Monday, October 5, 2009

Compost: Who Matters To Regular Americans?

David Brooks, former conservative, now house moderate, at the NYT editorial page, wrote an exasperated column about the hollow appeal of conservative media personalities like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Essentially, based on one election cycle, 2008, Brooks believes the support of millions and millions of listeners and watchers is meaningless. Since the followers were uninspired by McCain's campaign and did not go out to vote against Obama, the personalities actually have no power.

Never mind that McCain was the most uninspiring GOP nominee since... actually, I don't know if there's ever been as uninspired a candidate. I'd say Warren G. Harding, based on the "front porch campaign" he ran and how corrupt he was, but he won. Never mind that conservatives never coalesced around a candidate, in the primaries or the general.

Never mind that O'Reilly, Beck and Hannity all sell millions of copies of their books, or that Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny has sold a million copies despite never being reviewed in the NYT or Washington Post. People don't spend money on political books if they aren't sympathetic (or passionately opposed) to the author's philosophy. O'Reilly could piss on paper and still sell a million copies. And, never mind that all of those shows outdraw "hard news" shows and every other cable news stations opinion shows.

Brooks insists:
But this is not merely a story of weakness. It is a story of resilience. For no matter how often their hollowness is exposed, the jocks still reweave the myth of their own power. They still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P. They are enabled by lazy pundits who find it easier to argue with showmen than with people whose opinions are based on knowledge. They are enabled by the slightly educated snobs who believe that Glenn Beck really is the voice of Middle America.
Why does he refer to them as jocks? Because David Brooks is like a scared little boy. In high school, that was the type easily intimidated by the more athletic kids in high school. The type that reassured themselves constantly about how much their intelligence mattered. Not even that it was better - of course it was, they knew that - but that it mattered more. It was hard to come to grips with the fact that something so rare, so brilliant was worth less to fellow students than the inartful grunting of a lineman. Underneath it all is a mix of resentment and worship. The jocks command the attention the scared little boy so desperately wants, and believes he deserves.

The truth is that Brooks wants to matter as much as the aforementioned "jocks," but never will. His brand of flaky moderate-liberalism has very little appeal to most Americans. Not because it's too cerebral, but because it is inherently devoid of decisiveness*. Brooks never reaches much of a decision in his columns. He only suggests the way he wishes things were, and explains how the conservatives that disagree with him just aren't very smart.

*A lack of decisiveness is going to be my generation's (people in their 20s now) greatest problem. Over and over, the education process has taught us how to question and how to think critically, but never to make a decision. Never to take a side. If you always have something to think about, nothing can ever be right. There's always a problem for the government to fix. This is what makes Obama so appealing to young people: He is the picture of non-chalance and non-commitment. While posing as a thinker, he wavers and twists in the wind. He's all problems, no definitive answer. He's the anti-Bush.

The truth is that most people don't have Brooks' education. Unfortunately, even though he's Ivy League, he's totally divorced from reality. He wants everyone to be like him: a suburban dad, with a good education and a regular job. But America is diverse. It has many unique needs that are met by many different groups of people - be it religious, physical, political, whatever. Most people have to make a decision in their lives and jobs; they can't just write without reaching a conclusion.

Even though Brooks is so eager to lead middle America out of the ignorant desert, and to give them an educated, thoughtful voice, he misses the point. People don't necessarily listen to and watch "the jocks" because they agree with everything they say. They watch and listen because they trust "the jocks" more than any other news source. Because, while Brooks figures out that Obama was not a serious-minded pragmatist but a hard-core tried-and-failed liberal, middle America already knew the truth about Obama. They didn't get it from Meet The Press, where Brooks is a panelist, or from CNN or the NYT. They got it from "the jocks."

With all that said, Brooks must love that Fox News's 3 AM show, Red Eye, outdraws CNN's Campbell Brown, who is on air at 8 pm, in the 25-54 demographic. It's hard to say this is meaningless. It's not a bunch of kids staying up late on the weekends or old people who can't sleep. It's a key voting and commercial demographic. And it outdraws the serious-minded, "No Bias, No Bull" Campbell Brown, as well as "every CNBC show, every MSNBC show that is on before Hardball, most of HLN, and American Morning on CNN."

The reason is simple: when their jobs, lives, homes, families are on the line, middle America knows that Barack Obama, if he ever has to make a tough decision, will not be looking out for them.

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