Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Rush and Hugh = No Landslide

Hugh Hewitt has a piece today titled Sustained Audience, Trust, and Rush about his appearance on CNN's Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz and the reaction to his description of Rush Limbaugh as America’s most trusted journalist.

Hewitt’s piece and all of the recent talk by the Democrats and the media about the likelihood of a Democratic landslide in the 2006 congressional elections similar to the Republican landslide in 1994 has reminded me of a major reason Republicans won big in 1994.

In 1990, I drove from Chicago to Arkansas to be with my family for Christmas. Once free of the Chicago radio air waves, I started scanning the AM dial and kept finding stations broadcasting a guy who was having fun ridiculing big government and the proponents of big government solutions. As I drove and laughed and listened, I realized I was hearing something I had never heard on the radio or seen on television before; I was hearing someone who shared my values of hard work, self reliance, honesty, and sacrifice. I was also enjoying what I was hearing.

Rush Limbaugh really struck a chord with me that day in 1990 and for the next three years he must have struck a chord with many Americans who had been voting for Democrats all of their voting life. Rush Limbaugh probably didn't persuade many voters to become Republicans, but he did give many of us the confidence to know we were not alone in distrusting what we were hearing from the media and he did persuade us to become former Democrats. By 1994, the majority of voters decided it was time to reverse the trend towards higher taxes and bigger government. Rush Limbaugh may only be a radio talk show host, but he did completely change the political landscape with his radio show in the late 80’s and early 90’s by being different from the mainstream media and by appealing to average voters in middle America.

Big-government Republicans and ignore-the-immigration-laws Republicans have increased the likelihood of a Democratic takeover in 2006, but there is absolutely no chance of a landslide in 2006 like 1994 because there is no change to the political landscape similar to Rush. The Democrats have a few new media stars, but they don’t have very many new voters because Democrats still advocate the same solution to every problem. The Republicans in congress have betrayed many of the voters who brought them to power and many deserve a one way ticket home from DC, but the offspring of Rush which includes Hugh Hewitt, Larry Elder, Laura Ingraham, Dennis Prager, Sean Hannity, and many, many others, will keep reminding voters of the failure of big government and the only solution ever offered by Democrats.

I don’t listen to Rush much anymore because I find other radio hosts more interesting, but there is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the most influential people in America for the last two decades. Thanks Rush. Carry on Hugh.

Update: Welcome Hugh Hewitt readers. Hugh’s comment focused on my secondary point regarding the likelihood of a landslide. My main point was, and is, that nothing significant has happened similar to the ascendance of Rush that will change the landscape enough for a landslide to occur. Political opinion on the internet (new media) has grow to maturity, but it seems to be divided between left and right so it will not tip the balance in either direction.


Richard said...

Immigration could be the Republican downfall. If anything the senate bill is an attempt to save the GOP bacon. I am prediction a big defeat similar to the Republican defeat in California when Republicans back proposition 187. I am sorry policies a la Bill The Butcher * dose not win voters.

* The fictional restrictionist villain of the film Gangs of New York.

M.A. said...

Well, first of all, I think any "wall" today is created less by the talk radio-ites (who now appeal mostly to partisan Republicans) than by the pro-Republican bias of the supposedly liberal MSM. As Digby points out in another great post, the MSM consistently adopts asinine GOP talking points about Democrats (Gore, Dean, Clinton). That's a far more difficult wall to overcome. After all, despite Limbaughvian triumphalism, it wasn't the conservative media that made the bogus Clinton scandals front-page news; it was "liberal" outlets like the New York Times that spent years and lots of stories looking into a land deal where the Clintons lost money. So if there's a "wall" against Democrats it is erected by the MSM, which, no matter how individual reporters may vote, is institutionally and structurally biased against Democrats.

But more importantly, despite right-wing "new media" triumphalism, the rise of right-wing media has coincided with the Republican party getting less popular, not more. That sounds oxymoronic, but think about it: in 1980, with no right-wing media and an MSM that was somewhat liberal (unlike today), the Republicans won a blow-out victory for the Presidency and the Senate. Even in 1994, there was no Fox News and right-wing media was still relatively new, yet there was a blow-out victory. Since then, the Republicans have held the Congress (often by slim margins), but Bush II tied the first time and narrowly won the second time -- hardly comparable to the victories of Reagan, Nixon 1972, or even Bush 1988. If the "new media" is helping the Republicans it's only at the margins.

M.A. said...

One more thing: I think your story of discovering Rush points up a reason why liberals haven't established a fully viable "alternative" media yet (even though liberals are if anything even more frustrated with the MSM than conservatives). Rush rose to prominence at a time when conservative government, at the federal level, was the rule, not the exception, but the media hadn't really caught up to it.

Yes, Reagan and Bush I sometimes broke with the faith, especially Bush I; but still, the federal government in the '80s -- with a tax-cuttin' president and six years of a Republican-controlled Senate -- was more conservative than at any time since the '20s. Rush Limbaugh arose to serve a market consisting of the people who voted Reagan into power. The government moved to the right, and the media followed.

Liberals trying to create a new media infrastructure are getting it backwards: first you bring back liberalism to government (Clinton doesn't count, since he mostly didn't govern as a liberal), and then a liberal Limbaugh will arise. Liberals are frustrated that there are no genuinely liberal voices in major media today (just liberal-haters like Joe Klein), but it will have to wait until there are more liberal voices in government.

And liberals need to look at 1980 and remember that there is no media "wall" preventing anyone from getting into power. In 1980, as I said, there was actually some truth to the charge that the media was liberal (there is no truth to the charge now, of course); and the Fairness Doctrine allowed liberal and left-wing positions to be much more frequently represented on TV than they are today. Yet with a generally hostile media environment, the Republicans won the Presidency in a landslide and took the the Senate to boot. If the Republicans could overcome that wall, a Hugh Hewitt-sized wall is a piece of cake for us America-hatin' liberals....

Rick and Gary said...

I agree that talk radio made '94 a break-through year. But I don't think that makes talk radio the permanent king maker in mid-term Congressional elections.

Technology and media preferences change all the time. Had most people even heard of the Internet in '94?

On the other hand, talk radio is definately a great medium for getting people fired up, and therefore, motivated to vote.

In any case, if '06 is some sort of political sea change, we won't really understand how it happened until after it happened, as with '94.

It would be great if talk radio really is still crusading against the growth of the government, regardless of whether it's the Republicans that are doing it.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rick and Gary,

I didn’t mean to imply that talk radio could or even can control elections. I don’t believe it can. My claim was that Rush Limbaugh alone created the shift from the majority in congress being Democrats to the majority in congress being Republicans. Of course there were other factors, but Rush really was significantly different than anyone who came before him and his show.

The internet is a companion to talk radio and will play a part in 2006. However, the internet seems evenly divided between left and right, so it won’t be a difference maker.

Talk radio is very frustrated with Republicans at this point. However, when it comes time to vote, talk radio will not be endorsing Democrats. This may not prevent a Democratic take-over, but it will definitely prevent a landslide.

Thanks for your great comment.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Richard,

The Senate immigration bill is a mess. However, only 33 Senators get elected in 2006 and each and everyone who is running for re-election or running to replace an existing Senator knows exactly how their position on immigration plays out in their own state. Similarly, the house bill seems to be too extreme for the majority of Americans, but again, each and every congressman knows how his or her position plays in his or her district. Things may change, but at this point all of the expressions of anger will not translate to a Democratic landslide.

In 2008, both major party candidate will have to suffer the consequences of this debate. The Republican Presidential candidate may pay a price, but it is yet to be seen. McCain is staking out a very moderate position now to prepare for the general election. He will have to endure some very tough primaries.

David M. Smith said...

Hi M.A.,

Regarding your first comment:

I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I also appreciate the civility of your comment with the exception of the link you provided. Respectful dialogue is important to me.

I suspect my opinion of mainstream media won’t affect your opinion of mainstream media because your opinion of mainstream media will not affect my opinion. I’ve spent years observing the media and I know exactly where it belongs in relation to my views. I am to the right of the media and I consider the dominate bias of the media to be center-left with a friendly approach to the far-left and center-right along with a hostile approach towards the right and far right.

Perhaps you consider talk radio to be part of mainstream media. I do not. I consider talk radio to be alternative media. Talk radio is dominated by the right and a few center-right and far-right, but it hardly represents Republican talking points. Right now, talk radio is very critical of President Bush and the Republican Senate.

I completely agree with one thing you wrote although a little differently than you wrote it. The rise of talk radio has sharpened the difference between the left and the right and has created anger on the left that didn’t exist before talk radio. For a great many Americans, Republicans have gone from being tolerated to being hated.

David M. Smith said...

Hi again M.A.,

Now regarding your second comment:

I can understand how those on the left and far-left would be frustrated with mainstream media. Thirty second sound bites do not ever do justice to any political position.

I do not agree with you that America was conservative during the Reagan and Bush I years. President Reagan was a conservative, but he was elected as much on his personality as he was elected on his ideology. The proof is that the House was still solidly in control of the Democrats and a Senate majority of Republicans still included many, if not most, Rockefeller Republicans. President Reagan was able to pass tax cuts, but he had to agree to spending increases to get his tax cuts through congress. Bush I came in on the coattails of Reagan and also benefited from a poor Democratic candidate. The government may have moved to the right from where it was at during the Carter years, but it hardly became Buckley conservative.

The virtual wall was more Hugh Hewitt’s interpretation than it was my main point. I don’t think talk radio has the power to stop a Democratic takeover. However, I do think talk radio now represents a huge part of the electorate who does not want to return to a Democratic run government.

I would love to hear a liberal Rush Limbaugh on the radio. However, I don’t know how a liberal can appeal to analytical Americans the way Rush has. Ideas can be tested by results. Big government has failed each and every time it has been tried. Freedom has succeeded each and every time it has been tried. Americans seem to prefer freedom now.

Count Grecula said...

"For a great many Americans, Republicans have gone from being tolerated to being hated."

I know this has been my experience, especially in the last few years working in the film industry. The 2004 election and aftermath has created an ugly rise in rude and frankly threatening statements regarding anyone to the right of Harry Reid. It kind of freaks me out sometimes.

I had a different experience with Rush. I considered myself something of Liberal when I entered college in 1986. I wasn't particularly political; it was just the default intellectual position. If you were intelligent, you held liberal views. Period. And that is still the truth today.

In 1998 I got a courier job with the film school which put me in a pickup truck for hours at a time with only an AM radio. Eventually I found Rush. I don't know how- it must have just been interesting. Rush made me understand that I was not really a liberal. I've never been the same, although it took 9/11 to really make me vocal about conservative ideas. The stakes have become much higher.

The other side of your observation is that if Republicans have gone from being tolerated to being hated, then Democrats have gone from being revered to being ridiculed. Once the protectors of freedom and democracy, they have become apologists for dictators, cynical in the extreme about patriotism, freedom and democracy, and basically won't lift a damn finger for anyone else unless it makes them look good and won't risk their personal safety in anyway. Conservatives have become the true liberals in the classic sense of the word, and the progressive left more closely resembles the John Birch right they supposedly detest.

I don't know what kind of failure will rouse them out of their 60's induced haze, but if 9/11 wasn't enough, I shudder to think what it might take.

Great post, congrats on the link. Also, kudos for the well-spoken and civil lib commentors. I wish we could convince you that power is no substitute for good ideas.