Is Senator Tom Daschle unraveling? The preternaturally cool Mr. Daschle is becoming the liberal teapot that whistles at the lowest temperature. He nearly blew a gasket in late September when he accused President Bush of playing politics with the war on terror. I had to admire the sheer chutzpah of his accusation, given that the Dems had blocked the homeland security bill for no reason other than to expand union control over federal jobs. In his rant last week against conservative talk radio, Mr. Daschle nearly called for Rush Limbaugh's arrest. He would have if he could have, because of the success of conservative talk radio. It's one of the big reasons for the Dems' November defeat, and also happens to be one of the most fun things going on in America.
A time or two every month, I have the great good fortune to guest-host for my pal Oliver North on his "Common Sense Radio" show. We talk about politics, military and foreign affairs, and sometimes even serious issues. Talking about an article I was writing for The American Spectator, we did an hour on single-barrel bourbons. People of all kinds call in from all kinds of places across the country. Our conversations -- both serious and not -- deal with everything people think is important. What Ollie's show and the others do isn't anything like what Mr. Daschle whined about.
In true Clintonian form, Daschle implied -- with great precision -- that conservative talk radio was intentionally inciting violence against him and other liberals. He said, "Rush Limbaugh and all of the Rush Limbaugh wannabes have a very shrill edge…But what happens when Rush Limbaugh attacks those of us in public life is that people aren't satisfied just to listen. They want to act…and so, you know, the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically, on our families…"
Daschle also criticized conservative radio for igniting "an emotional movement in this country among some people who don't know the difference between entertainment and politics, and who are then so energized as to go out and hurt somebody." He said that he and his family were "worried" when Rush Limbaugh called him an "obstructionist." (Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin told National Public Radio that his party was up against "station after station" of "right-wing screamers.") Sen. John McCain, chairman of the RINO caucus, dove in and compared Limbaugh to a circus clown, saying later that Rush ought to "have a sense of humor." The same should be said to Mr. Daschle, who darned well knows that politics and entertainment go together like beer and pizza.
Aside from the absurdity of the charge -- calling Mr. Daschle an obstructionist is hardly inciting an attack on him, and just happens to be true -- Daschle's heated attack shows that he understands the value of conservative talk radio better than most Republicans. The libs' only radio success -- National Public Radio -- survives because it gets large donations from liberal "charitable" foundations. Without that funding, it would disappear quickly because market forces don't support it. One of the more impressive things about conservative radio is that it's not dependent on Hollywood donors or public grants. Conservative radio buries its liberal competition in the free markets: the market of ideas and the market of commercial radio.
Daschle wants people to believe that they're better than those who listen to conservative radio. When he says that those who listen to Rush and the others "don't know the difference between entertainment and politics" he's saying these listeners aren't very smart. It wasn't so long ago that some other lib was declaring Rush's listeners to be "easily led," which is another way to call them dumb. Daschle and the Dems have to call names because they can't defeat the conservatives with facts or logic. Name-calling is the only weapon they have left.
There are three important reasons why conservative radio is so popular, and why the liberals would like to see it disappear. First, it's a matter of humor and style. Long ago, Rush broke the code. Politicians and other lower forms of life can stand anything except being the butt of jokes, especially jokes that really hit the mark. When I asked Hugh Hewitt about Daschle's diatribe he said, "I am often shrill. I play Robert Byrd a lot." If the libs had that capacity for good-natured humor, they might be able to put together their own market-supported talk radio. But they can't. Liberals exist only by arguing against reality and obscuring what they are doing. When the fog they generate is cleared, and their positions revealed to be as silly as they usually are, they lose influence.
Second, on any of the shows -- Ollie, Rush, Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt -- the listener is not just informed and entertained but involved in the news. By the simple mechanism of call-in radio, a listener can get involved in the news in a way that's impossible with newspapers or television. It's real people -- not just politicians, reporters or (ugh) lawyers -- talking about what's going on. It's one of the best examples of how free people make use of a free media.
Third, the fact is that the country has become more conservative, and the libs are in such shock over the November results that they refuse to recognize the fact. How else could they have chosen Nancy Pelosi as their House leader? My pals Lee Rodgers and Melanie Morgan of KSFO radio in San Francisco are playing the old Sinatra hit "Nancy with the Laughing Face" to poke fun at her, which is almost too easy. Explaining her opposition to taking out Saddam, Pelosi said that wars can damage the air people breathe and must be environmentally unsound. Don't look for that in the Washington Post. The only places I found that comment were on the Internet, and the Oliver North Show. If you want to hear what the liberal broadcast media want to ignore, you have to listen to talk radio.
Which is why Daschle howled about it. Conservative talk radio is a significant force in American politics. It doesn't give Republicans a free ride, but it does show up the liberals for what they really are. Get used to it, Mr. Daschle. Conservative talk radio is here to stay. I love to listen to it and, even more, I love to broadcast it. It's simply the most fun you can have. Particularly because it drives Tom Daschle nuts.