There were two genius Talmudists who served as rabbis in adjoining Lithuanian communities from 1900 to the mid-1930s, Rabbi Meyer S. Cohen and Rabbi Joseph Rosen. Rosen was known as a bit of an eccentric who usually has long hair in photographs; he could not tear himself away from studying for a haircut. Once they were debating some fine point of scholarship and they reached an impasse. Rabbi Rosen came up with a plan for arbitration: “Let’s call an ignoramus and lay out the issue. Whatever he decides, we will do the opposite.”
That story resonates in my mind as I ponder the strange case of Air America. The air is once again seeping out of its balloon. This liberal talk-radio venture has been moribund almost from inception, making philosophers wonder: “Is there life before death?” For some time it has been propped up by various foundations, yet even that foundation has not provided proper support. Crawl before you walk, they told us as kids, but these guys have been crawling so long their employees are all ready to walk.
They are technically in bankruptcy, with a buyer named Stephen Green waiting in the wings for approval by the presiding judge. What that means in layman’s terms is: one set of lenders will get swindled while Green will get the network at a bargain basement price — and get it free of those pesky old obligations. Still, it is far from clear whether Green needs to give thanks for getting this turkey. Its anti-capitalism has nothing to be ashamed of from its business side; it has no obscene profits, only chaste losses.
It used to be a conservative shibboleth to snicker in dismissal: why, the thought of it! Of course liberal talk-radio was doomed, because liberalism was dead. Only a few raggedy professors, a few old old-money harpies and the occasional pony-tailed malcontent still bought the antediluvian Democrat line. Realignment was reality. The great debate in our public life had been conducted and the winner had been coronated. Americans would give Air America the air because it was not fresh. Liberalism was yesterday’s news and it was bad news. Case closed.
Then came the midterm Congressional elections of 2006. Democrats were suddenly in the ascendancy and sent Nancy to the speakership. Liberalism was alive and well and living in a walk-up in Georgetown. It cashed in; no more discredit in the cards. Liberals stood in their overalls and chanted “Liberalismus uber alles!” The bloggers ran through the streets in their pajamas. The Democrat symbol, the ass, was displayed everywhere with great pomp. It was morning in America and Kofi Annan was brewing. So why, oh why, would Air America capsize like the Hindenburg? Oh, the inhumanity!
Nor is it lack of golden talent that caused the loss of all those gold talents. Al Franken may lose his sense of humor when it comes to politics, but he is still a man who has earned a living in comedy for many years. Janeane Garofalo is an excellent actress and comedienne; how bad can she be without a script? Yet they can’t sell lib ads to sponsor their ad libs.
Also, this year they added Stephanie Miller in many of their markets. Steph is a super radio talent who used to have a successful show on KFI in Los Angeles, despite being the only liberal on the station. She does great production pieces with funny voices and sound effects, and in the early ’90s one of the treats for me in visiting L.A. was enjoying her show. So if liberalism has a real voting base and the network has some real talent, why does it consistently tank? Not just money-wise, which could be attributed to poor management, but even ratings-wise.
The answer is in that story. It is a mistake to think liberals first believe what they do and then think conservatives are stupid for disagreeing. The process works in reverse. Their disdain for ordinary people with traditional values is so overwhelming that whatever such people believe is by definition backward. They form their views by listening to the ignoramuses and then positing the opposite. Views forged in the crucible of a God-centered consciousness are inherently illegitimate.
Therefore a forum built upon the open exchange of ideas renders them impotent. It is more than a strategy to call their opponents stupid. It is not just a way to cover up the weakness of their arguments. Identifying the other side as obtuse is itself the sine qua non of their worldview. Individual applications of that premise are an auxiliary phenomenon. Naturally all this makes for bad radio. If I disagree with you because your point is wrong, I can express that civilly and interestingly. If I assume your point must be wrong because I know you to be a Neanderthal, a good dialogue will never evolve.