WASHINGTON — The campaign trail has been cluttered with such fantasticos as Senator John Pierre Kerry, Dr. Howard Dean, Generalissimo Wesley Clark, and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Now I too have had to venture onto the campaign trail, but a more civilized trail it is. With the publication of my cheerful little tome on the junior senator from New York, Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House, I am on what might be called the literary campaign trail, booming the book’s merits hither and yon. That means many appearances on broadcast media, especially talk radio. The exercise is doubly rewarding, for it provides me with a vivid glimpse into America. Talk radio has studios all over the country.
Talk radio has changed over the years. It is now overwhelmingly conservative, but that has not always been the case. A quarter of a century ago it was populated with liberal hosts who contrary to current conditions were overwhelmingly liberal and not very cheerful, at least not when I was at the microphone across from them. There was one in Boston, Williamson I believe was his name, who was benign and considerate, but many were mad as hell. After I left their studios they were even madder. One in Los Angeles might even have actually been institutionalized after I let slip that Ronald Reagan was reviving the economy.
At any rate, all the talk show hosts I have been talking with recently have been conservative, and another thing about them: they are all amiable and bright. I have yet to encounter a shouter, but then I have yet to encounter a liberal. It is said that the comic genius, Al Franken, is going to start a liberal talk show. He is sufficiently angry for the role, and he is humorless. How can he miss?
My series of chats with conservative talk show hosts began with Sean Hannity, and he seems to be the new paradigm for talk show hosts. He is amiable and bright and something else. He is earnest. What makes him earnest is the parlous shape of world politics, post 9/11. I dedicated my book to Ted and Barbra Olson, and about the first thing Hannity mentioned was his admiration for Barbara, who of course died under heroic circumstances during the 9/11 treachery.
In the months after 9/11 it became popular to say that the vile events of that day had “changed America forever.” A year or so later, as the liberal Democrats could not resist the impulse to snipe at the President, it became clear that not all of America had been changed forever by 9/11.That atrocity, however, left a long-term imprint on Hannity. You can perceive it in his new book, Deliver Us From Evil. It is an important book.
It is about the reemergence of evil in the modern world. Hannity rightly compares the evil of 9/11 with the sudden ambush of Pearl Harbor. He recounts the feckless efforts of earlier politicians to deal with terrorism and sees terrorism as a long-standing threat to our freedoms. The Clintons get a special section in the hortatory pages of this book, for they did next to nothing to suppress the terrorists, though during the 1990s the terrorists’ provocations were bloody and numerous.
Hannity’s book is hopeful, though his estimate of the Democratic phonies arrayed against the Administration is sobering. If any of the Democratic presidential candidates triumphs over Bush, America is in real trouble. Though, if the Rev. Sharpton were to win the Democratic nomination and then the presidency, the prospects for the Republic are not all that grim. Sharpton could always be removed from office for tax evasion before grave damage was done.
The optimism of Hannity is characteristic of the conservative talks show hosts I have been meeting. They represent a refreshingly positive conservative alternative to the otherwise liberal media. That they have replaced the liberal talk show hosts of a generation past is cause for optimism. Perhaps in the years ahead conservatives will be as numerous in televisionland as they are in radioland.