In his book, South Park Republicans, Brian Anderson describes conservatism that is evolving and changing as new and younger generation redefines conservatism for a new century. Anderson explains the cultural war that is going on and within that context, he shows that conservatives are not the mere caricature often painted by the left but serious thinkers who is defining America even as they debate among themselves.
The book is about the conservative revolt against the prevailing liberal media bias but between the lines, you can see that there is a deeper battle ensuing. Anderson notes that a new era is upon us and this was demonstrated when conservatives forced CBS to cancel the mini-series Reagan. As Anderson wrote, “Ten years earlier, CBS would have happily aired the libelous series… Thanks to the remarkable transformation I mass communications and culture that this book chronicles, such left wing humbug no longer gets a free pass.”
As this episode showed, conservatism has developed a sizable media presence of its own. On the Internet, cable television, talk radio, print media and even in movies; conservatives are now successfully challenging leftist orthodoxy and changing the perceptive of what conservatism is.
There is a liberal bias among the mainstream media and has been for the past several decades. Hiding behind “impartially”, the major networks along with the print media determined what news was seen and what ideas were promulgated. Research has long demonstrated this bias. Since the 70’s, surveys have shown that journalists of the major media centers voted overwhelming for Democratic candidates and held liberal ideas. The retort has always been, “We may be liberal but we keep our views to ourselves when reporting.” Of course, this was not true, either. Surveys after surveys showed that Republicans often gained more negative coverage than Democrats. The last election was no different as CBS attempted to make news a story based on forged documents and lies. In this case, there was a sizable conservative media that challenged the falsehoods and put conservative ideas on an even plane in the political debate.
Anderson details the irrationally of the left when debating the right. Words like “racist,” :mean-spirited,” “sexist” and “insensitive” are often used when describing conservatives. As Anderson notes, it is easy to use derogative terms than deal with the ideas behind the other side. Anderson view these attacks as illiberal as he notes, “Democracy requires a willingness to engage the arguments of those you disagree, recognizing their equality as citizens… By calling someone a racist or a bigot says that his ideas have no place in the democratic public square.”
Anderson also takes on the idea that the right is extremism. Anderson quotes columnist Charles Krauthammer, “In a country so divided on these issues, can one seriously argue that opposing abortion and racial preferences is proof of extremism? It would indeed if the minority of Americans who believe in racial preferences and the minority who believe in abortion-on-demand were to define the American mainstream.” The reality is that conservative candidates over the past three decades have obtain more votes than their liberal counterparts, so the idea that conservatives are extreme is laughable but yet held as Gospel truth by those on the left. Call it the Pauline Kael rule. Ms. Kael was a social critic, who after the Nixon landslide, wonder how Nixon could have won since she knew no one who voted for him. I suspect that after each Republican victory, many liberals ask the same question, “ How did this guy (fill in the blank) win since I don’t know anyone who voted for him?
Conservative ideas have support among millions of Americans and if election returns over the past three decades are any indication, then conservative ideas are the mainstream and it is the left whose ideas that are outside the mainstream. How did these ideas became mainstream?
In the 70’s, conservatives began building think tanks to compete with the liberal domination of the media and college campus. These think tanks allowed conservative scholars to review the major issues of the day and come up with ideas to deal with those issues. This gave conservative politicians an active program to promote and suddenly, conservatives were not just opposing ideas of the left but they were proposing counter ideas. Magazine such as National Review and think tanks such as Heritage Foundation provided conservatives ideas to challenge the liberal orthodoxy. This helped move the country to the right.
As the 80’s, began, conservatism entered the age of Reagan but liberalism still dominated the media. CNN just began to challenge the three major networks but this was not a conservative vs. liberal battle but Ted Turner challenging his fellow liberal for media control. In the process, CNN undermined the big three control. Once CNN established themselves as a true new presence, they opened door for conservatives to challenge liberal orthodoxy through new media outlets.
The problem with the Think tanks was that while they influenced policy makers, they did not reach to the general public. Most people received their news through the liberal dominated media when the Reagan administration eliminated the “Fairness doctrine,” this all changed. This doctrine stated, “All views should be represented” but this doctrine actually reduced free speech as past administrations used this doctrine to shut down their political enemies. As Anderson revealed, the Kennedy administration used this doctrine to shut down conservative dominated radio stations and Nixon returned the favorite against selected liberal media when he gained power. When you throw in special interest groups’ pressure, political discussion became risky business for radio station and station became leery of political discussion. This actually chilled political debate.
When the Reagan administration finally ended the Fairness doctrine, political talk radio exploded and Rush Limbaugh became the King of talk radio. Limbaugh influence can’t be overestimated. Limbaugh entertainment style combined the use of humor and political discussion took conservatism to the common man and woman. And his impact was seen in the 1994 as he gave visibility to conservative ideas with the result being the Republicans taking over the control of the Senate. Talk radio allowed conservatives commentators to outflank the mainstream media.
Another aspect of the change in the media was Fox Television, which provided a place for conservative journalists to work. As the 90’s ended, Fox overtook CNN as the leading cable news network. The 2004 election also showed the impact of the Internet as bloggers set up a new network of news gathering but unlike talk radio, the left has proven as adept in getting their ideas across as the right. Regardless, the Internet forced the mainstream news media to be more accurate in their newsgathering and allowed their bias to be revealed. I wrote last year that the average person could learn more about the truth of Gulf War and its aftermath from selected blog and Internet sites than from much of the mainstream media. That is still true today. The 2004 election showed that that the mainstream media was not only partisan, but also they were not providing their viewers with all the news fit to print or hear.
Beyond the media debate, Anderson points out that conservatism is evolving. Many young conservatives, including many conservative bloggers, are becoming more libertarians on social issues including stem cell research and gay rights. There is no monolithic thought on social issues as even some social conservatives are willing to compromise on the gay rights issue.
Hollywood is now becoming less hostile to conservative ideals. Comedy Central South Park is the anti-liberal show and a example of a new Hollywood. Despite its vulgarity, South Park skews every liberal icon. South Park writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the anti-Christ of the left but it doesn’t mean that they are conservative. They have attack some conservative ideas but their biggest targets are the left. (Parker and Stone can be classified more as libertarians than conservatives.) Their unabashed patriotic stance was represented in their movie, Team America: World Police with the bad guys being Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and North Koreans. This movie doesn’t pretend that there are two sides to the debate in the war on terrorism and of course, they go after the Hollywood left.
Brian Anderson makes the case that conservatism is on the rise but he also acknowledge that the left still have the upper hand. More people still get their news from NBC, CBS or ABC as oppose to Fox cable news and the left still dominate academic on most college campus despite the increase of conservatism activities. The battle of ideas is continues.
As for conservative ideas, they are continuously evolving. American conservatives are not dogmatic or certainly less dogmatic than their left counterpart. It doesn’t hurt that conservative free market ideas have proven superior to their left counterparts over the past three plus decades, so many young people can see for themselves who is right and who is wrong.
While the libertarian fraction and the social conservatives will debate many of the social issues, they are in agreement over most economic issues and that America power is a plus for the world. As Brian Anderson concludes, “Over time, a greater numbers of right of center voices will find audiences, whether it’s via talk radio, blogs, cable news, the press, the entertainment world, and even academe. The left will have to reexamine, argue and refine its positions, so many of which have proved disastrously wrong, and stop living off the past. It’s hard to imagine that this development won’t result in a broader, richer, deeper national debate—something liberals of an older, John Stuart Mill-stripe would have welcome. It’s also likely to result in a more conservative America.”