Thursday, August 19, 2010


Conor Friedersdorf, guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, denounces "coastal media elites" such as Limbaugh, Breitbart, and Hannity, as well as fellow coastal elitists of (in Sullivan's view) a more intellectual bent who support them:

...Within the conservative movement, there is an unspoken belief at places like National Review and The Claremont Institute that while certain intellectual standards are important parts of their own institution, it's necessary to look past intellectually dishonest propaganda and extremes in ugly rhetoric when it emanates from sufficiently popular entertainers on the right. The idea is that public discourse is a big game -- or sometimes an ongoing war -- and winning it requires behavior that can't be defended on the merits, but should be excused or at least ignored because it's popular, or the other side does it, or you can't attract a Rush Limbaugh sized audience without the kinds of tactics that he employs, or certain people are too important to the ideological coalition to forcefully criticize.

One problem with this approach is that it treats the conservative rank-and-file as means to an end. They're the base, and they need riling up, and yeah, some of what they're fed can't really stand up to scrutiny, but politics is a dirty business. People who take this view tend to be sophisticated elites, and too often they forget that a lot of talk radio listeners aren't in on the joke -- that is to say, when Rush Limbaugh says that in Barack Obama's America it's okay for black kids to beat up white kids on buses, their reaction isn't to roll their eyes, or to cheer the hyperbolic zinger, it's to worry about their grandkids....

I don't accept the notion by Friedersdorf is getting at here -- that, in a better world, the more cerebral-seeming righties would fight their battles with sincere, well-thought-out essays, but, in the debased world we live in, they've reluctantly, cynically made the choice to throw in their lot with demagogues, people they know are deceitful and distasteful and not worthy of respect.

I think they dig it.

At a certain point, people who aren't naturally inclined to violence or brutality will gang up and do terrible things, just because they're caught up in the mood of a mob. This happens in riots. It happens in gang sexual assaults.

Something like this has happened in our political discourse. Brainier righties haven't just made a strategic alliance with lying rabble-rousers -- they see the rabble-rousers running riot, and their bloodlust is stirred. They want in on the action.

If they ever thought so, I don't think they believe anymore that there's something wrong with stirring the basest passions of the crowd -- it's too effective, and it's too much fun. That's why "cooler heads" are never going to prevail on immigration or the Cordoba House controversy. This is working for them. This is pleasurable for them.

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