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February 22, 2003

Rushing to be heard


Thomas Sowell

     Liberals have been throwing money at problems for so long it should not be surprising they are now ready to throw money at the problem they have with the predominance of conservative talk show hosts on radio. For a change, rich liberals will be throwing their own money at a problem, rather than the taxpayers' money.
     The game plan seems to be to have limousine liberals write some big checks to get a liberal radio network started, leading to an instant Rush Limbaugh on the left.
     The dry runs thus far have not been promising. Articulate liberals like Mario Cuomo and Phil Donahue have absolutely bombed. Al Franken is the new great white hope. He is glib and fast on his feet. But the people who think that this is enough have greatly underestimated Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, and other stars of conservative talk radio.
     Even though the black vote goes overwhelmingly to liberal Democrats, it is hard to think of any liberal black talk show host with as large an audience as Ken Hamblin, Larry Elder or other blacks on the right.
     The liberal vision of Rush Limbaugh is that he is some guy who appeals to ignorant rednecks and Joe Sixpacks. As with so many things liberals believe, they feel no need to test their notions against reality. Actual research on Rush Limbaugh's audience has shown they are above average in both education and income.
     Anyone who actually listens to Rush's show knows those listeners who phone in are usually pretty savvy folks, and clearly a cut above those who phone in on other radio or television programs. But many liberals have such a sense of superiority that it would never occur to them to listen and learn.
     Some years ago, the New York Times' Anthony Lewis denounced Rush Limbaugh in one of his columns — and then admitted, days later, that he had never listened to him. Who needs facts when you are one of the anointed?
     The real reason for the greater success of conservative talk radio is that liberalism as a set of ideas has very little appeal.
     Conservative politicians may run on their conservative ideas, but liberal politicians do not get elected by running on liberalism. Indeed, a major part of most liberal election campaigns usually consist of trying to appear to be something other than liberals. Then, when their liberal past is exposed, there is great complaint in the media about "negative advertising."
     The last Democrat to get elected president on an openly liberal platform was Lyndon B. Johnson, nearly 40 years ago. Since then, both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have won with a pretense of moderation. Walter Mondale lost in a landslide in 1984, when he tried to run as an openly liberal politician — out of the closet, as it were.
     The typical liberal politician is soft on criminals, weak on defense, and ready to tax the daylights out of those who produce, in order to dispense largess to parasites, rich and poor alike. The public isn't buying it. Indeed, liberal politicians aren't trying to sell it very much.
     Instead, they rely on promoting fears andresentments among the elderly, blacks, gays and others. If they can convince senior citizens that conservatives are going to take away their Social Security or Medicare, they have got a lot of votes.
     If they can promote paranoia and resentment among blacks by crying "racism" at every turn, they have the inside track. And if they can keep black voters' attention focused on symbolic issues like Confederate flags — instead of how their children are trapped in failing schools, for the greater glory of the teachers unions — then the Democrats can continue to get nine out of 10 black votes.
     While fomenting fear and envy may gain votes, it isn't enough for talk radio, which is ultimately about ideas. Liberal talk show hosts don't have any goodies to hand out, the way liberal politicians do.
     Al Franken is the perfect man to try. He has written a book titled "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot." Competition is the way to find out who is the idiot. I would offer to bet, but I would just be taking your money.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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