Arnold Kling  

The State of Conservatism: I Have Marshall McLuhan Right Here

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George H. Nash writes,

Traditionally, American conservatives have been Eurocentric in their political and cultural discourse, but how can conservatives convincingly articulate this perspective to non-European immigrants and to millions of superficially educated young Americans, and at a time when much of Europe itself no longer seems Eurocentric?

That's a sentence to ponder. More central to his theme are the following excerpts:

look at the 100 "best educated" of these counties: those having the highest percentage of college graduates, defined as people over the age of 25 with a bachelor's degree or higher. Most of these counties--America's so-called Diploma Belt--used to be Republican. That is no longer the case. In 1988, the Democratic presidential candidate carried only 36 of these 100 counties. Last year, the Democratic candidate won 78 of them.

Isn't it time that conservatives create a kind of conservative version of National Public Radio, or at least a coordinated network of conservative equivalents of NPR's Fresh Air, On Point, and Talk of the Nation programs, devoted not just to daily political combat and commentary, but to conservatively oriented cultural explorations of the broadest character?

Conservative talk radio is bombastic. The hosts may not be as stupid as their opponents believe, but they do nothing to encourage careful, reasoned discourse. They do not nurture an audience from the "diploma belt." But I have no use for NPR, either. I think it only pretends to be intellectually worthwhile. The quality of arguments that you can put into a written piece that takes five minutes to read is much, much higher than the quality of what can be said in five minutes on NPR.

Putting arguments in writing does not guarantee quality. In terms of tone, it is often hard for me to tell Paul Krugman and Sean Hannity apart. Both are ideologically rigid, preaching to the converted, and extremely uncharitable to those with whom they disagree. The posts that I most regret writing tend to be those where I could be accused of that sort of behavior myself. I feel better when I express doubt and respect honest differences of opinion. (As for Gruber, you have to allow for sheer jealousy to creep in. If someone has ridiculously high status, that sets me off.)

Still, I think that the medium is the message. I do not think that radio, TV, or Youtube are going to produce strong intellectual discourse. I believe that the written word is the best medium for that. If conservatives master other media, they may win some political battles, but not any intellectual war.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (17 to date)
John Thacker writes:
In 1988, the Democratic presidential candidate carried only 36 of these 100 counties. Last year, the Democratic candidate won 78 of them.

Bad statistics. He's comparing a winning Democrat to a losing Democrat. The question is whether the Democrat did relatively better in these counties than overall.

In 1988, the Democratic Presidential candidate only won 45.6% of the vote and 111 electoral votes, compared to 426 electoral votes for his opponent. Winning 36 of those 100 counties could still easily be overperforming compared to his results elsewhere.

In 2008, the Democratic Presidential candidate won 52.9% of the vote and 365 electoral votes. The Republican won 45.7% of the votes and won 22 of these 100 counties.

So what we have is that a 45.6% of the vote Democrat won 36 of these counties, but a 45.7% of the vote Republican 20 years later won 22 of these counties.

Buzzcut writes:

OK, so the written word is better than the spoken word (or the videoed word).

Don't conservatives and libertarians dominate the blogosphere?

Moreover, while a Hannity or Limbaugh may be bombastic, it seems to me that that's not what turns off the wealthy leftist. Quite the opposite.

The wealthy leftist doesn't want to be confronted with the contradictions of his own beliefs. Thus, they stay in their New York Times/ NPR cocoon.

On the right, because we're assaulted by the leftist-media complex on a daily basis, we're constantly having our beliefs challenged. You can't escape the left's ideas, they come from the New York Times, all the papers that pick up stories from the Times, Time, Newsweek, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, NPR, etc. etc. etc.

As for NPRs low key tone, it's as fabricated as Hannity's bombast.

Gabe writes:

Not jealousy, envy.

Snorri Godhi writes:

"[...] at a time when much of Europe itself no longer seems Eurocentric"

Having lived and worked in 5 European countries, I beg to disagree: the English are no longer Anglocentric, maybe the Swedes are no longer Swedo-centric, and the Belgians have never been Belgo-centric, but I think that all other European people are comfortably Eurocentric. (Though allowances must be made for the fact that the Germans and Italians still feel guilty for being on the wrong side in ww2.) That Europe is a hotbed of multiculturalism, is a myth propagated by Mark Steyn and his fellow travelers (and please note that Steyn has an English background).

"I do not think that radio, TV, or Youtube are going to produce strong intellectual discourse. I believe that the written word is the best medium for that."

Since I never watch TV or listen to radio, I am happy to read that.

The truth is that "the right" doesn't have any intellectual impact outside of economics. But most MSM journalists were not econ majors and probably never took a single course in the subject.

Until the residents of those well-educated counties come to be educated by non-left anthropologists, historians, law professors, political scientists, and sociologists--and until, after they graduate, they are daily reminded of the application of what they were taught by MSM personnel who were similarly educated--the GOP will increasingly be the party of the uneducated.

Peter writes:

"Conservative talk radio is bombastic." That paints in too broad strokes. Not all right-wing talk radio is alike. Bill Bennett, Michael Medved, and Dennis Prager are consistently thoughtful, willing to engage those with differing views, and respectful of others. Mark Levin is smart but screams and rants too much. Limbaugh is smarter than he sometimes gets credit for, but deviates from ideas too much because he loves ridiculing his enemies. Savage is worthless. Can't speak about Hannity or Beck, because I've only seen them on T.V., where they don't come across as subtle thinkers.

Joel Wurst writes:

There is all sorts of good, *smart* conservative talk radio. I agree with Peter - Limbaugh gets sold short.

And to Prager, Medved and Bennett I add Hugh Hewitt; sharp, incisively intellectual, especially on matters of jurisprudence. Dennis Miller is also a treat. Jason Lewis is perhaps too intellectual for his own good.

There's all sorts of good local talk radio done by smart conservatives; Scott Hennen in Fargo is excellent. Megabloggers Ed Morrissey and John Hinderaker and some other regional bloggers do talk shows in Minneapolis that aren't too bad.

Broaden your horizons and narrow your writing!

agnostic writes:

The Wall Street Journal has the largest circulation in the US -- more than USA Today! And they do politics about as much as they do economics and business. If the WSJ or Bloomberg worked on it, they could probably get enough viewership from educated people via cable TV, especially if they didn't just do news coverage but also provided entertaining non-fiction.

E.g., have a daily "economic puzzle" feature that would pique viewers' curiosity and get them into the economic way of thinking, using concepts, seeing them illustrated by professionals, etc.

Aside from politics and economics, there's really no use for left/right media. I shudder to think what a "libertarian movie review" or "socialist music program" would look like. They might have something to say about the sociology of movies, etc., but nothing special about the artistic merit.

frankcross writes:

I think it's a little trickier than this. There is a populist, nutty segment of the population. Posters on this thread exemplify that, to the extent they defend Limbaugh or say the media's all liberal (plenty of god research shows only a slight liberal bias in most of the media, NPR had a conservative bias in the first part of the last decade per the Groseclose/Milyo methodology itself). The nutty always believe they are not nutty and paranoids never believe themselves paranoid.

I think it is the evident presence of these populist, nutty, sometimes paranoid conservatives, with Tea Parties that turns the educated against conservatives. If these folks are the voice of the party, the educated will run. But there are a lot of these folks and some of their positions (economic) can be sensible, but they are accompanied by rabble and stupidity that makes them unappealing. The Republicans are reaping the whirlwind.

Tom writes:

The conservative talk show host don't argue 'intellectual' beliefs. They argue personal freedoms and property rights. What is "careful, reasoned" about that? Simple ideas are usually the best.

As for the "100 "best educated" of these counties: those having the highest percentage of college graduates", since 1988 have we not seen a huge increase in the number of college graduates? Most notably in the arts. Kids go to college now and blow four to five years learning virually nothing because they need a college degree to be an admin assistant, or stockboy at home depot. Between the watering down of requirements and grade inflation a college degree is barley worth what I earned to graduate high school.

I'd really like to know how the study would look if 'best educated' were defined as a hard science education. I think good old conservative area would still be still far ahead.

Tom writes:

"(plenty of god research shows only a slight liberal bias in most of the media, NPR had a conservative bias in the first part of the last decade per the Groseclose/Milyo methodology itself)"

Princeton and most others put NPR along with everyone else except for Fox as being left slanted.

NPR (news)was slightly left, Fox (news) slightly right, and everyone else to the let of NPR. I think your comments reveals who the nuts really are.

Chris writes:

Is Russ Roberts wasting his time by just fighting a little ol' battle with EconTalk?

I tend not to think so...ya know, intellectually speaking.

Patrick writes:

There's good talk radio out there. You would probably like the John Batchelor Show, which can be listened to 7 nights a week via wabc or itunes. It's a largely guest centered, with interviews, co-hosts, and round table discussions show with no callers on a ton of pressing issues of the day. There tends to be an inverse relationship between the quality of a show and their dependence on callers.

Chris writes:

Put me down with those who think Limbaugh is being sold short. Some of the reasons I (and millions of others, apparently) think he's worth listening to:

* Unlike the great majority of commentators, he seems to understand and be willing and able to articulate his opponents' position. He's not just calling them stupid or malicious.

* He's philosophically consistent (more or less small-L libertarian), rather than simply partisan.

* His memory is long, and he is able to pick out interesting connections between current and past events, putting things into context at a level that few mainstream news commentators can match.

Yes, he is bombastic. But that's a separate issue; there's no principle I can think of that prevents a bombast from being intellectually stimulating.

shecky writes:

Anybody who thinks the likes of Bennet, Prager, Hewitt and Limbaugh are rational or even reasonable conservative thinkers in the media is just deluding themselves. They are show biz folks who get ratings (and advertising revenue) based on how outrageous they can be. If they have any claimed intellectual advantage, it's because their success spawned even more bombastic Johnny-come-latelys.

These folks have few, if any, libertarian ideas or impulses when it comes to the nitty gritty, and typically none when it comes to social issues. Unless, for some reason, you want to continue with the charade that the Republican/conservative wing of American politics is somehow libertarian, at least in spirit.

rhhardin writes:

Limbaugh's larger-than-life persona is actually self-deprecating humor, and that self-deprecation is the reason for his success.

He doesn't quite get economics, unfortunately. He has the right answer but can't give right the reasons.

He's entertaining except when he goes on a morality kick, which can last a couple of weeks before he snaps out of it.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

Bombastic talk radio exists BECAUSE of NPR and other far left MSM self-proclaimed gatekeepers of knowledge and received opinion.

If I could appoint one talking head as president, it would be Boortz.

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