18 June 2009 2:24 PM
In a prior post about the way political ideas spread, I argued that conservative talk radio hosts like Mark Levin aren't merely doing damage to public discourse -- they are ill-serving their most loyal listeners, and by extension conservatism itself. This is so for several reasons, I said, promising to cite specific examples to back up my assertions. The post linked above includes a monologue wherein Mr. Levin provides negligent, demonstrably wrongheaded analysis to his audience. The segment is a waste of time at best. More likely, it persuaded some listeners, leading them astray from reality and inhibiting their ability to participate in reality based arguments. In this way, they are marginalized.
Insofar as I've seen, responses to my post offer no defense of Mr. Levin's analysis. It is telling that even my least forgiving critics are reduced to attacking me for writing in a pretentious style. This series of posts is written more formally than is my habit. I am making an effort to bring more light than heat to a subject where the opposite is more often true. Were I being outrageously pretension in tone, however, it would hardly refute the substance of my argument.
Another critique I've seen is that only someone who misunderstands the medium of talk radio would write as I've done.
Friedersdorf, like most journalists, doesn't really understand talk radio. Talk show hosts aren't employed to run on-air education and organizing efforts; they are paid to attract and hold the largest possible audience. Showmanship plays a big part in achieving that objective. Talk pioneer Willis Duff once said that talk radio is like bullfighting. People appreciate the cape work -- but they come to see the bull get killed. And no one kills the bull like Mark Levin.But my argument isn't that Mark Levin is an unsuccessful radio host -- I grant that he measures success by the size of his audience, and that he has a sizable number of listeners who come for what he provides. What I contend is that the effect of Mr. Levin's least defensible tics -- whether or not they attract market share -- is to damage public discourse and ill-serve his listeners in the realm of politics. The Roman Coliseum packed in audience members. That didn't make the entertainment on offer good for the republic.
Finally, some readers wonder whether the monologue I quoted is representative of the analysis offered by Mr. Levin. In my judgment, it is -- many other monologues are flawed in the same ways. In fact, it is fair to say that Mr. Levin frequently questions the motives of his ideological adversaries as a substitute for rational discussion. Perhaps a couple brief illustrations will be instructive.
On May 18, 2009, the following exchange occurred on Mr. Levin's program:
CALLER: Hi Mark. I was listening to some of the shows over the weekend and I saw one of the pollsters on and he was predicting that Democrats are liable to pick up 10 more seats in 2010. I don't know how you guys expect to have a conservative resurgence if you can't get anyone elected.The so-called state of Vermont? Angry outbursts impair even the capacity for insults that make sense. But that's merely an aside. The main point is that Mr. Levin is constructing a world where those who disagree with him and the policies he advocates -- well, they hate their children. Is that a healthy narrative for a political movement to buy into? Or is it an immature fiction likely to impair judgment?
MR. LEVIN: What's it like hating your children. What's it like hating your children, bankrupting, stealing from them, ensuring that they'll have sub-quality health care, the kind that you enjoy at your ripe old age. What's it like punishing your children. What did they ever do to you Steve?
CALLER: You know it's funny, Mark--
MR. LEVIN: GET OFF THE PHONE YOU BIG DOPE. Where was I before I was rudely interrupted by Steve from the so-called state of Vermont?
Mr. Levin uttered an even more egregious fiction in the same show. The context is a political battle over climate change and carbon emissions shaping up right now. Are we going to tax carbon? Or institute cap and trade? Barack Obama and many Democrats would like to do just that. So far, I am persuaded by Jim Manzi's analysis that the costs don't outweigh the benefits (and that Waxman-Markey is terrible legislation)... but I am open to being convinced that the costs of climate change, and the likelihood that they'll come to bear, justify some action. This is a complicated subject that hinges on empirical questions that are difficult if not impossible to answer conclusively. Reasonable people can and do disagree.
Unfortunately, Mr. Levin frames debate in the most unreasonable way imaginable.
MR. LEVIN: By the way, do you know that without greenhouse gasses, America and all the other countries, the globe, would turn to ice? We need greenhouse gasses. Greenhouse gasses include water vapor. Water vapor is the biggest part of greenhouse gasses. Do you know why it's called green house? Because without these gasses, there would be no plants, there would be no life. And yet they turn it around like it's a chemical. 'We've got all these greenhouse gasses.' And without them you would be dead as a door nob. It's called the atmosphere. We need these greenhouse gasses. But they haven't figured out how to regulate water vapor yet. 'Eh. We're working on it.'In the world as Mr. Levin portrays it, we know excessive greenhouse gasses don't threaten to warm the globe because absent any greenhouse gasses we'd all die. Is that quality of logic helpful or destructive as conservatives wage this debate? His is also a world where all the people who are worried about climate change are pretending -- their actual motive is a desire to raise taxes to pay for socialist health care. Convincing some number of conservatives to approach climate change in this nonsensical way is damaging to public discourse and to the people in question--and Mr. Levin conducts himself the same way with regard to other issues, though we haven't room here to explore every indefensible example of this kind, not least because my next post on this subject will turn to other kinds of errors.
But carbon dioxide, they think they've figured that out. But it does not matter. It is a new way to tax. And they're linking one to the other. They're trying to figure out how to massively increase taxes called cap and trade on industry and hence the consumer, you and me, anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 a year. It would go to the federal government, which would presumably be used for socialist health care.
UPDATE: Though I'm unable to link directly to the excerpts I've transcribed, someone at Mr. Levin's fan site urges me to link the page where his 3 hour long shows can be downloaded should anyone want to do so. That's here. I've asked whether he is willing to provide an excerpt of what I've transcribed so that I can link it directly. I'll post it here should I be provided one. Absent that, I do urge readers to get a taste of Mr. Levin's voice. The angry tone is impossible to convey in print.