Talk Radio and Conservative Identity
Talk radio hosts, as kings of the mass media, could play a huge role in ensuring a Romney win, simply by focusing on the "micro-media" of conservatives' individual lives. Imagine the effects of a "coming out" campaign among their millions of listeners, as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin help them to identify as Romney voters in their day-to-day encounters.
Think of the prospects for shifting public opinion if talk radio hosts were to take on the role of facilitators emboldening conservatives to speak out, not just among themselves, but where it is often hardest but most effective -- in personal life interactions.
The authors of this article, for example, are both conservative activists. Yet, we ourselves have too often succumbed to the pull of political correctness, remaining silent about our views in social settings, even when liberals around us speak out.
Are we unique? Unfortunately, no. Many of our activist friends tell us they also tend to live double lives. One friend recalls that, when taking leave of a group of friends to work phone banks for the GOP, she could not bring herself to admit where she was headed.
If activists are susceptible to this fear to identify as conservative, consider the enormity of the effects of such silence by those who are not politically active.
The irony is that it is precisely in these personal situations that we have the most influence to shift perceptions -- one-on-one with our closest acquaintances, our neighbors, classmates, or coworkers.
There is no question that conservative talk show hosts encourage millions by unabashedly challenging liberal media and leftist elites with facts and arguments.
But what do most listeners do with that information?
It seems talk radio has become too much a refuge -- indeed, a psychic lifeline. Too many of its faithful audience never share their views in their everyday encounters. This perpetuates the inhibiting effect of political correctness as well as the illusion that the liberal orthodoxy prevails everywhere. As a result, many end up listening to talk radio as Soviet-era Poles and Hungarians listened to Radio Free Europe -- alone and guardedly.
But the power of the left does not ultimately reside in the institutions they control -- not the media, academia, Hollywood, the public schools, or the unions. And it does not reside in their arguments. Boston University's Angelo Codevilla in America's Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution points out that two-thirds of Americans do not accept the left's arguments and perspectives.
The left's power is built primarily upon its ability to enforce the silence of conservatives as individuals. Elites on the left know that if lots of people freely express themselves and identify to one another as conservative, they could trigger a cascade effect,causing big shifts in public opinion.
Closet conservatives should also realize that they don't necessarily need sophisticated arguments and talking points. The simple act of identifying oneself as conservative or a Romney supporter -- no matter what the response -- has a profound effect. Doing so can reveal allies as well as challenge stereotypes.
The fact is, most people are less impressed by what is said than by who is saying it. So just being someone that people like and trust gives you influence in your own circles. And a conservative who does not fit the media-manufactured stereotype of the "right wing" -- for example, a social worker, artist, or union member -- may have a voice ten times stronger. Unfortunately, it seems a lonely burden and takes courage for such folks to endure the personal "thought policing" they are likely to encounter from those intolerant of any expression deemed heresy.
We hope Rush, Sean, Mark, and others would consider promoting a campaign to help all conservatives as individuals to "come out" in daily life, to celebrate those who do so, and to discuss and help resist retaliatory social pressures.
Only talk radio has it in its power to rapidly and effectively build a critical mass of individual conservative voices that would ignite an opinion cascade to ensure a Romney victory.
Stella Morabito is a freelance writer on issues of society, culture and education. Susan FreisFalknor is co-publisher of the BlueRidgeForum.com