Are conservatives stupid? That’s the nagging feeling I have listening to Rush Limbaugh. No, not Mr. Limbaugh himself, but the commercials that air during his show on my local radio station.
On any given day in recent years, Rush’s listeners here have been offered supplements and remedies to produce weight loss during sleep, to reverse balding, to alleviate joint pain, to improve liver function, and — parental discretion advised here — to enhance sexual performance and pleasure. These may all be excellent products. (I’ve never tried any of them, though I’m a candidate for one or more.) Still, you don’t have to be Ralph Nader to take some of these promises with a teensie-weensie grain of salt.
But wait, there’s more. There have been ads touting lucrative home-based businesses, proven strategies for online stock trading, advice on how to pay zero taxes, bill consolidation loans and cut-rate insurance. These are great deals, I’m sure, as are all the other products whose savvy marketers have targeted this area’s Dittoheads. But if you’re inclined to think that conservatives are a bunch of gullible rubes, these ads — aimed at a chunk of the nation’s largest conservative audience — will do nothing to dispel that notion.
Some time back, a “news” story in the mainstream press matter-of-factly described religious conservatives as uneducated and easily led. The story validated conservatives’ charges of media bias and sparked their righteous indignation. But that news story was just a journalist’s slip. If advertisers are treating conservatives like chumps, it’s serious business. Their condescension toward conservatives isn’t a matter of bias — it presumably reflects solid market research and sales.
Maybe it does make sense. After all, members of Rush Limbaugh’s core audience are not looking to the government to do something about their hair loss or to achieve their other physical or financial aspirations. They’re responsible people willing to spend their own money in a voluntary, mutually beneficial exchange with an entrepreneur.
So maybe I’m too sensitive. But has this happened to you? You’re watching a cable news piece that would be utterly inconceivable for a “mainstream” news organization. Conservative views are not caricatured. Liberal assumptions are questioned. The presentation of issues is more nuanced than “business bad, government good.” Ahhh, at last a program that shows conservatives some respect.
Suddenly, the next thing you see is a commercial in the Veg-o-Matic genre — bad acting, Batman-style graphics, and a mantra of “But Wait!” all leading to a climactic 800 number. They expect you to call! That’s why they advertised on this program! Fellow conservatives all over the country are divulging their credit card numbers right now! You feel a pang, the insecurity that all conservatives feel deep inside: Maybe we really do need government and the networks to nanny us.
Fortunately, my kids know better. Where I see fast talk and false promises, they see remarkable products and wonderful opportunities. My son and daughter frequently counsel me, in a friendly but firm manner, that I really should buy a particular product “as seen on TV” for the good of our family. When my son was six, he marked a milestone in numeric literacy by successfully dialing the toll-free number on the screen. (Fortunately, his mastery did not extend to our credit card account number.)
My kids don’t find it hard to believe that free enterprise in an open society can produce new ideas and products that offer just what our family needs. I try to temper their optimism with a dose of healthy skepticism. But I’m proud that they’re not like the whiny naysayers in politics and the media, who are less interested in true innovation than in bureaucratic second-guessing, who think free citizens are too stupid to figure out for themselves what’s worth buying. Maybe I’ve missed some real opportunities because I was afraid to appear unsophisticated. Hmmm, isn’t that how conservatives are lost every day?
In fact, there’s a lesson here for conservatives, who can tap into this optimism to propel their own messages. Maybe conservatives need to show a little more enthusiasm for their ideas. Something like this:
“Are you sick and tired of trying to stop incoming nuclear bombs with nothing but a worthless piece of paper, signed by a nation that no longer exists? Aren’t you ready to try something that really works? Introducing … national missile defense!”
Or how about this?
“… But that’s not all. If you put enough pressure on Congress, you’ll receive the marginal rate cuts right now AND we’ll rush to you repeal of double taxation on dividends. Sound good? And what tax reduction package would be complete without the permanent elimination of that immoral death tax?”
Maybe someday my daughter will look up from her breakfast cereal and ask, “Dad, don’t you think our house would be safer if we had a fully deployed missile defense system?”
Now, where’s that phone number? I’m buying.