May 15, 2006
Rush Limbaugh and Liberalism's Fatal FlawBy Vasko Kohlmayer
One of the Left's great agonies and frustrations of the past fifteen years has been its abortive quest to field a counterpart to Rush Limbaugh. Fully cognizant of the massive damage inflicted on it by talk radio, a number of contenders placed bids to mount a counterattack. To their bitter dismay, they all came to grief despite the great hype and hope that surrounded each successive attempt.
A decade and a half worth of feverish effort thus produced no headway, not even a single nationally viable liberal host. With nothing to show for, the time has surely come to ask the obvious question: Why?
Why have liberals failed to make any inroads in talk radio? And why has their failure been so complete?
It surely cannot be due to a lack of trying or will, since they have done everything they could to prop up their hopefuls, even to the point of raising donations in this consummately commercial medium. All to no avail.
But rather than to reevaluate their obviously failing approach, they stubbornly carry on in the same way with predicable results. Again and again they run headlong into the same wall, each crash more pathetic and embarrassing than the one before. So bad things have gotten that most recently they placed their bets on Al Sharpton, hoping that the kooky reverend would carry their water on national airways. A futile dream if there ever were one. Rather than pursuing vain hopes, liberals would do much better to take a pause and search for the root cause of their fiasco.
Any such effort would have to begin with a hard look at the format in which they are trying to succeed.
In the type of political talk show invented by Rush Limbaugh, the host openly takes an ideological stance (conservative or liberal) and then applies it to the issues of the day during his hours on the air. What this in effect amounts to is in—depth analysis of current affairs from a specific political point of view.
The key to success in this kind of enterprise is the host's ability to articulate his positions in a logical and cogent manner. This is because most people will not listen for very long to an analysis—driven program if the analysis itself does not make rational sense.
And this is precisely where the crux of liberals' problem lies. They are simply not able to explain and defend their views in rational fashion. This is not at all surprising, for how does one justify high taxes, gay marriage, abortion, multiculturalism and such? They are all based on false premises and they all produce disastrous outcomes. Anything more than a superficial examination must reveals them for the frauds and failures that they in truth are. This is why liberalism cannot withstand the analytical vigor of talk radio and why it has failed so abysmally in it.
Talk radio has thus exposed in a striking way a fatal flaw at the very heart of liberalism — its indefensibility by rational argument. Without having yet grasped it, it is the medium's format that became liberals' stumbling block.
However abysmal their current predicament may be, the future holds bleaker prospects still. Most liberals do not yet realize that they will never be able to succeed in talk radio. To make it there — at least in the form in which it is currently practiced — requires that hosts do something which liberals simply can't: logically and rationally expound their views. To make matters even more desperate there is nothing they can do about it short of abandoning their untenable ideology. In popular parlance, they are cooked... completely and utterly cooked.
Things used to be infinitely more palatable (for liberals) when the television talk show was the main forum for the mass dissemination of political opinion. Its relatively short broadcast time — rarely more than fifty minutes — is usually intensely contested by several guests. As a result of severe time constraints, the discussants rarely speak for more than a couple of minutes at a time. This, of course, makes any serious analysis all but impossible. This problem is made all the more acute by the fact that the guests' statements are routinely intended to rebuff points made by their opponents which themselves are often quite irrelevant to the topic under consideration.
This format is just fine with liberals who — knowing instinctively that their positions cannot withstand thorough scrutiny — are always happy to avoid in—depth discussion of anything. Conservatives, on the other hand, are badly disadvantaged in this kind of environment. Conservatism requires methodical exposition, quite unlike liberalism which can only survive in the realm of disjointed statements and unsupported assertions. The television talk show is thus liberalism's perfect vehicle. Often nothing more than a scattered clash of personalities, it is normally dominated by those with the biggest mouth. And since liberals have almost a complete grip on television, they make sure that the biggest mouths on their programs come from their own camp.
But things changed dramatically with the advent of Rush Limbaugh, when the program format he made commonplace became the first ever forum in the mass—media that allowed for the systematic analysis of issues. Nowhere indeed are things discussed more deeply and thoroughly than in talk radio where not infrequently the whole show revolves around two or three subjects. The level of analysis is further deepened by the input from callers who enrich the discussion with their unique input and perspective.
And then, of course, there are those who disagree and openly challenge the host's positions. To retain his audience's trust he must be able to deal with their objections in an honest and fair manner. Woe be to the host who keeps dismissing those who oppose him without properly addressing the points they raise. Sooner or later he will be abandoned by all except the most narrow—minded in his audience. No one understands this better than Rush Limbaugh who accords those who contradict him the time and courtesy which go far beyond the bounds of common politeness.
Unable to face the unsavory truth, liberals charge that Mr. Limbaugh owes his success to his showmanship and that their failure to compete is due to their inability to field an equally talented performer. But this surely is not the case. Success in talk radio is not contingent on the host's ability to be funny. There have been a number of other conservatives who succeeded in this medium without possessing Mr. Limbaugh's flair for entertaining. Sean Hannity, Michael Reagan and Oliver North immediately come to mind. Funny or not, not a single liberal talk show host has come even close to matching their level of success.
The most acute observer of the American scene, it is his intelligence, penetration, and grasp of issues that primarily account for Rush Limbaugh's success. His sparkling humor is merely the icing on the sumptuous cake of analysis he serves up on a daily basis. To liberals, however, it does not taste as delicious and understandably so. To them his wit feels more like a stinging petard in their rear regions as they lie prostrate in the ruins of their ideology brought down by the power of his analytical firestorm.
Vasko Kohlmayer is a frequent contributor. Contact him here.