Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Question for Liberals

An old chestnut, but relevant I suppose with both Olbermann and Nate Silver both moving back (at least partially?) to sports: why isn't there a liberal Rush Limbaugh?

44 comments:

  1. This is a liberal's viewpoint, but I think the liberal coalition is pretty poorly positioned to be moved by someone like Rush. His trademarks, as I conceive of them, are insular, exclusionary rhetoric and a general disdain for any kind of non-military authority. Sure, these are ideological positions, but they're also rhetorical styles, and they don't suit the left for pretty obvious reasons: It's too diverse a coalition to respond to victimization, and it's too vested in the idea of government as a positive force to respond to non-stop lampooning of politicians and institutions. (Another way of putting this last point is: A lot of liberals are, in some measure, 'process liberals'; their ideology is defined by respect for institutions. There are *some* 'process conservatives' left out there, and they all write for the New York Times' op-ed page.)

    The closest I think liberals have come to a genuine Rush-style rhetorician is Michael Moore, whose rhetorical style I see as mostly the same as Rush's, but aimed at institutions liberals *can* feel oppressed by and *do* feel comfortable mocking. Putting aside whether Moore's rhetoric is more or less fact-based than Limbaugh's, stylistically, they're pretty similar.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do think the Liambaugh-esque rhetorical style of rage and bluster without nuance has less intuitive market appeal among liberals than it does among conservatives. There are probably some gender and race demographic factors at play there as well.

    Rage-based left-wing talk also has less appeal to advertisers because liberal Limbaugh-type shows (a) attract a smaller audience than their conservative counterparts and (b) are inherently less favorably disposed to the regulatory and tax agenda most corporate advertisers favor.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Also, while I'd note in response to JB's original post that Olbermann may be a roughly accurate analogue for Limbaugh, Silver's calm, fact-based analysis certainly is not.

    I agree with Anon @ 5:19 that Michael Moore is a pretty good left-wing answer to Rush; might be one reason I don't much care for Michael Moore.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dr. B,

    There is, and his name is Jon Stewart. Hear me out.

    A first approximation of Rush's role, in a politics-agnostic description is the popular media's foil for the president who's outside the political establishment. During the Clinton administration, that'd've described Rush perfectly. (As a small aside, during the Obama administration, if I had to pick a person, it'd've been Glenn Beck, thought admittedly that had more appeal in the '09-'11 period than it does now).

    The rhetorical question I'm posing is, who would've fit that description for the Bush administration? Jon Stewart.

    Why Jon Stewart is so different than Rush or Beck is also very interesting. They're reflecting the differences in the parties, and the id of liberal America is younger, more intellectual, more educated, hipper, more broadly appealing and less reactionary than that of conservative America.

    Anyway, I think those two together make sense of why there isn't a liberal Rush. Depending how you understand the question, either 1) there is one, it just doesn't look like Rush because of the differences in the groups to which they appeal, or 2) there isn't a direct mirror-image of Rush precisely because of the differences as outlined above.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can you find me some evidence that liberals are more intellectual and educated than conservatives? Most of the literature I've found does not show that.

      Younger, sure. Hipper? Who knows?

      Delete
    2. I don't know if I'd say liberals and Democrats are more intellectual, but I'd definitely say they are less anti-intellectual than Republicans. I don't mean conservatives are less smart or educated, but there seems to be a lot more rhetoric from Republicans these days against academia and intellectuals. It's wrapped up with their anti-elitism.

      But also, going back to what Anon 5:46 wrote, it was "the id of liberal America." I take that to mean that liberal America has a base instinct driving us to wear dorky glasses.

      Delete
    3. phat,
      1. Americans with advanced degrees are far more likely to vote Democratic.
      2. They are far more likely to identify as liberal.
      3. Colleges are blasted on the right as indoctrinating youth with a liberal viewpoint.
      4. Americans with high-school only degrees are far more likely to vote Republican.
      5. Republicans are far more likely to say that evolution is wrong, that instead an invisible spirit created the world in six days.
      6. Republicans are far more likely to say that the earth is not getting warmer.
      7. Republicans are far more likely to use logic along the lines of "allowing the government to provide healthcare for all of its citizens will destroy freedom."

      Do you need more examples?

      Delete
    4. Can you cite some sources for #4?

      I don't think that one is actually true.

      Delete
    5. I'll get to my point. I am very much a staunch liberal and Democrat. I think we do a disservice to the discourse if we don't have an accurate description of this situation. The theory that Stewart's form of rhetoric (and his popularity) being explained by education of the various audiences needs to be backed up. Otherwise, well...

      My theory just happens to be that Conservatives are more likely to be "button pushers". They enjoy getting a rise out of people or, actually, that Liberals tend to be more sensitive and less likely to try and get a rise out of people. I don't really have much evidence for this, other than the popularity of Limbaugh v Stewart and their particular cohorts.

      I could probably find a list of things liberals believe that aren't particularly backed up by evidence. Now, whether or not those have massive policy importance like climate change and health care is another story.

      Delete
    6. Actually, I have one example, although I don't have any concrete numbers. I think I can say this, though:

      Democrats and liberals are more likely to believe that marches/protests/direct action are important tools in achieving policy change. The largest protests in recent memory were the ones against the invasion of Iraq. They didn't change a damn thing.

      Delete
    7. Jon Stewart is a comedian. Michael Moore is a much better answer.

      Delete
    8. Phat, the "button-pusher" point does sum up a lot of conservatives that I've known. Many also have a strong desire for certainty, and to be right. This might be something that is normally braided into a strong sense of faith in an unseen power.

      It doesn't really explain why Rush has the power to push primaries on some Republicans, and Jon Stewart does not. Rush has been around a lot longer than Jon. Once he started playing kingmaker, it probably became nearly impossible to stop. Yet another addiction for a man riddled with them.

      Delete
    9. I suspect if Stewart wanted to start going after Democrats in primaries he might have an effect. I also doubt Comedy Central would be excited about that. I don't think he'd lose his audience. I doubt that's something he wants to do, though. That doesn't make his viewers more intellectual. It makes HIM more intellectual.

      Delete
    10. HS graduates are NOT noticeably likely to vote Republican. Aggregated over the whole postwar period, Dems got: 57% of <8th grade, 50% of 8th-12th, 43% of some college and 43% of college educated (or more) of the two-party presidential vote.

      This overall trend has weakened, though, and the rounding of categories excludes some real differences. By 2004, for example, identical numbers of HS and college+ voted Dem (50.4 and 50.3%, respectively), and only the less than HS crowd really has a noticable skew. (Note that these numbers typically overinflate shares for the Dems. A good guess about the actual population is closer to 47% in those categories) So, the trend has led to rough parity for the parties on education.

      Note, however, that all that grouping does us some disservice, particularly at the top end. In 2008, the NES data show a 6-point difference in voting Dem between the BA holders and those with advanced degrees. Dems did the worst with those with SOME college. (The numbers in 2008 are even MORE Democratically skewed than the NES normally is, so I don't want to make too much of this).

      The larger point is: more education is associated with being more partisan. Once you separate out the income effect (as income tends to lead slightly to Republicanism and conservativism), education has significant liberalizing effect, but doesn't really have a HUGE partisan bias. Rather, the educated are MUCH more likely to be ideologues and partisans, but the effect on the average is only to push slightly towards liberalism, and even more slightly towards Republicanism.

      The stereotype of uneducated Republicans is a liberal conceit, but the stereotype of the highly educated to be liberal is pretty accurate.

      (All of this is based off NES data, and years of teaching this stuff)


      Delete
    11. Thank you Matt Jarvis. I was going to write something like this but didn't really have the wherewithal. From a partisan Democratic position I think it's important to make sure we don't help perpetuate this myth. It serves the Republicans agenda.

      Delete
  5. There's also a structural/institutional factor going on, besides the obvious one that old white conservatives tend to own more radio stations than liberals (of any variety) happen to own.

    This is that Rush is allowed to skate back and forth between far-right radicalism of all kinds, and cheerleading for established Republicans and Republican candidates. His audience accepts this. On the liberal side, aspiring radio commentators must generally choose between radicalism and establishment liberalism: no skating back and forth between the two is allowed by media gatekeepers or jealous critics. Thom Hartmann comes the closest, with a fully-developed criticism of the corporate role in modern politics, however his personality is so overwhelmingly reasonable and intellectual that he doesn't come off like a Limbaugh at all, and he largely gives general support for establishment Democrats as the least worst political alternative.

    All other aspiring commentators must choose: access to the respectability of media contracts and political insiders, by being a cheerleader for elected Democrats and approved D candidates, or somehow forging one's own path as a more radical voice. That figures like Moore or Cenk Uygur have succeeded at all in the latter path is actually a great testament to their abilities and determination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Like Fox News did, Limbaugh also benefited from the vacuum of conservative news on the airwaves. PhRon is correct to identify radical and establishment among the liberals. The establishment has a lot of voices in media and a lot of talking heads among academia too. There was much more of a vacuum on the con side.

      Delete
  6. Perhaps a better question might be, "How does Limbaugh differ from Moore, Olbermann and Stewart?"

    I'd answer that Limbaugh has the power to take out Republican players, whereas the liberal media champions like Stewart and Moore do not. I believe the reason that Limbaugh has this power is three-fold: first, he's been around a lot longer; second, he is willing to take out Republicans; and third, he is amplified by Fox.

    Stewart throwing a hissy fit about Sen. Manchin or Sen. Feinstein is not going to get them a serious, more liberal primary opponent. Perhaps liberals are more forgiving of transgressions. Perhaps we are more pragmatic about how we cobble together a majority. Or maybe we just don't care as much what our entertainers think of politicians.

    ReplyDelete
  7. IANAL, but consider the similarities and differences between Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush. Both are beneficiaries of patronage seeking the highest office. Major difference in what both did to earn such consideration (beyond said patronage).

    Gender biases may partly explain that difference, but I think the bigger issue is that partisan righties more easily swallow their cognitive dissonance than partisan lefties. Following philosophical ron's point, this difference gives a Limbaugh type much more room to maneuver than an equivalent lefty would have.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not going to disagree that "righties" are less aware of their cognitive dissonance than "lefties." I just don't think that it's pertinent to the question. Could you elaborate on how cognitive dissonance provides Limbaugh with more room to maneuver?

      Delete
    2. Sure. In the abstract, and following philosophical ron's point, the audience swallowing its cognitive dissonance allows Limbaugh to veer between his paymasters (the corporate party) and their consumers (the Tea Party masses). See his switcheroo on Romney, and maybe a million other examples.

      But here's a much more concrete illustration. Some folks proposed Michael Moore above as the liberal Limbaugh; one of Moore's most recent films (Sicko) prefigured the ACA revolution in America. Though that movie got good reviews, Moore didn't play much of a role in the ACA revolution (at least by my perception). Why is that?

      My guess is, however entertaining that film was, as propaganda much of it was transparently crap. I think for me the low point was the suggestion that the barrier for Congresspeople to provide health care to 911 first responders was the high cost of respiratory inhalers, freely available from your friendly neighborhood Havana GP. That was my favorite irritant, there were several other candidates.

      I can't speak for supporters of single-payer, but if their cognitive dissonance didn't bother them, they would have no qualms about advocating vociferously for that film, all of it, including the magic inhalers available in a Havana clinic. If the theory is correct, then Moore's influence on the left might have been much greater if his fans weren't perhaps a bit more likely to be troubled about the parts of his story that didn't add up, even if the overall narrative supported their interests.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, because Moore lied about Cuba's doctors.

      Oh, wait, he didn't.

      Delete
    4. Crissa, the lie was not about Cuba's doctors, it was that the barrier to health care coverage for the first responders was a fifteen minute visit to a GP and a puffer.

      Delete
  8. At the risk of playing into crude, ageist stereotypes, Im going to suggest a demographic explanation. The audience for Limbaugh and other right-wing talk radio personalities skew heavily towards older folks, a group with perhaps a greater propensity for getting scammed - there also might be some more detailed demographic factors at play here, such as socioeconomics, regional, etc. This feature is exploited both in the content of the shows (conspiracy theories, false equivalency, fear mongering about cultural issues, etc.) and by many of the advertisers (identity theft protection, gold!, overpriced iced tea, etc.)

    This lucrative ecosystem just isn't as possible among other audiences. Since older Americans tend to be much more conservative, there is a natural market for conservative radio content in a way that there isn't for political orientations associated with other demographic groups.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Most liberals live in big cities and aren't likely to be spending much time in their cars listening to the radio.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It isn't that most liberals live in big cities, it's that big cities are mostly liberal. Adding the population of the fifteen largest cities (excluding suburbs, so realistically the only places where there would be the levels of mass transit where cars were unnecessary), we're talking about between 25 and 30 million people.

      For very rural areas, if you look at the vote totals for states like Montana, Idaho, the Dakotas, Oklahoma--not a lot of big cities there--they split between about a 30-40% democratic pretty easily. The market isn't as large as conservatives, but it's not inconsiderable.

      Plus, we know a solid number of Democrats and liberals listen to the radio. Morning Edition and All Things Considered each have around 12 million listeners per week (Limbaugh is estimated at 14 million). According to Pew, the demographic split of NPR is 43% Democratic and 37% independent; 36% liberal and 39% moderate.

      Delete
  10. Starting with the obvious, there's a demand for a limbaugh on the conservative side. Which means there's a cause. Judging by the people I know who watch the show, it's a desire to feel aggrieved.

    Given that I assume there are a good chunk of aggrieved folks on both sides of the spectrum, that means liberals partake in aggrieved catharsis in some other way then TV, I'd guess blogs for the young, and well, 'm not old enough to know how the fogies do it..

    It may also be that the average conservative has more in common then the average liberal, so a single entity may have greater overall reach in that group. The left perhaps can't have a limbaugh because their interests are too dispersed.

    Was there a limbaugh equivalent on radio in the reagan years?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Here'san interesting post from someone else's blog on the effect of the advertising boycott on Rush. Good reading, quite informative.

    ReplyDelete
  12. The prog version of Limbaugh is not a single entity, so is harder to point to. When NBC intentionally edited Zimmerman to make him sound raaascist and the rest of the media joined in the pursuit, they were supplying progs with red meat: a "white" man murdered some black 12 year old who only wanted to buy some Skittles! Modern day Emmit Till! What a world!

    Progs don't notice it because it's ubiquitous and expected and agrees with their worldview. Most didn't even think Journolist was noteworthy. Why have a Progblaugh when most of the media is already tossing the tasty red meat?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Example: black adult shoots a 17 year old white male in professed self-defense. Case has many similarities with Zimmerman/Trayvon. Story doesn't go national. Al Sharpton and the SPLC are silent. Why? Progs aren't excited when a black man kills a white boy. So the Progblaugh Borg gives the story a pass.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Nobody so far has it right.

    There is no liberal who can attract the huge numbers of listeners who are loyal to Rush Limbaugh, in addition to other popular Conservative radio-talk-show hosts, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, simply because the message of the aforementioned is correct, while anything that liberals say on the air is wrong.

    For example, Conservatives advocate for a limited federal government which would not be involved in almost every aspect of our lives, doing a terrible job and wasting enormous amounts of taxpayers' money. Liberals are generally happy with the rotten federal government we are currently stuck with. Who wants to listen to a radio host say that what our federal government does is good?

    I suggest that your readers give Rush and/or the others a listen for a week or two. I suspect that many will quickly learn why Conservatism is what America badly needs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hilarious. Maybe we'll also pick up some gold coins at a confiscatory exchange rate as well.

      Because: be scared!

      Delete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Nobody so far has it right.

    There is no liberal who can attract the huge numbers of listeners who are loyal to Rush Limbaugh, in addition to other popular Conservative radio-talk-show hosts, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, simply because the message of the aforementioned is correct, while anything that liberals say on the air is wrong.

    For example, Conservatives advocate for a limited federal government which would not be involved in almost every aspect of our lives, doing a terrible job and wasting enormous amounts of taxpayers' money. Liberals are generally happy with the rotten federal government we are currently stuck with. Who wants to listen to a radio host say that what our federal government does is good?

    I suggest that your readers give Rush and/or the others a listen for a week or two. I suspect that many will quickly learn why Conservatism is what America badly needs.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Nobody so far has it right.

    There is no liberal who can attract the huge numbers of listeners who are loyal to Rush Limbaugh, in addition to other popular Conservative radio-talk-show hosts, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, simply because the message of the aforementioned is correct, while anything that liberals say on the air is wrong.

    For example, Conservatives advocate for a limited federal government which would not be involved in almost every aspect of our lives, doing a terrible job and wasting enormous amounts of taxpayers' money. Liberals are generally happy with the rotten federal government we are currently stuck with. Who wants to listen to a radio host say that what our federal government does is good?

    I suggest that your readers give Rush and/or the others a listen for a week or two. I suspect that many will quickly learn why Conservatism is what America badly needs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fair enough, I'll play along.

      Which of these Rush Limbaugh quotes would you say fairly represent conservative beliefs and principles?

      http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/03/08/35-hateful-and-stupid-rush-limbaugh-quotes/

      These are his own words, no liberal spin.

      Delete
    2. At the risk of feeding a troll, I suspect America's deep hatred of all things liberal is exactly why Democrats keep winning national elections.

      Delete
    3. Which of these Rush Limbaugh quotes would you say fairly represent conservative beliefs and principles?

      Actually, those quotations are pretty mild compared to the racist hate speech that conservatives on this website, such as backyardfoundry regularly engage in.

      Delete
  18. The GOP has a well-defined demographic footprint: Caucasians over 45 years old. A unified audience, similar concerns...easily reachable by the voice of a single entertainer.

    Who would the audience be for a "progressive" Limbaugh?

    Youth? Labor? African-Americans? Asians? Hispanics? Jews? Teachers? Public employees? Environmentalists? LGBTs? The unemployed? All the other non-corporate "takers" of public benefits?

    The libs are a much more diffuse audience with distinctly different concerns...much more difficult to reach...and much less potentially lucrative...than is coming at politics from Rush's angle.

    ReplyDelete
  19. In terms of daily, relentless mockery of the other side, I agree with the consensus above that Stewbert -- i.e. Jon Stewart along with Stephen Colbert, who I'm surprised no one mentioned -- is the left counterpart of Rush.

    So then the question is why there is no media / entertainment figure also playing political kingmaker and exacting tribute from allied politicians on the left, as Rush does on the right. We could turn that question around and ask why Democratic politics (especially primary and "invisible primary" politics) doesn't seem to empower such a figure. I suppose this is because the GOP depends more on mobilizing and motivating a narrower base as oppose to building a "big tent." I am further guessing that this is a fact common to mainstream conservative parties in the West -- that they are more dependent on dwindling numbers of older white people who take their political cues from "old media" and who need to be whipped into a daily fear-based frenzy if the party is to remain competitive. My own comparative observations are limited to the UK, but there, too, you've got a Tory party in demographic decline but with a disproportionately powerful Tea-Party-type faction driven by nationalism, xenophobia and a quasi-religious faith in (supposed) free markets. The Limbaugh / Fox News of that group is the right-wing tabloid press -- the Daily Mail, Sun, etc. -- which can likewise put the fear of God into allied politicians, including prime ministers, a fact that has blown up into scandal several times in recent years.

    In short, Limbaugh happens to fill a niche that political systems like ours generate on the right. That's my best guess, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also like to note that this echo chamber is owned and operated by the same companies in each nation.

      Delete
  20. I'd say there's not a fundamental difference between conservative audiences or liberal audiences as asserted above because people are fundamentally people and liberals are probably just as likely to be xenophobic or racist etc as any given conservative. Limbaugh's brand of entertainment would easily succeed with liberals if there were an entertainer as talented as Limbaugh on the left. I think liberals critiquing Limbaugh fail, for the most part, because of selection and confirmation bias and never see beyond the narrative they already expected to find (that Limbaugh is BAD).

    Limbaugh is an outstanding and effective entertainer who knows how to maximize his audiences interest and loyalty by telling them what they already know.

    In a sense, candidate quality matters, and liberals have not put forth a candidate with as strong entertainment and improvisational skills as conservatives have, at least not on the radio in politics. It's not easy to put together three continual hours of material everyday, what Limbaugh achieves is incredibly impressive from an entertainment point of view. This in turn has network effects, as Limbaugh has illustrated the business model as well as the method by which he succeeds, so he can be emulated, which he has been, allowing less talented entertainers like Levin et al to succeed as well (though not to Limbaugh's degree of success). The market builds the market. You'd think this would flip easily to liberals, but there are other forces at play, and a simple inversion of the politics in question has not borne out success that repeating the politics of the trailblazer has rendered.

    I would suggest it's simple, follow the money. Limbaugh makes advertisers rich who in turn make Limbaugh rich. Advertisers make or break radio hosts, and they may not be inclined to support a host who is advocating against their financial best interests. And advertisers may exert pressure to 'boycott' a Limbaugh liberal equivalent presence on the radio.

    And it could be simply that Limbaugh had years to build his audience and perfect his schtick, but a liberal Limbaugh has to succeed at the level of Limbaugh's peak out of the gate (or the plug is pulled) this is a much higher barrier to entry than Limbaugh ever faced. Limbaugh is like Wal Mart, and if you want to launch a new store you're announcing is competing with Wal Mart, you'll be expected to compete at the level of Wal Mart, despite the incumbants decades of entrenched infrastructural advantage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

      Delete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?