Many conservatives have been downright certain the Democrats were going to try to revive the Fairness Doctrine and thus silence right-wing talk radio. Why did they think that? Because right-wing talk radio hosts told them to think it, hoping to stoke the paranoia of their audience.
This week, however, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to once again kill the long-dead doctrine. I’ll even quote Fox News on the subject, just to fend off any claims that the vote is some left-wing media fabrication:
“The Senate approved an amendment Thursday that would outlaw the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” an off-the-books policy that once required broadcasters to air opposing viewpoints on controversial issues.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s amendment passed by a wide margin of 87-to-11. The South Carolina senator had attached his proposal, called the Broadcaster Freedom Act, to a bill to give the District of Columbia a voting representative in the House.”
Of course, I’m under no illusion that the vote will halt claims from the right that Fairness Doctrine is coming back. Paranoia, by definition, is immune to facts.
Interestingly, though, more and more folks on the right are coming to understand just how damaging talk-radio has become to their cause. They don’t come out and say it, but you get the sense that they might support reviving the Fairness Doctrine just to break the grip of Rush Limbaugh and his copycats on their movement’s message.
For example, conservative pundit John Derbyshire, who normally writes in National Review, has a provocative piece in the latest edition of American Conservative magazine, headlined “How Radio Wrecks the Right:”
“There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises.
Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.”
Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.
It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought. Where once conservatism had been about individualism, talk radio now rallies the mob. “Revolt against the masses?” asked Jeffrey Hart. “Limbaugh is the masses.”
In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar.”
Derbyshire’s last line is downright plaintive: “Why have we allowed carny barkers to run away with the Right?”
Damn fine question.