more important than Osama bin Laden — and we will have made it possible.” While pleading that he is not a lawyer, Cheney picks up on the contradiction between Eric Holder’s assurance that this is a slam-dunk certain conviction and the requirements of a fair, impartial trial.

The interview raises several points. First, as vilified as Cheney has been for years by the mainstream media, his arguments are widely accepted now, and his criticisms of Obama’s atrocious decision are shared by a large majority of the American people. When the administration and their media spinners repeatedly brush him off as “unpopular,” they are, of course, throwing out a non sequitur in place of reasoned argument.

And that brings us to the second point: since announcing the decision, the administration has yet to adequately answer the very questions Cheney and other conservatives have raised. Why give KSM a forum to spew his jihadist rhetoric and influence millions of potential followers? What guarantees do we have that national intelligence materials won’t be disclosed as they were in previous terrorism trials? What could be more “certain” than allowing KSM to be executed as he requested in the military tribunal system? Holder stumbled through one hearing. He should be brought back and grilled until satisfactory answers are provided.

Finally, the president, thanks to a skittish media, has yet to explain in detail what input he had into the process. We got the “tick tock” on the Afghanistan-war decision-making process but nothing on this decision, which has long-term and serious consequences for national security and the administration of justice. Did the president really tell Holder to deal with this? Did no one from the White House influence the decision?

Cheney remains perhaps the most frequent and painful thorn in the White House’s side. But that’s in large part because neither Congress nor the media are doing their job in asking hard questions and getting to the bottom of how this unprecedented and potentially dangerous judgment was arrived at. However, the voters do get the last say. The KSM trial will and properly should be a subject of debate in the 2010 elections by candidates who supported and opposed the decision. As for the former, they should be held to account for their willingness to fund Holder and Obama’s foolhardy legal escapade.

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Throwing Rocks in the Pond

Hillary Clinton has been mum on the subject lately. The McCain camp has studiously avoided mentioning Reverend Wright. But not Vice President Cheney. He had this to say on Thursday in an interview with Sean Hannity:

I’ve watched what’s going on on the Democratic side with great interest, and sort of blowing hot and cold in terms of who is going to win, whether it is going to be Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. I thought the controversy over Reverend Wright was remarkable. I thought some of the things he said were absolutely appalling. And, you know, I haven’t gotten into the business of trying to judge how Senator Obama dealt with it, or didn’t deal with it, but I really — I think, like most Americans, I was stunned at what the Reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his website.

Is this just a casual observation? Unlikely: Cheney has weathered two presidential elections. Maybe it’s a bouquet to Hillary Clinton, who could use a lift. Maybe it’s an attempt to counteract Colin Powell’s praise for Obama earlier in the day. Regardless of its motive, the effect is the same: Wright’s name stays in the news and voters continue to ponder this troubling association.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean tells us that, under no circumstances, will the Democrats bring up McCain’s age (71) as a factor in the election. It would be wrong, you see, to mention McCain’s age (71), and the Democrats are above mentioning McCain’s age (71). Did he mention that the Democrats’ high ethical standards don’t allow them to mention McCain’s age (71)? Even though his age (71) is a factor, according to focus groups run by the DNC (which is too high-minded to bring up his age)?

Hillary Clinton has been mum on the subject lately. The McCain camp has studiously avoided mentioning Reverend Wright. But not Vice President Cheney. He had this to say on Thursday in an interview with Sean Hannity:

I’ve watched what’s going on on the Democratic side with great interest, and sort of blowing hot and cold in terms of who is going to win, whether it is going to be Senator Clinton or Senator Obama. I thought the controversy over Reverend Wright was remarkable. I thought some of the things he said were absolutely appalling. And, you know, I haven’t gotten into the business of trying to judge how Senator Obama dealt with it, or didn’t deal with it, but I really — I think, like most Americans, I was stunned at what the Reverend was preaching in his church and then putting up on his website.

Is this just a casual observation? Unlikely: Cheney has weathered two presidential elections. Maybe it’s a bouquet to Hillary Clinton, who could use a lift. Maybe it’s an attempt to counteract Colin Powell’s praise for Obama earlier in the day. Regardless of its motive, the effect is the same: Wright’s name stays in the news and voters continue to ponder this troubling association.

Meanwhile, Howard Dean tells us that, under no circumstances, will the Democrats bring up McCain’s age (71) as a factor in the election. It would be wrong, you see, to mention McCain’s age (71), and the Democrats are above mentioning McCain’s age (71). Did he mention that the Democrats’ high ethical standards don’t allow them to mention McCain’s age (71)? Even though his age (71) is a factor, according to focus groups run by the DNC (which is too high-minded to bring up his age)?

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He Saw Black People

Andrew Sullivan has taken up the odious cause of defending Jeremiah Wright against conservative criticism. Now, if you want to defend Wright, you could argue that Obama shouldn’t abandon his pastor, out of loyalty, or that Obama turning his back on Wright would amount to his disowning an important segment of the American black population. But to downplay the poison of Wright’s 9/11 rant speaks to a pathological level of denial. Sullivan offers the familiar speech in its full context, and writes, “I still do not find it appropriate, and still do not agree with it. But it is not what Hannity and Ingraham and the other talk show thugs of the far right have been saying.”

He’s right. It’s worse. Try out this bit:

I saw pictures of the incredible. People jumping from the 110th floor; people jumping from the roof because the stairwells and elevators above the 89th floor were gone–no more. Black people, jumping to a certain death; people holding hands jumping; people on fire jumping.

Black people?

I suspect I speak for most Americans who saw footage of WTC jumpers in saying a) the race of these individuals was not decipherable; b) if it was, it would have been, at that time, beyond my ability to notice, because c) who cared? When the World Trade Center went down, the issue of race in America was as atomized as those two buildings. But not for Obama’s pastor, who seemed to think it was important enough to assure his congregation that black people had perished. In some sense, this is the most offensive (and telling) thing I’ve heard from Wright. It reveals a commitment to divisiveness so deep as to prohibit the simple registering of human (forget national) tragedy.

And Sullivan is worried about Sean Hannity.

Andrew Sullivan has taken up the odious cause of defending Jeremiah Wright against conservative criticism. Now, if you want to defend Wright, you could argue that Obama shouldn’t abandon his pastor, out of loyalty, or that Obama turning his back on Wright would amount to his disowning an important segment of the American black population. But to downplay the poison of Wright’s 9/11 rant speaks to a pathological level of denial. Sullivan offers the familiar speech in its full context, and writes, “I still do not find it appropriate, and still do not agree with it. But it is not what Hannity and Ingraham and the other talk show thugs of the far right have been saying.”

He’s right. It’s worse. Try out this bit:

I saw pictures of the incredible. People jumping from the 110th floor; people jumping from the roof because the stairwells and elevators above the 89th floor were gone–no more. Black people, jumping to a certain death; people holding hands jumping; people on fire jumping.

Black people?

I suspect I speak for most Americans who saw footage of WTC jumpers in saying a) the race of these individuals was not decipherable; b) if it was, it would have been, at that time, beyond my ability to notice, because c) who cared? When the World Trade Center went down, the issue of race in America was as atomized as those two buildings. But not for Obama’s pastor, who seemed to think it was important enough to assure his congregation that black people had perished. In some sense, this is the most offensive (and telling) thing I’ve heard from Wright. It reveals a commitment to divisiveness so deep as to prohibit the simple registering of human (forget national) tragedy.

And Sullivan is worried about Sean Hannity.

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Twilight of the Radio Gods?

In case you haven’t heard, conservative talk radio has this wee problem with John McCain. Actually, it’s been hard to hear – or read – about anything else in recent weeks, with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, et al, subjecting McCain to a level of opprobrium that’s had liberal reporters scrambling to record every word while trying their damndest to feign concern over a much hoped-for GOP crackup.

The relentless pounding of McCain, while certainly popular with some conservatives, has elicited a growing backlash among others, with a number of conservative bloggers expressing disdain for the tactics of Limbaugh and company — some of them saying they can no longer bring themselves to listen to the very voices that for so long had constituted a focal point of their day.

I know exactly what they’re going through. My own personal moratorium on Limbaugh and Hannity (I’d listened only sporadically, and never enthusiastically, to the various other hosts who’ve taken to treating McCain as though he were a Trotskyite trying to crash a conservative ball) began in stages. Old habits and loyalties die hard.

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In case you haven’t heard, conservative talk radio has this wee problem with John McCain. Actually, it’s been hard to hear – or read – about anything else in recent weeks, with Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, et al, subjecting McCain to a level of opprobrium that’s had liberal reporters scrambling to record every word while trying their damndest to feign concern over a much hoped-for GOP crackup.

The relentless pounding of McCain, while certainly popular with some conservatives, has elicited a growing backlash among others, with a number of conservative bloggers expressing disdain for the tactics of Limbaugh and company — some of them saying they can no longer bring themselves to listen to the very voices that for so long had constituted a focal point of their day.

I know exactly what they’re going through. My own personal moratorium on Limbaugh and Hannity (I’d listened only sporadically, and never enthusiastically, to the various other hosts who’ve taken to treating McCain as though he were a Trotskyite trying to crash a conservative ball) began in stages. Old habits and loyalties die hard.

I’d start each day thinking that maybe — especially as it grew ever more apparent that McCain would be the Republican nominee — the attacks on the senator would at long last begin to diminish, in number if not intensity. But within minutes of either host opening his show I’d be disabused of that notion; the sliming would pick up right where it had left off the day before, with little or no regard for nuance or perspective. I’d switch to sports talk for an hour or so before returning to Limbaugh or Hannity, only to once again find myself muttering at the radio and reaching for the dial.

Though talk radio has, with rare exceptions, always been the thinnest of intellectual gruel, the rise of conservative talkers – which took place in the years just before the Internet changed everything about the way we consume news – was a galvanizing event for those of us who always saw through the neutral posturing of the Walter Cronkites, the John Chancellors, the Roger Mudds of that era. At last we had a slice of mass media we could call our own and by which we could help sway policy and elections and stay connected to fellow conservatives across the country.

But talk radio is already something of a dinosaur, a rusted hulk lying on the side of the information superhighway. How could it be otherwise, in an age when we can log on and directly link to thousands of conservative websites and blogs — when we can communicate, unfiltered and instantaneously, with like-minded people not just across the country but around the world?

Sean Hannity can insist all he wants that John McCain is a liberal, but simply by Googling McCain’s lifetime voting record we can see for ourselves that if he’s a liberal, words have no meaning. Rush Limbaugh can loudly champion Mitt Romney as the second coming of Barry Goldwater, but a quick Internet search is enough to confirm that Romney is anything but.

And when the anti-McCain talkers imply that the “conservative base” disdains McCain and will have a hard time accepting him as the Republican nominee, a few minutes online is all it takes to understand that the “base” is a far more fractious thing than the talkers would have us believe.
If anyone needs to worry about a base, it would seem to be the McCain-obsessed radio hosts themselves, who, as the writer Noemie Emery recently observed on The Weekly Standard’s Campaign Standard blog, “are fracturing the base of their listening audience.”

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The Man Who Blew It

Tonight was Mitt Romney’s last stand. He blew it. The conservative antipathy towards McCain involves real issues: his indefensible support of campaign finance reform, his opposition to Bush tax cuts, his throwaway lines attacking corporations, and so on. Romney should have been on attack mode from the first moment, stirring up every conservative trepidation about McCain, stressing his unreliability as a consistent voice for the cause. “We don’t need a maverick, Senator, we need a steadfast, principled and predictable conservative leader,” was the line I was waiting for. Instead, Romney dove head-first into McCain’s alleged smear about who supported the surge — a minor kerfuffle given all the other heat McCain has taken these last few months.

Why, for example, didn’t Romney simply quote George Will,Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any other of the pantheon of conservative pundits who don’t trust McCain?

Romney’s most credible claim is that he understands the real economy and can speak about it eloquently. California is Proposition 13 territory, after all. His entire campaign was premised on his free-market bona fides. Tonight, when he needed them most, he barely displayed them. In New Hampshire, McCain made Iraq the touchstone of campaign. He did it again tonight and Romney let him get away with it. This contest seems very over.

Tonight was Mitt Romney’s last stand. He blew it. The conservative antipathy towards McCain involves real issues: his indefensible support of campaign finance reform, his opposition to Bush tax cuts, his throwaway lines attacking corporations, and so on. Romney should have been on attack mode from the first moment, stirring up every conservative trepidation about McCain, stressing his unreliability as a consistent voice for the cause. “We don’t need a maverick, Senator, we need a steadfast, principled and predictable conservative leader,” was the line I was waiting for. Instead, Romney dove head-first into McCain’s alleged smear about who supported the surge — a minor kerfuffle given all the other heat McCain has taken these last few months.

Why, for example, didn’t Romney simply quote George Will,Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any other of the pantheon of conservative pundits who don’t trust McCain?

Romney’s most credible claim is that he understands the real economy and can speak about it eloquently. California is Proposition 13 territory, after all. His entire campaign was premised on his free-market bona fides. Tonight, when he needed them most, he barely displayed them. In New Hampshire, McCain made Iraq the touchstone of campaign. He did it again tonight and Romney let him get away with it. This contest seems very over.

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Left and Right

Broadly speaking, the political mood of the public can be gauged in terms of its shifting calculation of risk and reward. If, as in the period from about 1980 to 2004, the promise of new rewards outweighs the fears of accompanying risk, the market-oriented Republicans will be the beneficiaries. But if, as in the period from 1932 to 1966, the fear of risk is more salient than the hope of enhanced rewards, the result will be movement away from free-market policies and towards the presumed protections of government regulation.

For all its benefits, globalization (and the accompanying issues of massive illegal immigration) has brought to an end the period that privileged risk over reward. The Republican Party seems unable to face up to this shift. Some of my GOP friends blame it all on Bush. They rail at the failings of the Bush administration with the kind of vitriol usually reserved for leftists. Others, taken aback by the plunge in Republican party identification, trot out consoling ploys along the lines of “You should have seen the other guy!” Take, for example, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. While he acknowledges the unpopularity of the GOP, after a wave of scandals, the setbacks in Iraq, etc., he also emphasizes the misfortunes of the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Cole sees the 2008 election as shaping up like the one in 1992, when incumbents of both parties had a hard time. It’s true that Congress as a whole has only a 29 percent approval rating, lower than that of President Bush. But the problem for the GOP is that, as Washington Post columnist David Broder notes, half of the voters blame Bush and the Republicans; only 25 percent place the onus on the Democrats.

Another excuse Republicans are likely to make is that America is still, largely, a center-Right country. That’s true—but the center has shifted towards the Left. On a range of key issues, from trade to health care to economic inequality, the number of Americans who share some classic Democratic concerns has risen, notes the Wall Street Journal. A recent Pew poll found that “Three-quarters of the population is worried about growing income inequality. Pew also showed that two-thirds of those polled favor government-funded health care for all.” At the same time, Pew reports that “Support for a government safety net for the poor is at its highest level since 1987.”

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Broadly speaking, the political mood of the public can be gauged in terms of its shifting calculation of risk and reward. If, as in the period from about 1980 to 2004, the promise of new rewards outweighs the fears of accompanying risk, the market-oriented Republicans will be the beneficiaries. But if, as in the period from 1932 to 1966, the fear of risk is more salient than the hope of enhanced rewards, the result will be movement away from free-market policies and towards the presumed protections of government regulation.

For all its benefits, globalization (and the accompanying issues of massive illegal immigration) has brought to an end the period that privileged risk over reward. The Republican Party seems unable to face up to this shift. Some of my GOP friends blame it all on Bush. They rail at the failings of the Bush administration with the kind of vitriol usually reserved for leftists. Others, taken aback by the plunge in Republican party identification, trot out consoling ploys along the lines of “You should have seen the other guy!” Take, for example, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma. While he acknowledges the unpopularity of the GOP, after a wave of scandals, the setbacks in Iraq, etc., he also emphasizes the misfortunes of the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Cole sees the 2008 election as shaping up like the one in 1992, when incumbents of both parties had a hard time. It’s true that Congress as a whole has only a 29 percent approval rating, lower than that of President Bush. But the problem for the GOP is that, as Washington Post columnist David Broder notes, half of the voters blame Bush and the Republicans; only 25 percent place the onus on the Democrats.

Another excuse Republicans are likely to make is that America is still, largely, a center-Right country. That’s true—but the center has shifted towards the Left. On a range of key issues, from trade to health care to economic inequality, the number of Americans who share some classic Democratic concerns has risen, notes the Wall Street Journal. A recent Pew poll found that “Three-quarters of the population is worried about growing income inequality. Pew also showed that two-thirds of those polled favor government-funded health care for all.” At the same time, Pew reports that “Support for a government safety net for the poor is at its highest level since 1987.”

Republicans have long been the party of de-regulation in the name of freer markets. Yet, a recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News Poll finds a dramatic shift by Republican voters against our current free trade policies. Sixty percent “agreed with a statement that free trade has been bad for the U.S. and said they would agree with a Republican candidate who favored tougher regulations to limit foreign imports.” Indeed, faced with growing competition from inexpensive Chinese imports that don’t have to incorporate the costs of American safety requirements, some U.S. manufacturers are receptive to new regulations that, as they see it, could level the playing field.

The socially-conservative Right is waning as the Left waxes. It’s not just that evangelicals are increasingly divided among themselves. Pew found that between 1987 and this year, support for “old-fashioned values about family and marriage” had dropped 11 percentage points. The percentage of those who said gay teachers should be fired dropped 23 points.” Politicians have noticed. When Fred Thompson was asked by Sean Hannity about James Dobson’s criticism of him, the former senator, once seen as the great social conservative hope, replied curtly “I don’t dance to anyone’s tune.”

With Karl Rove’s fantasies of a GOP realignment having come to an end, Republicans have been pouncing on Bush’s numerous inadequacies. They are all too real, but so are the underlying changes that will be with us after Bush leaves the White House. From the look of things, the Republicans are no more ready to adapt than were their Democratic predecessors of the 1970’s.

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