Can liberals clone Limbaugh?

Brent Bozell

2/26/2003 12:00:00 AM - Brent Bozell
We know that liberals believe that in the grand march toward human perfection, we should be able to clone our way out of many medical ailments. But their faith in human potential is reaching laughable levels of utopianism if they think they can somehow clone the success of Rush Limbaugh. In merely the latest in a series of front-page non-scoops touting a left-wing agenda, the New York Times reported that a group of super-rich liberal Clinton-Gore donors will be wasting their spare change on a new venture to create a liberal talk-radio network. It's got to be one of the dumbest $10 million investments ever. How off the wall is this business proposition? Start with the notion that a network, liberal or conservative, can somehow be just imposed on the populace. Rush didn't just appear on the scene and -- shazam! -- attract 20 million listeners. He toiled in the radio vineyards for years, went national in 1988, and didn't really reach national distribution until 1991. Even then, while conservatives were latching on to him in droves, he didn't truly become a nightmare in liberal heads until Bill Clinton arrived to corrupt the nation in 1993. Every single successful talk-radio syndication has been built on the grass-roots level and not in a corporate laboratory. New York cannot deem that Dallas will accept a given program. A program will succeed in Dallas only if the Dallas market wants it. Time and again, that grassroots market has opened its arms to conservative voices. Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Reagan, Schlessinger -- the list of conservative nationally syndicated hosts is endless. So why are there no liberals? Before the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy types suggest that this is all part of The Plan, let's be very clear. Liberals have been tried. And the market has rejected them like bad milk. On commercial radio, liberal backers tried Mario Cuomo, who was far too condescending to the listeners. They tried Jim Hightower, who was too much like Will Rogers channeling Karl Marx. But these men were politicians, not professional broadcasters, promoting an ideological perspective that is not only not embraced, it is plainly rejected by the public. Conservative talk radio was never planned in a corporate boardroom (or at our VRWC meetings). It was an unintended consequence of arrogantly liberal national media outlets, who, over time, have insulted every Republican/conservative voter as a racist, a sexist, and a believer in heinous imaginary causes like starving all the poor people and killing all the innocent Iraqi civilians to get their oil. Big Media's utter dismissal of a conservative perspective meant utter dismissal of a conservative audience. When offered an alternative in a talk-show host that spoke their language, they pounced to embrace Rush Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh offered a unique formula, too. Liberals who never listen to the show think it's just a haters' bonanza of mean-spirited rhetoric. It's nothing of the sort. If anything, he is providing a balanced diet of information to counter the mean-spirited rhetoric disguised as network "news." He is a great popularizer of common-sensical conservatism, which explains why millions of Americans have signed up on his side. He is totally underestimated as a pundit, always a step ahead of the conventional wisdom. While everyone wonders what we should do about Iraq, Rush is considering the possibility that Iraq's liberation and the outpouring of Saddam Hussein's archives and weapons depots will leave the anti-war Democrat fringe thoroughly marginalized politically when this is over. Perhaps most importantly, he doesn't get conservatives mad. He makes them laugh. He gives them the confidence not to take liberal arrogance seriously. It's on this last point -- radio as entertainment -- where these super-rich Clinton-Gore donors think they have their secret weapon. They think the answer is the entertainment folks in Hollywood and New York, especially comedian Al Franken, author of "Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot." But does Fly-Over Country really want satirical drivel from Franken? Or Janeane Garofalo? Or Barbra Streisand? That's not exactly putting your finger on the pulse of the market. Don't take my word for it. Ken Berry, who manages news-talk station KIRO in Seattle, says national liberal hosts have simply been "bad radio talent." As for Franken, "We've had him on as a guest. He's not a good radio guest." Bad guest equals worse host. Perhaps the most unintentionally funny excuse liberals use to explain their talk-radio failure is that they're too nuanced and complicated for talk radio; simple-minded people like simple-minded conservatism. So what's a poor liberal to do? He can toss millions at the private sector and wonder why the private sector rejects him. Or he can do radio the old-fashioned way: Take hundreds of millions from (END ITAL) the private sector every year and nurture his own 700-station playground. It's called National Public Radio.