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.”