Daily Show Looks For ‘Good Old Days’

This is great.  Comedians are some of the most insightful commentaters.

There is a video that goes along with this.  Just click the title link below and you’ll be brought to the page on Comedy Central

John Oliver Searches for Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly’s Good Old Days

Cable news rabble-rousers like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly love to rouse their rabble by lamenting the loss of the America they grew up in, an idyllic and simpler bygone era. So, on last night’s Daily Show, John Oliver went looking for these so-called good old days, and it wasn’t so easy. But maybe he just didn’t go back far enough. From what I understand, there was a pretty nice period of time that ended about 250,000 years ago.

Violent Speech and the Uninformed Public

I was just on Amazon.com looking at books on politics.  There were a number of books about media spin, political PR, violent speech, angry pundits, and the extreme rightwing. 

It reminds me of an interview that Diane Rehm had last night.  I don’t know who she was talking with, but the issue of loud pundits came up.  Diane Rehm mentioned that there are many more loud pundits on the right than the left, but her guest was reluctant to agree.  Even though he said he leaned towards her view, it was obvious he was being politically correct in not stating the obvious.

Why this reservation?  Conservatives have often (whether rightly or wrongly) called liberals wishy-washy for this very reserved way of speaking.  This guy was a liberal demonstrating the opposite of these rightwing blowhards, but because of his liberal values it felt wrong to agree with what Diane Rehm said.

The problem is such reservation does come off as weak.  Yes, be intelligent and rational, but for God’s sake just say it like it is, speak up, voice your opinion.

As far as I can tell, Diane Rehm is correct.  There are more loud commentators on the right than the left.  Or maybe it’s just the loud rightwingers get more attention.

More importantly, there is a clear difference between loud leftwingers and loud rightwingers. 

On the far right, there are people making wild accusations from calling people socialists to fascists and comparing people to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao (often Obama gets all of these at once; BTW here is an nice short article about Obama and potential threats).  On the far right, there is Beck constantly using violent language and play-acting violence for his audience, there is O’Reilly calling people baby killers, and Bernard Goldberg’s lists of.  Books from all of these rightwingers were found in the home of the Knoxville church gunman, and this gunman specifically referred to one of Goldberg’s list.  These rightwingers refuse any responsibility.  Yes, crazy people are responsible for doing the crazy things they do.  But the people who incite (overtly intentional or not) the crazy people are also responsible.


BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?

O’REILLY: Nah, I don’t believe in this snap thing. I think that that kind of violence is inside you and it’s a personality disorder.

BECK: So, the shooting in Alabama.O’REILLY: Yeah.

BECK: Did you hear how they described this guy? I mean, it was a typical, you know, “he was a loner. He was quiet. I didn’t know.” I mean, it was really…But what they really described, when they really got down into it, what they said was: “here’s a guy who felt that he had been wronged. He didn’t feel comfortable talking to anybody. He was disgruntled and everything else.” And then he went out and shot a bunch of people. As they were describing him — and they said, you’ve got to go, now more than ever, you’ve got to start talking to people. You have to start connecting with people because we’re going into hard times yada yada yada. As I’m listening to the description. First of all, this guy’s a psycho. Clearly, he’s a psycho.

O’REILLY: Right.

BECK: But as I’m listening to him. I’m thinking about the American people that feel disenfranchised right now. That feel like nobody’s hearing their voice. The government isn’t hearing their voice. Even if you call, they don’t listen to you on both sides. If you’re a conservative, you’re called a racist. You want to starve children.


BECK: Yada yada yada. And every time they do speak out, they’re shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?

O’REILLY: Well, look, nobody, even if they’re frustrated, is going to hurt another human being unless they’re mentally ill. I think.

BECK: I think pushed to the wall, you don’t think people get pushed to the wall?


But in Adkisson’s case, he left us this manifesto, which lays bare his motivations and his thinking. And as we can see from the organized nature of the piece, he was no more “insane” than Ted Kaczynski.

No one is blaming O’Reilly or Goldberg directly for the killings that resulted. But there is at least some level of culpability here that they need to face responsibly.

That means dealing with the matter forthrightly: Reporting the whole facts of the matter (particularly that Adkisson was clearly inspired by their own incessant scapegoating of liberals, often with violent language along the lines of “Screw them”) and making clear that in no way did they ever intend these words to be taken as a call to violent action.

Not that they ever will, of course. These guys are big battleships, dontcha know. Why be bothered with such little spitballs as basic decency and integrity?


*For what it’s worth, this is a farrago of strawmen: No major Democratic or liberal figures called either Bush or Cheney morons or fascists, nor Palin a racist; these characterizations could be found among some rank and file liberals (and their views were certainly not groundless), but no major spokesman of the ‘Left’, particularly not of a stature comparable to O’Reilly’s on the Right, ever said such a thing. The story about Steele being pelted with Oreos, meanwhile, has since been pretty thoroughly debunked.

You don’t find the same level of hate and violent speech on the left.  You can find examples here and there, but they’re mostly the exception to the rules.  You don’t see someone on the left who fear-mongers as much as Beck.  The loudest leftwingers are Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore, but in their rants you don’t hear regular references to violence and hatred.  They’re strongly critical and opinionated, but they don’t tend to dismiss their opponents with vague accusatory labels.  Even conservative politicians are supporting and promoting the gun-toting rightwing zealots, but liberal politicians to their credit haven’t supported violent liberal groups such as the Weather Underground.

There is a difference and that difference matters.

George Lakoff realizes the power of conservatives comes from their knowing how to manipulate emotions.  Liberals hold Enlightenment ideals of intellectuality: logic, rationality, facts, objectivity, etc.  However, Lakoff argues that what wins in politics and what gets covered in the media are emotional appeals. 

The questionable part is that Lakoff thinks liberals need to become more emotional as well.  The danger is that fear, anger, hatred, and vengefulness are very persuasive… at least in the short-term.  Throw in blind tribalistic sense of patriotism and Christian righteousness, and the GOP has strong appeal to their message even when that message is contradictory or factually wrong.  But do liberals want to compete with conservatives with opposing emotional manipulation?  The danger is that liberals will get dragged down to the same level.  The challenge is that it’s easier to incite public outrage than it is to inspire public hope.  It’s easier to be divisive than to seek unity, and it’s easier to rant than to offer fair-minded analysis.

I was looking at all of the books on Amazon.com.  Some of the authors I’m familiar with to a degree.  I do see them in the media sometimes offering intelligent commentary, but the news media is a very limited format.  Chomsky has often pointed out how it’s impossible to explain complex analysis on tv news.  In-depth discussions of issues are more likely to happen on radio, but even there it’s pretty rare.  There is so much out there that the public needs to know in order to be an informed citizenry, and yet most people are unaware that the information even exists.

Does the news media fail the public or does the public fail itself by being intellectually lazy?  Ideological pundits and emotional appeals are more entertaining.  Do we just get what we want?  But why is the media so willing to give it?  I’m not even sure what is the right question to ask.

To end on a positive note, the internet does seem to be opening up a space for more detailed discussion.  The downside is few people use the internet to research any issue in detail.

Here is a video of the type of thing I’d like to see more of:

The intelligent and moral religious folk (whether Christian, Muslim, or whatever) need to speak out for more worthy traditional values such as love and compassion (now, that would be an emotional appeal I could accept).  It’s not a matter of which political ideology wins rather it’s about how do we make the world a better place.  Hate speech, inciting of violence, and fear-mongering simply aren’t helpful.

Re: Is Conservatism Brain-Dead?

Is Conservatism Brain-Dead? by Steven F. Hayward (The Washington Post)

Over his decades as a columnist, lecturer, TV host and debater, William F. Buckley Jr. lost his cool in public only once — when he threatened to sock Gore Vidal “in your goddamn face” on the third night of their joint appearances on ABC during the ill-fated 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Three nights on a television set with Vidal might drive anyone mad, yet Buckley also tangled with the roughest players on the left, from Jesse Jackson to William Kunstler, with unfailing composure.

But suppose that instead of his formal addresses and his weekly “Firing Line” show on PBS, Buckley had hosted a talk radio show 15 hours a week for 20 years, or hosted a nightly hour-long cable news show, sliced into six-minute segments. One can imagine him archly sniffing: “You can’t possibly immanentize the eschaton in six minutes!” But one can also imagine him overexposed, spread thin chasing the issue of the moment and perhaps losing his temper now and then — in short, less the man of style and ideas who inspired two generations of conservative thinkers and more just a populist shock jock with a funny prep-school accent.

That is quite insightful.  The medium is the message.  It reminds me of Noam Chomsky’s criticisms of mainstream media… which reminds me that Chomsky was interviewed by Buckley once.

That is an extremely intelligent discussion.  It makes me sad that we don’t see this kind of thing these days.

During the glory days of the conservative movement, from its ascent in the 1960s and ’70s to its success in Ronald Reagan’s era, there was a balance between the intellectuals, such as Buckley and Milton Friedman, and the activists, such as Phyllis Schlafly and Paul Weyrich, the leader of the New Right. The conservative political movement, for all its infighting, has always drawn deeply from the conservative intellectual movement, and this mix of populism and elitism troubled neither side.

Today, however, the conservative movement has been thrown off balance, with the populists dominating and the intellectuals retreating and struggling to come up with new ideas. The leading conservative figures of our time are now drawn from mass media, from talk radio and cable news. We’ve traded in Buckley for Beck, Kristol for Coulter, and conservatism has been reduced to sound bites.

A conservative movement that had intellectual respectability?  I’m all in favor of that.

Of course, it’s hard to say whether conservative intellectuals are simply out of interesting ideas or if the reading public simply finds their ideas boring. Both possibilities (and they are not mutually exclusive) should prompt some self-criticism on the right.

Now, there is the million dollar question.  There have been some great conservative thinkers, but where are they now?  Assuming they presently exist somewhere in the background, why is the conservative mainstream (and mainstream media in general) ignoring them?

Conservatism has prospered most when its attacks on liberalism have combined serious alternative ideas with populist enthusiasm. When the ideas are absent, the movement has nothing to offer — except opposition. That doesn’t work for long in American politics.

The late Irving Kristol, who appeared on TV about as often as a solar eclipse, spoke to this point when he remarked that even though Sen. Joe McCarthy may have been a “vulgar demagogue,” at least the public understood that he was anti-Communist. “They know no such thing,” Kristol said, about liberals.

I disagree with such black and white thinking, but it’s a reasonable argument to make.

Yet it was not enough just to expose liberalism’s weakness; it was also necessary to offer robust alternatives for both foreign and domestic policy, ideas that came to fruition in the Reagan years. Today, it is not clear that conservative thinkers have compelling alternatives to Obama’s economic or foreign policy. At best, the right is badly divided over how to fix the economy and handle Iran and Afghanistan. So for the time being, the populists alone have the spotlight.

Exactly!  Obstructionism isn’t a wise course of action either for the Republican party or for the country.

It’s tempting to blame all this on the new media landscape. The populist conservative blockbusters of today have one thing in common: Most are written by media figures, either radio or TV hosts, or people who, like Coulter and Malkin, get lots of TV exposure. The built-in marketing advantage is obvious. The left thinks talk radio and Fox News are insidious forces, which shows that they are effective. (Just ask Van Jones and ACORN.) But some on the right think talk radio, especially, has dumbed down the movement, that there is plenty of sloganeering but not much thought, that the blend of entertainment and politics is too outre. John Derbyshire, author of a forthcoming book about conservatism’s future, “We are Doomed,” calls our present condition “Happy Meal Conservatism, cheap, childish and familiar.”

The media is definitely partly to blame.  There is a power struggle in the media for decades and this has been magnified by the quick shift in technology and demographics.  There is a fight going on and some of the players are ruthless.

The blend of entertainment and politics is not unique to the right (exhibit No. 1 on the left: “The Daily Show”). And it is perfectly possible to conduct talk radio at a high level of seriousness, and several talkers do well at matching the quality of their shows to their intellectual pedigree. Consider Hugh Hewitt (Michigan Law School), Michael Medved (Yale Law School), William Bennett (Harvard Law and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Texas) — all three of these brainiacs have popular shows on the Salem Radio Network.

Presenting political commentary in an entertaining form isn’t a problem.  However, the public (and the media itself) has become confused about what real news is.  Partly, the media corporations just want to make money and they’ve been pulling money out of the serious journalism because they don’t think the public wants it.  Are they correct?  If the public wanted it, wouldn’t the advertisers be there to support it?  I don’t know.  Personally, I’d like to see more intelligence and insight in the media (be it presented as entertainment or not).

Beck and other conservatives can start by engaging the central argument of the most serious indictment of conservatism on the scene, Sam Tanenhaus’s new book, “The Death of Conservatism.” Tanenhaus’s argument is mischievously defective; he thinks the problem with conservatism today is that it is not properly deferential to liberalism’s relentless engine of change. In other words, it is an elegant restatement of G.K. Chesterton’s quip that is it is the business of progressives to go on making mistakes, while it is the business of conservatives to prevent the mistakes from being corrected. That won’t do. A conservative movement that accepted Tanenhaus’s prescription would be consigning itself to be the actuary of liberalism.

That might be so.  However, I think idealistically both parties should be responsive to eachother and work together towards the public good.

But Tanenhaus is right to direct our attention to the imbalance between the right’s thinkers and doers. The single largest defect of modern conservatism, in my mind, is its insufficient ability to challenge liberalism at the intellectual level, in particular over the meaning and nature of progress. In response to the left’s belief in political solutions for everything, the right must do better than merely invoking “markets” and “liberty.”

I wish public debate happened on the intellectual level.  The major criticism from the left is that the right has abandoned the moral highground when it comes to intellectuality.  The conservatives have labelled  the liberals the intellectual elite and embraced anti-intellectualism.  A truly sad state of affairs. 

Beck, for one, is revealing that despite the demands of filling hours of airtime every day, it is possible to engage in some real thought. He just might be helping restore the equilibrium between the elite and populist sides of conservatism.

Beck offering equilibrium?  He is the most populist of the pundits.  Beck is fine for what he does as a self-portrayed populist, but I wouldn’t look to him to save conservatism.  I’m not dismissing Beck.  He seems moderately intelligent and some of his views even seem reasonable.  I accept that he may have some worthy insights and I understand why others are attracted to him, but he is no where near comparable to Buckley in terms of intellectual respectability.  If the hope of conservatism is dependent on people like Beck, then conservatism is in real trouble.