There's no point in trying to understand the inexplicable popularity of Michael Savage, except to speculate that there is some correlation between raging intolerance and having plenty of free time to listen to the radio. Savage is humorless, bombastic and chock-full of bad ideas, another in the robot army of faux conservatives who mistake intolerance for morality and prejudice for principle. If there is anything to distinguish Savage it is that he's just a little bit more bitter and sarcastic than his competition.
Savage is successful. His show has one of the largest audiences in the U.S., lagging far behind Rush Limbaugh, but ahead of most of his other competitors. And despite his vitriol and harsh rhetoric he's hardly the most offensive or most politically extreme voice on the airways. Yet somehow his combination of popularity and offensiveness came together to bring him to the attention of Jacqui Smith of the British Home Office, which has put him on a list of controversial figures who would be banned from travel to the UK because of their activities.
The list of 16 international figures who have been "named and shamed" and barred from Britain by Home Secretary Smith includes mostly known terrorists and others much more closely associated with violent criminal behavior than Savage. He seems to have been selected primarily because of his high profile and to bring attention to the efforts of the Labour government to promote political correctness. While Savage's statements may be controversial, there is no history of violence from his listeners or associated with his program, and he has never promoted violence or antisocial behavior. Apparently the main problem with Savage is that he's conservative, and that political viewpoint is no longer acceptable in Labour-controlled Britian.
Savage is also not the first public figure to be banned from Britain for exercising free speech. In February Geert Wilders, a Dutch film maker and member of parliament, was banned from the country when invited to introduce a presentation of his controversial film on the Q'ran in the House of Lords. Like Savage, Wilders is extremely conservative and part of the Dutch libertarian movement, and like Savage he has never been known to advocate violence or to be associated with followers who engage in violent activity.
Wilders and Savage are clearly different from most of the others who have been barred from entering Britain. Unlike the muslim radicals, KKK racists and Russian skinhead gangsters who fill the rest of the list, their main transgression seems to be that they hold politically unpopular views and in particular are strongly anti-Islamic and anti-socialist.
This appears to be part of a more general crackdown on free speech in Britain supported by the Home Office as part of its campaign to limit the rights of citizens under the guise of protecting them from terrorism. Smith has also advocated shutting down websites which engage in controversial and politically unpopular speech. She is also promoting a nationwide identity database and a biometric ID card system similar to the controversial REAL ID program in the United States and rather reminiscent of the internal passports used in the Eastern Bloc during the Soviet era.
These extreme measures follow on the passage of Britain's draconian hate speech law in 2006, which makes it a criminal offense to criticize religious practices and beliefs or even to make jokes about minority groups, including homosexuals. This law was passed in the face of massive protest from the public and from entertainers and comedians, and continues to be a source of controversy and contention.
Issues like these, as well as substantial tax increases during a major economic crisis have led to serious problems for Britain's Labour Party, with Prime Minister Gordon Brown falling in popularity faster than any previous Prime Minister. It seems quite likely that the Conservative Party which had been weak and faltering since the departure of Margaret Thatcher, but is now developing a new generation of dynamic young leaders, may take over the government in the next general election.
From an American perspective, the oppressive excess and dramatic failure of the high-tax and anti-liberty policies of left-wing government in Britain may be a sign of things to come here. As often happens we lag a few years behind Britain, but if the Obama administration continues to pursue the same sort of disastrous and oppressive policies which the British Labour government has embraced, they may generate the same sort of conservative backlash.