Liberal talk radio? Keep laughing

Posted: Feb 26, 2003 12:00 AM
A group of investors and liberal radio executives wants to turn Al Franken into the left's answer to Rush Limbaugh. To be fair, the backers in the venture don't want to mimic Limbaugh -not because that would be a bad thing, mind you, but because it's been tried before and didn't work. Jim Hightower, a man liberals believed would be regarded as brilliant if they just said he were enough times, failed miserably at talk radio. Mario Cuomo, a man who believed the world would consider him incredibly brilliant if he just said he were enough times, also botched his go at talk radio. "This side has failed by going at Rush, and trying to be Rush -you're not going to beat him at his game," Jon Sinton, a radio exec and organizer of the Franken effort explained to The New York Times. Sinton says that picking someone like Franken is the key to success for liberal talk radio because talk radio has to be entertaining and funny. Meanwhile, Franken, author of "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot," thinks there's another reason for not trying to ape Rush. "I think the audience isn't there for a liberal Rush," he said on the "Donahue" show, "Because I think liberals don't want to hear that kind of demagoguery." For the millions of you who think Franken really isn't that funny, this proves us wrong. For Franken to say that liberals don't like demagoguery is like Ron Jeremy, star of such hits as "The Lust of Blacula" and "Dirty Harriet," saying, "I think the audience isn't out there for cheap porn." Of course, liberals enjoy demagoguery. During the last few elections, for example, Democratic and liberal groups declared that a vote for the Republicans was a vote for church burnings, hate crimes and back-alley abortions. Every day we hear President Bush compared to Hitler. Conservative economics, we are told, are based in greed and cruelty. Our public policies are informed by racism. We're mean to puppies. That Franken doesn't get this is just one indication of why he won't succeed as the new Limbaugh. There are other reasons why liberals don't work well on talk radio. Some of it has to do with economics. The market for conservative talk has been carefully developed over many years. When producers rolled out Hightower, according to Sinton, they tended to sandwich him in between Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. "That violates expectations of the listener," he told the Times. This is a polite way of saying that listeners reacted the way members of Delta House did when Flounder's picture appeared on the screen during pledge week in "Animal House." Another related reason why talk radio is right wing is that most of America -talk-radio-listening America -believes the mainstream media is liberal because, well, it's true. Talk radio serves as a truth-squad for people who don't trust Peter Jennings. But the main reason liberal talk radio doesn't work is that liberalism isn't working. Oh sure, plenty of liberal politicians, journalists and institutions are doing just fine. Too many, in fact. But liberalism as a coherent philosophy is exhausted. In 1950, Lionel Trilling famously wrote, "In the United States at this time, liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is plain nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation." That may not have been entirely true then, and it may not be entirely fair to say the same of liberalism today, but the comparison is apt. Liberalism has become reactionary. Its ideas amount to standing pat and breeding fear of change. Al Gore's central budgetary idea was a "lockbox" and his chief priorities were to fight changes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and affirmative action. The most popular word in the left's vocabulary is "stop": Stop the war, stop free trade, stop biotechnology, stop Bush, stop the world because they want to get off. As a political conservative, I see nothing wrong with saying stop -if you have a viable alternative to what it is you want to stop. Take the war for example. Most of the anti-war speakers at recent protests took the position that Iraq should comply with the U.N. resolution, but they also opposed war and sanctions. In other words, they oppose just for the sake of opposing. What holds liberalism together is its accumulated grievances. Activists claiming to represent blacks, gays, women, Hispanics, animals, et al, form a coalition of the oppressed that has little to no sense of humor about anything. They consider almost any joke about their plights to be unfunny and -yes -demagoguery. The only permissible jokes for this crowd are about rich Christian white guys and maybe a few fellow traveling right-wing blacks, women and Jews. And, the bad news for Franken &Co. is that, like liberalism generally, those jokes are old and tired now, too.