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Do You Want to Be Hated?

June 25, 2010

Let’s just call this “Media Day” here at the Observatory, featuring substance as important as that of the mind-numbingly-irrelevant Super Bowl Media Day sans any of the television coverage.  Townhall has released its list (pdf) of “The 100 Americans the Left Hates the Most”, a catalog of conservatives and Republicans that it “believe[s] have the largest bull’s-eyes painted on them by the Left and the Democrat-dominated government”.  According to Townhall’s editorial staff, “the American Left is trashing everyone who dares to stand against them.  The more effective the voices that oppose their agenda, the greater the venom the Left spews in their direction.”  That means, as it says in Michelle Malkin’s entry at #6:

She has been the frequent subject of racist rants from left-wingers, been assaulted by some of America’s nastiest political activists, had her home address published by progressive crazies, moved from the D.C. area to get away from the threats and been spat on, screamed at and cursed by ever-so-tolerant liberals. We figure she must be doing something right.

That’s the logic of the list — if you’re making liberals angry, then you’re doing right by conservatism.  It’s weird to me that this is a criteria by which we judge pundits and politicians nowadays.  I’ve heard it said on multiple occasions by conservatives that they admire Sarah Palin because, if for no other reason, she manages to piss of the Left better than everybody else.  This always felt wrong to me.  There are plenty of people on this list that I think do a lot more harm to conservatism than good.  Every day, Glenn Beck is convincing more people that conservatives are insane, Sean Hannity is convincing more people that conservatives don’t know what they’re talking about, and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter are convincing more people that conservatives are assholes.

That, of course, wouldn’t be a problem for conservatives if they represented a majority of the American populace rather than a plurality.  But pluralities don’t win elections (sometimes, even majorities don’t).  I’ll leave that argument here, though, so I can ask this question: why would you want to be hated by the Left?  Because liberals are a bunch of “out-of-control” maniacs “who are sold out to the ultraliberal progressive Obama agenda to ‘radically transform’ the United States” and you’re either with them or they think you orta be assassinated, so if they don’t like you then you’re doing your job right?  Is this a useful way to think about and discuss politics?  Are we ever going to be able to cut Social Security if this is the way we think about each other?

After David Frum got fired from AEI, Tunku Varadarajan wrote a piece for The Daily Beast about how conservatives like Frum — who are despised much more on their own side of the aisle than the other — refuse to make bad-faith arguments against the Left because they desire soooo much to be liked by the D.C. intellectual elite and to be accepted by the Georgetown cocktail party circuit or something.  As Frum pointed out at the time, it’s a lot more profitable, both intellectually and financially, to be a hyper-partisan radio or television show host who bashes liberals all day than it is to try and convince an ideologically-diverse audience that conservative policies ought to be pursued.  Although Frum is certainly popular, every book he writes doesn’t immediately turn to gold.

My many friendships with liberals and conservatives of all kinds have probably affected my thinking here, but I’ve never wanted to draw the ire of anybody because of ideological affinities.  I’ve never really understood the attraction.  It certainly takes a good bit of talent to do the things that Rush, Beck, and Hannity do — otherwise they wouldn’t be as wildly popular as they are — but it never seemed particularly challenging (or even worthwhile) to tell a bunch of people who are already predisposed to agreeing with you why they ought to agree with you about some issue.   It seems like it’s much more rewarding (and beneficial to the pursuit of good policy) to convince somebody who is ideologically opposed to your way of thinking that a policy you favor orta be pursued in spite of its dovetailing with said ideologue’s predispositions.  Doesn’t it?

Of course, that’s not how you make money in the political arena, and it doesn’t seem like that’s a good way to gain popularity, either.  I’m not trying to imply that anybody on this list is in the game for the wrong reasons, but I do think the assumption that your ideological opposites are is a bad way of looking at things.  Nobody’s ever to going to believe what you say if they know you’re basing your argument on the idea that they’re either idiots or evildoers.  Most pundits obviously don’t care about that, but I really think they should.  It’s not because I think our partisan divides are too heavy in the politics of this era or because I want to bring the country back to the center or anything.  It’s just because I want to give everybody, regardless of ideological differences, a chance to be convinced by my arguments.  Of course, you have to actually have an audience to do that, and the reality is that there aren’t a lot of people out there who are getting paid to do that.  So this is pretty much all just wishful thinking.

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