Ever since the right-wing entertainment bubble began expanding back in the early 1990s, I’ve wondered what it would take to pop it. Despite sharp, specific criticism from apostates like David Frum and others, I doubt this year’s ass-kicking will flush the misbegotten authority of self-interested hucksters from modern conservatives’ primary information conduits. The world outside the bubble of crazy-assed nonsense doesn’t have enough martial conflict.
The phenomena of “the conservative entertainment complex” has fascinated/obsessed me for years. Locally, I covered, got to know (and on some levels enjoyed) people like Jason Lewis and Bob Davis. And hell, “RINO” Sarah Janecek and I were, briefly, placeholders at a Bain Capital-owned Clear Channel station while it tried to lure Lewis back to town. (Officially we were there to offer a “new balance in political talk radio”, unofficially it was understood from the get-go we were toast as soon as Lewis signed.)
I’ve been face to face with national consultants explaining how the talk radio game works, ratings-wise. (Essentially; feed your average 40-something male just enough to let them have an opinion in an argument at work.) I’ve listened to station managers encouraging me to, “play back” and “let them win”, in terms of an ideal commercial model for a left v. right radio “debate”. I fielded hundreds of calls from obsessive, low-information listeners absolutely convinced of everything Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the usual characters had told them — about WMDs in Iraq, about “overtopped” levees in New Orleans, about … well, you get the idea.
Point being, I get the knucklehead factor. There are plenty of people out there who either don’t know much, or who desperately want people around them to believe they know a lot more than they actually do. Those people — predominantly white, male and middle-age to elderly — are a highly exploitable demographic. By themselves they are enough to keep the hosts — the entertainers — in a nice living, even if, they add up to barely 10% of the population. More to the point, the hosts of these anger-stoking shows are actually in a better position in defeat, when they can level the full force of their invective at the opponents in the White House. Their message is founded on victimhood.
Post-election, what is astonishing — even to me — is that by all reports very highly paid operatives and consultants … and … the GOP’s two top candidates were also huffing the very thin air on “Bullshit Mountain”, as Jon Stewart calls it.
Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan claim to have been gobsmacked by the results. Are you kidding me?
The only way that happens is if they too dialed out “the reality based” world and invested their grandest ambitions and hundreds of millions in wealthy donor money in the alternate universe of conservative entertainment logic. That universe is a zone out beyond the Oort Cloud where among other things, Donald Trump was briefly a viable presidential contender, where anything Sarah Palin says is worth hearing, where women who want birth control through their health plans are “sluts”, where Barack Obama is still a Muslim, where Dick Morris has a regular audience, where “death panels” will decide Grandma’s fate, where Socialism is swamping capitalism in 21st century America, where climate change is a liberal hoax, where the simple math of poll aggregation matters less than anything cherry-picked off Rasmussen or phoned in to Laura Ingraham’s radio show and where the attack on the consulate Benghazi has spawned a cover-up as big as Watergate.
It’s a message that appeals most to an aging, anachronistic slice of the population … that happens to sustain a small class of entertainers (and their corporate shareholders).
At the moment it appears the conventional wisdom among the modern GOP’s intelligentsia is that every office seeker in the next election cycle must wear a sombrero and mutter a few lines of Spanish. Never mind creating substantially improved policies instead of vague verbiage. Such a revolution — which is what is needed — would require risking the wrath of the lords of the entertainment complex. Almost no one has shown the guts to do that. Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, currently refuting Romney’s claim that “gifts” to minorities swayed the election, will be an interesting test case for whether any Republican can maintain viability while out of step with Rush Limbaugh.
I meant to post a couple of post-election appearances — by yours truly — before this.
I’m not sure what went on with the Tea Party this campaign season. I think I’ve said before that if that “movement” had any true ideological fervor beyond beating the illegitimate black guy in the White House it would have parted ways with the GOP establishment the minute Rick Santorum conceded the last primary. Lovers of good conspiracy theories would like to know if any SuperPAC money was sprinkled around to the myriad Tea Party insurgencies to shut up and play along with Romney’s adventure? How else do they explain not exploiting their moment in the (pale) sunlight and running their own candidate?
But, bottom line, I fail to see how the GOP — truly, a “Mad Men” party in a “Modern Family” world — reestablishes broad-based appeal to minorities of any kind and women under the age of 65, not to mention people young enough to regard Jay-Z as a role model and not Ted Nugent or Pat Boone.
For those groups and everyone who has come to regard the party’s supplicant status to the “entertainment complex” as a kind of pathetic, sick joke there simply is no “there” to the much-parroted modern conservative message.
What does “limited government” mean in, you know, the real world?
What are you actually talking about when you campaign on “economic freedom” Who doesn’t want that?
Ditto “respect for social institutions” like the family. Does anyone believe the average Democrat is trying to undermine Mom, Dad and Thanksgiving dinner?
And “respect for national defense and law enforcement”? Just because your average wild-eyed liberal thinks the Pentagon is a sacred cow never to be challenged on waste, fraud and cronyism doesn’t mean we’re in favor of letting terrorists take over the New York Stock Exchange. (Hell, most of the worst economic terrorists are already working a couple blocks away.)
This election tore back the curtain on the buffoonery of the modern conservative information machine. But until the movement’s high priests on radio and TV — the crowd motivating their caucus and primary-goers — are cancelled for lousy ratings, I don’t see any way the party can change.
Not that I’m complaining, you understand.