Blueprint for Republican Reform: Pundits

Deep in the mists of history there was a time when Glenn Beck was a lowly radio DJ, Michelle Malkin was a teenage anchor baby, and Bill O’Reilly was an actual journalist. Off in an obscure corner of the media universe the right wing political entertainment complex roared into existence. On a radio station in central California, a blowhard named Morton Downey, Jr. blazed a trail of high-volume, bigoted disinformation that would balloon into a powerful political entertainment genre.

He was fired from his AM radio show on Sacramento’s KFBK in 1984 after a racist outburst against an Asian-American local political figure. Station management decided to replace his dark, mean-spirited antics with a more playful personality. Downey went on to build a brief, but stunningly successful television career.

And what happened to the sunny youngster who took his place? Into Downey’s clown-shoes stepped a man born to fill them, Rush Limbaugh.

A previous post outlined six elements of the Republican coalition that must be realigned to restore the party’s national relevance. Communication and coordination among different silos will be important. However, it is probably among the punditry that the first visible signs of a Republican realignment will emerge. Looking back on how a previous generation of pundits drove the GOP into a ditch could offer insights on how a new generation might tow the party back out.

Downey, Coulter, Limbaugh and others emerged to stardom at a pivotal moment. Channeling the insecurities of a generation frightened by the loss of their supremacy, they helped white racial angst complete the drift from its longtime home in the Democratic right to its present place in the Republican center. Step-by-step they reinterpreted an older Republican policy template centered on commercial and professional interests to fit the needs of white voters desperate to protect their culture from assimilation. Talk radio developed a sort of parallel language that allowed white political figures to continue to leverage race as a tool without using the discredited rhetoric of the previous generation.

Pundits matter. They matter more now, in a world of ubiquitous information and disinformation, than they did nearly a century ago when Father Coughlin was extolling Fascism on his popular radio show. We often think of them as the people who appear on TV to reduce some complex subject to a three-sentence sound bite, but that role is the tip of the rhetorical iceberg. What crude pundit-entertainers like Ann Coulter did to the Republican Party could also be used as a force for reform.

Before Fox News and the political entertainment complex emerged, pundits were mostly researchers and journalists. Many worked in Washington “think tanks,” organizations funded to provide expertise and credible research for political figures. That infrastructure still exists, but it has been stripped of independence, leading to a massive, sustained brain-drain. There was a time when this collection of institutions was a particular Republican strength. Those days are behind us.

Pundits deliver two primary services. First, they act as the sheep dogs of acceptable partisan discourse, defining the range of legitimate opinion among the various tribes on the recognized political spectrum. Their other function is to act as mediators, evaluating policy options and translating them to the general public. In this role they often overlap with think tanks. In fact, many of the most prominent pundits all over the spectrum draw their income from think tanks, or did at some point in their careers.

Downey’s heirs fit nowhere in this neat picture. Few remember, but there was a time when it mattered whether a pundit was right. Winning an argument on the McLaughlin Group by inventing your own facts could seriously dent a career. That now-quaint ethical boundary made sense in an era in which pundits were almost all journalists, former political figures, or academics. They belonged to a kind of loose, Northeastern fraternity capable of exercising some accountability on its members. Such constraints start to make less sense when the purpose of punditry shifts. If pundits exist less to mediate ideas than to activate a political base or deliver a good show, then accuracy becomes secondary (or perhaps irrelevant).

Republicans, and to a lesser extent Democrats as well, are trapped inside a model of political information processing spawned by Downey and honed by his mutant descendants. Many if not most of the pundits who remain in the older GOP infrastructure are solid, rational figures that take seriously the public service dimension of their role. Nevertheless, they are captives to that entertainment-driven model and to the characters who earn seven-figures incomes from exploiting it. Whenever they resist that system, their influence and viability are undermined.

As the political climate for Republicans has grown more toxic, pundits have faced pressure to line up behind a policy agenda that ranges from merely impractical to absurd and occasionally catastrophic. Even the brightest, most insightful human beings can struggle to maintain their hold on reality when their income depends on their ability to demonstrate loyalty to absurd ideological positions.

Pundits find themselves compelled to explain and defend any idea emerging from the farthest corners of the Republican right no matter how dumb, delusional or demonstrably false it may be. An absence of independence among pundits has left Republican voters and officeholders locked in a rhetorical cocoon. The damage goes beyond a lack of criticism or feedback. Pressure toward group-think has robbed Republicans of a vital source for new policy ideas and research.

Think tanks once provided a hedge, a place for pundits to do their work with some degree of insulation from partisan witch-hunts. That reserve has been gutted in recent years. Nearly every institution in the Republican thinkosphere has been bought out by a few wealthy, ideologically motivated donors and pushed toward partisan orthodoxy. Thirty years ago it was the conservative Heritage Foundation that built the policy framework for the Affordable Care Act. Today Heritage is run by the hyper-partisan former Sen. Jim DeMint who earns a seven-figure salary from the organization. Such a bold academic exercise would be absolutely impossible to pursue inside today’s Republican think tanks.

This environment is ripe for a pundit in the mold of John Stewart to emerge from the center-right. A voice as sharp and insistent as the right wing bomb-throwers, yet armed with an attachment to reality and willing to attack the far right – that could be a winning formula. Our problem is that there’s no ecosystem from which someone in that mold could emerge. Republican media is a scorched-earth wasteland of ever-narrowing ideological consistency in which there is “no enemy on the right.”

Breaking this cycle will require more than just vocal dissent from a few prominent pundits. It will require a level of coordination with leaders in other areas, like donors and think tanks, organized and motivated by a new policy template. That template, as explained in a previous piece, will probably have to emerge from outside the party’s sanctioned support structure – a considerable hurdle. Recent history demonstrates why coordination will be so important.

Ask David Frum or Bruce Bartlett what happens when a conservative thinker steps out of line. Each lost their jobs for openly acknowledging some politically uncomfortable realities. Over the decade or so since their demotion, the ideological lock on the profession has tightened.

Republican pundits are now cloistered like medieval nuns, carefully hidden from the kind of cognitive dissonance on which any reliable decision-making depends. There has never been a wealth of demand for Political Science majors. With an always-tentative livelihood in a very expensive city riding on their commitment to orthodoxy, they have learned to shut out ideologically inconvenient realities. Our pundits do less and less thinking as they learn to rely on the safety of talking points issued by Republican brand leaders.

Conditions have grown too severe for Republicans to sit back and wait for a “strong candidate” or an opportunistic news cycle to reverse the party’s fortunes. Decades of dependence on a narrowing racial appeal has walled us inside our own fortress. Building an ecosystem of opinion-makers that can restore some sanity to Republican politics will require parallel action on some other dimensions of this problem, in particular, among the donor base. That means finding new donors who are not committed to the status quo.

Fortunately, the same economic forces that have unleashed The Politics of Crazy have also produced a potential solution to this problem. There is a brand new donor base waiting to be activated, a group of people deeply interested in the country’s future, open to innovative ideas, disenchanted by the current political establishment, and as of yet unconnected to any core ideology or network that could bring them into political relevance.

It may be possible to build an infrastructure of pundits more influential than the Downey generation and a network more powerful than Fox News. It starts with a new template of ideas filtering into a fresh donor base. Win Silicon Valley, own the 21st Century. More on that to come.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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Posted in Blueprint for Republican Reform, Republican Party
96 comments on “Blueprint for Republican Reform: Pundits
  1. […] which a reform movement can coalesce. The second piece described the need to recruit and support a few pundits who can communicate that message. Next we identified a potential donor pool that might fuel further […]

  2. Jack Hughes says:

    Since the Gingrich Revolution, Republicans — and the right-wing punditocracy — have abandoned actual real-world policy in favor of shameless pandering and dishonest propaganda based on over-simplifications, distortions, half-truths and — when necessary — outright lies.

    While this tactic has been politically successful for Republicans, it has been disastrous to the national interest — from the Republicans’ attempt to make official government policy conform to their fantasy-world pandering, and the dysfunction that results when their cultish ideology collides with reality.

    After being served political snake-oil for a generation, the rubes in the Republican/Tea Party base have developed a taste for the stuff, and will no longer allow reality to intrude into their political discourse.

  3. 1mime says:

    I know this is OT (sorree), but I have heard a lot on NPR this week about how European countries are handling the refugee deluge from Syria, etc. It appears that each country is ratcheting up its cap in order to help spread the refugees around. The situation in Syria is heart breaking and not improving. Hearing the stories of these people make America’s immigrant problem seem tame, in comparison. I guess what really struck me as I listened to all of the commentary, is how differently Europe is dealing with a very similar problem. Most of America’s refugees now are coming from Central America, through Mexico, who is between a rock and a hard place. They don’t want to be complicit in allowing passage but lack the means to shut down the flow of desperate people trying to escape their homelands with their lives. Maybe, just maybe, America should monitor how Europe is handling this and incorporate their ideas as appropriate and possible. That there are differences is a given, but there are still all these thousands and thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives, and the very real management and humane care they require from the receiving countries. How does that compare with America’s care?

    • EJ says:

      One of the issues this is causing in Europe is, alas, to cause the states to squabble. The migrants want to be in the rich central states like France, Germany or the UK. Those central states have businesses that want to hire them, but have populations that don’t want them, and so the central states’ governments have been pushing for the migrants to be contained in the poorer southern and southeastern border states. They don’t want to be there, the border states can’t afford to keep them, and it’s not a long-term solution; but the selfishness and NIMBYism of the wealthy is a difficult foe to rail against.

      As of the time of writing, Germany has chosen to let in a vast additional number of migrants and the UK has chosen to fortify her borders to keep them out. I am therefore currently proud to be German and ashamed to be resident in the UK. It isn’t often that people say we’re the nicer and less xenophobic of the two countries so we may as well milk it.

      At core, in my opinion, it’s an economic issue. There is a demand for low-paid low-rights labour in the core European states, with businesses eager to hire such people. While this persists, it is foolish of us to pretend that people will not respond to the resulting market incentives.

      • 1mime says:

        It’s sad that humane issues are bedrocked in economic issues. The Syrian situation is one that should compel the best from all of us. These people have lost everything. I’m assuming that there are highly skilled people among the masses who are fleeing. At least Europe, for all its angst over the consequences of the migration, isn’t building walls…..yet. But, with any influx of this magnitude, it has to stress the societies they are entering. The only recent experience in the U.S. is the deplacement of tens of thousands of people from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. That had some interesting positives and negatives. It provided a glimpse into both the best and the worst in Americans as they grappled with a people (predominently Black) they didn’t relate to culturally.

      • johngalt says:

        There is no answer to the Syrian problem. There are no good guys. There are bad guys, worse guys, and monsters. There are also innocents, like the kind so desperate that they’ll get on rickety rafts for a chance to escape.

        Obama’s biggest foreign policy failure was not holding the line on Assad’s regime. The options then were terrible and now, somehow, they’re even worse. Helping the innocents evacuate the region and resettling them in other countries and then letting whoever’s left blow each other up is the best option we’ve got. Put NATO on the northern border (with Turkey), the US and Iraq on the eastern, and Israel on the southern and box them in.

      • 1mime says:

        Assad is the devil incarnate. What an evil, mean individual. Your solution of boxing Syria (Assad) in sounds good but how to get all these players to agree? I wonder if it is just too late.

      • johngalt says:

        The players to box in Assad, anti-Assad rebels, and ISIS all have motivation to do so. Turkey is a NATO member and wants none of this to spill over into their territory and they’d like to avoid any talk of a Kurdish homeland. Israel of course is always vigilant about Arabs with big guns. We don’t want Iraq to fall apart and have a penchant for dropping bombs in the desert. The bigger question is how to manage the humanitarian crisis.

  4. 1mime says:

    L’est this good Democrat forgets, Happy Labor Day, all! Eat some good food (HEB running their live Maine lobster special again!) enjoy spirits of your own choosing, and generally kick back with family and friends, courtesy of a holiday established in behalf of all working men and women. A day that we all look forward to.

    As a reminder of the history of Labor Day, read on:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_Day

  5. 1mime says:

    Pundits have noted how short the Dem bench for higher office is. I am curious as to thoughts about a higher office for CA Governor Jerry Brown. He has managed several tough issues – financial, drought, immigration, health care, etc, and seems to be efficient and effective and “electable”. While no guarantee of governing prowess, being a governor can be a great training ground for a higher office. Some can’t seem to learn on the job or from the job, as Gov’s Sam Brownback, Paul Le Paige and Bobby Jindal demonstrate…(feel free to throw in some looney-tunes Dem govs, too), but it does seem that Gov. Jerry Brown has exceeded expectations. Maybe we could focus on who might be potential leaders in both parties from our perspective as interested, informed citizens outside the inner circle that preordains the field. Of course, maybe Trump has changed all that, yet, how many people can personally finance a Presidential campaign?

    • Anse says:

      I like Jerry Brown. I’m thinking of the Castro brothers, Julian and Joaquin, both pretty young but I think promising. I’d like to see them gain a bit more visibility. I think Julian is working at HUD now or something. But yeah, the Democrats have got to light a fire. I hope we can do it without resorting to Tea Party-type nuttery. Populism is a double-edged sword, and I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble.

      • 1mime says:

        It is rumored that Julian Castro could be VP…just a rumor, tho. Certainly likable, experienced and is Hispanic. In his case, timing may be everything. The GOP not only has a good feeder program (identification of potential candidates and offering them training for running a campaign) but it has out-raised the Dems significantly this year. Lifer notes this won’t guarantee elect-ability, but it is a great resource for bringing talented people up through the ranks. Dems have got to do this but seem overwhelmed with all the battles they’ve been fighting…which, of course, is fair game and not accidental

        Haven’t mentioned the obvious person, Elizabeth Warren, who despite comments that she will be too old in 2020, looks pretty frisky to me. 4 years is a long time, however, so here’s hoping more promising candidates from both sides will emerge and that people will have settled down and be more focused on qualifications rather than emotions.

    • johngalt says:

      Gov. Moonbeam is 77. He was eligible to run for president (by age) when he was first elected California governor 40 years ago. Not going to happen (and it shouldn’t).

      • 1mime says:

        OMG, didn’t know that, JG! Thanks! Age does make a difference. I receive updates from WH.gov and the President’s schedule makes you tired just reading it! Oh, well, like I said, a shallow bench…

    • Rob Ambrose says:

      Biden/Warren would be a force.

      If it were up to me, Warren would be president. She’s incredibly smart, she oozes integrity, and she seems to know exactly what the problems are that need fixing (I believe wealth inequality is THE issue that is currently facing America. I think everything flows from that, from racial tension, to poverty, to a stagnant economy).

      She’s not going to run, but I think she’d be a VP. She couldn’t be on Hillary ticket (even though it’s not right, I don’t think a 2 woman ticket is electable I’m America just yet). And Biden seems sensible. Certainly not exciting, but would probably make a decent president.

      Just some food for thought

      • 1mime says:

        I have always liked Biden, but fear that if he doesn’t run now (which I can hardly blame him for not doing), in 2020, he will be 76. As JG pointed out, that’s old to be seeking today’s Presidency given the demands of the office. But Warren in 2020 will be 70 – an energetic lady, and a super candidate for Dems….she’ll need to have a strong, fully empowered cabinet. She doesn’t seem to have any Peter Principle issues so assume she’d surround herself with good, hard-working smart people. Hers would be a most interesting tenure. I wonder if it’s time for some structural changes in the federal government as it relates to division of responsibility and authority to reduce the load on the President. That way we might attract some of the older experienced people.

      • 1mime says:

        Here’s an interesting conservative pundit’s analysis of Biden’s chances for President.

        http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/05/uncle-joe-a-democrat-republicans-can-believe-in.html

  6. Crogged says:

    The hardest task to accomplish in communication is listening (ask my wife), so I read my news and opinions. Years ago I would watch the “McGlauglin Group” (sp) and enjoyed that-but the tiresome spectacle of the endless false dilemma present by our ‘rights’ and ‘lefts’ on television in the States….I’m done with it. The mouthpieces that are our ‘pundits’ get paid to speak, and will shake hands or roll over on command too.

    • 1mime says:

      I’m a NPR girl myself. Gave up on regular “commentary” (that’s all it is anymore with rare exceptions) like you have. I always appreciate your comments, Crogged, so hope you are finding Lifer’s blog a more acceptable avenue of sharing views. Keep ’em comin’!

  7. Anse says:

    What’s really amazing to me about pundits is not just that they often invent “facts” out of thin air, but that their views are rarely thought-provoking. My father-in-law watches The O’Reilly Factor–he actually DVR’s it, believe it or not, and he is actually a very intelligent, highly-educated man–so I have had several occasions to watch the show. I have never, ever heard anything Bill O’Reilly say that you would not hear in any coffee shop/diner in Red State America on an average Tuesday. I could learn as much about the world from talking to my grandmother. And that’s no knock against Grandma; I just can’t believe a guy can attain a highly-paid career giving people what they already believe, are already saying, and will repeat ad nauseum for days and weeks on end. Bill O’Reilly makes a living doing what we’re doing right now, in these comments, for nothing. What a country we live in.

    Americans tend to be suspicious of intellectuals, I get that, but do you really need to have your own opinions repeated back to you every day? What entertainment do these people offer? Is outrage something we live for? Believe it or not, I really do participate in online discussions for the purpose of engaging people who think differently than I do. I find it very difficult to understand my own point of view without subjecting it to scrutiny. The process of typing these comments and reading others helps me refine my opinions and sometimes changes them. That’s why we do this, or it should be.

    Today’s pundits are not interested in debate. They’re talking to their own people. And they are not really challenging anybody.

    • 1mime says:

      Bravo, Anse! Hopefully, all who post here are trying to learn and share, even when we disagree. As for O’Reilly, I personally find him arrogant and condescending and the few times I’ve viewed him, don’t even find him interesting. The fact that he has landed in hot water more than once over the veracity of his claims should raise doubts with his viewers. It speaks volumes about our society when someone like your f-i-l who is intelligent, doesn’t see through someone like O’Reilly. I guess that’s a sign of how effective our media has become in shaping views. As many have recounted on this blog, holidays can be tricky. Best to watch the Macy’s Parade and football and talk about the grandkids, or don’t attend. Isn’t that sad.

    • johngalt says:

      I believe it was Mr. Barnum who coined the phrase, “There is a sucker born every minute.”

  8. 1mime says:

    Excellent commentary by David Corn with Mother Jones on the Trump phenomena. He asserts it’s really a GOP voter phenomena…..no 27-point economic plan for them! Corn posits that we could very well be looking at a Trump/Carson team (or, dare I say Trump/Cruz because Cruz would at least bring some experience to the job). Need to bring all the Mad-as-hell conservatives to the polls. And, hey, as wild an idea as that sounds, it could happen if Trump’s numbers hold up. Crazy as it sounds, I’d trust Trump more than I’d trust Cruz.

    Meanwhile, Republicans are garnering All of the media’s attention and what little media Dems are getting is mostly negative…..which, I’m sure, is because they are such poor candidates and has nothing to do with Trumpmania…

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/09/gop-doesnt-have-donald-trump-problem

  9. Rob Ambrose says:

    Sigh. So they sent that moron to jail in Rowan County. Which is exactly what the right wing wingnuts want. Turn her into the Rosa Parks of “religious liberty”.

    The Kentucky bar should be investigating as to if her attorneys advised to blatantly disregard a court order.

    • 1mime says:

      She will martyr herself for the cause. Maybe even start a fundraiser appeal on the internet and ride happily off into the sunset….So, right wingers only believe laws are to followed that they “like”? Damn, I’m gonna have to figure out how to do that! What have I been missing!
      What I seriously hope doesn’t happen is that she becomes a “cause celebre” and the judge relents. Woman needs to do her job and if she doesn’t want to, then she needs to move on. I’m sure with her skills, she will find ready employment….

      • Doug says:

        “So, right wingers only believe laws are to followed that they “like”? ”

        Why not? That’s certainly what the Obama administration and the Democrat frontrunner believe.

      • 1mime says:

        This right winger obviously does. I agree that Ms. Davis is most likely a pawn in a much bigger game. This is the beginning of a long-range religious rights supreme court challenge. Once a court official (Ms. Davis) has been ruled in violation of following law, and elects to go to jail, it would seem logical that she loses her authority to compel her assistants to do anything. It is apparent that those higher up are involved in the long game here. Not being an attorney, I don’t know how this stalemate could be legally resolved, but it seems that the judge could simply order the assistants to process the marriage applications or join Ms. Davis in jail.

        Think these people aren’t playing fast and loose with the law?

    • johngalt says:

      Davis is a pawn in this game. Nothing I’ve seen suggests she’s actually smart enough to really be mounting a principled stand against judicial tyranny. She says things like “I don’t hate anyone” and shrinks from the cameras. She is being used by the Liberty Counsel people and other right wing groups who will raise money in her name as she now rots in jail. Hell, the woman does not understand the difference between religious definitions of marriage – which she is free to interpret in any way she wishes – from the civil, legal, sterile definition.

      Surely her actions are reprehensible, but I think she’s a puppet, being manipulated by more sinister interests who need a martyr for the cameras (and the lecture circuit).

      • 1mime says:

        There is still an abdication of responsibility. Surely, this woman and her position does not allow her to “with hold” authority to her assistants to perform marriage vows? This should be a simple judicial order. I agree, absent this obvious over-rule, Ms. Davis is a dupe….as are all who allow themselves to be co-opted by those with an agenda.

        Someone needs to challenge on the basis of why staff have not been compelled by a higher authority to process these applications. Maybe there are others within the system who are playing this game…..

        I’m not buying it.

      • johngalt says:

        Sure, she bears responsibility for her actions, but I think she’s getting horrendous advice (for her personally) because certain groups want to make a martyr of her. She will be in jail until she (a) relents, (b) resigns, or (c) is impeached.

        The staff in the office were under her authority and she directed them not to issue licenses – the licenses bear the signature of the clerk; e.g., Davis. The judge hauled every one of them in and asked if they were prepared to comply with the court order. The only one who said no was Davis’s son.

      • 1mime says:

        Is Ms. Davis’ son, then, keeping her company in jail, or, did he quit or was he fired?

      • flypusher says:

        “Surely her actions are reprehensible, but I think she’s a puppet, being manipulated by more sinister interests who need a martyr for the cameras (and the lecture circuit).”

        To hear all the keyboard warriors after the SCOTUS made its ruling, one could get the impression that they were chomping at the bit to get in line for the golden opportunity to be a Christian martyr. I think the court opted for go directly to jail because there would be enough people willing to throw $ at a GoFundMe account to take any sting out of the pay fines option. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, martyrdom is for suckers. But you can’t do anything about people who choose to be suckers.

      • 1mime says:

        Here you go, Fly! Drum roll……the little people are going after the SCOTUS ruling from every angle possible. Reminds me of the ACA repeal effort…..never-ending

        http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/tennessee-judge-divorce

      • johngalt says:

        As far as I know, Davis’s son is neither fired nor in jail, but one or the other would be appropriate. The Tennessee judge ought to join him in the unemployment line.

      • 1mime says:

        Well, that doesn’t make sense. Selective justice? Agree: He either affirms that he will follow the law and do his job, or he is fired for non-compliance and/or put in jail with mommy.

      • flypusher says:

        Do county clerks also have to sign off on divorces?

      • 1mime says:

        See TPM link above. As I recall, there has been a recent case (in TX?) in which a gay couple had difficulty obtaining a divorce. I’ll try to research that for you, and the outcome, which I recall allowed the divorce to proceed.

      • Shiro17 says:

        As a proud, life-long Democrat (and someone who’s more or less openly gay), I admit I am a bit disturbed by the response to this whole Kim Davis thing from the left.

        First, all this posturing about how it’s all about ”doing your job, Kim.” We all know that has nothing to do with anything, so let’s not pretend. If this was the exact reverse situation (SCOTUS had banned gay marriages everywhere, but she refused to stop issuing licenses to gay couples), all of us would be hailing her as a Hero Of Justice, not just an obstructive bureaucrat.

        Also, I haven’t seen it here, but many of my friends are trying to compare her to George Wallace and Orval Faubus. She is not having the police spurt fire hoses in gay couples’ faces. She has not called the national guard to prevent them from entering the courthouse. She has not tear gassed the throngs of protestors outside the courthouse. By all accounts, no one has gotten physically injured, and I’ve not heard (though correct me if I’m wrong) her use any insulting language. And, frankly, I am genuinely very surprised that she appears to be the only one who has refused to serve gay couples. I expected a much more widespread backlash.

        The underlying problem (gay couples not being able to exercise their right to get married) is resolved. She got her slap on the wrist for disobeying a court order. At this point, the only thing she could want is attention and hatred spewing from the Left that she could use to keep her political position in a very conservative part of the country. Let’s stop blowing this problem out of proportion and giving her what she, Breitbart and the trolls on the right want. There’s so many other things that need our attention desperately.

      • 1mime says:

        Shiro, there is much I agree with in your post. Where we disagree is the innocence of Ms. Davis. I think she is a naive, “non-threatening”, and rather timid personality which makes her the perfect foil for a group with more nefarious purposes. She does not strike me as the sort to initiate a stand-off of this profile on her own. Could be wrong, of course, but guess we’ll have to wait for her memoir to know for sure (-:

        Appears the judge handled this definitively, but all of us who (1) follow the law; and, (2) support same sex marriage as allowed under the SCOTUS decision, can expect a long, drawn out process of challenges. With as politically active as this court has been, 2016 is as important for judicial appointments as it is for President. You can bet that should conservatives acquire a solid, consistent majority on SCOTUS, many of these decisions affecting equal rights, choice, etc., will be eroded if not outright overturned.

        The TN judge who recently refused to issue a divorce for a heterosexual couple (married 13 yr/no children/irreconcilable differences), said that since SCOTUS was getting involved in deciding who “could” marry, they were now going to have to explain when a couple could “un-marry” (aka/divorce). As to Fly’s earlier question, does law require clerk to implement divorce decree, based upon the ruling in the Davis case, one would assume so, but it is an interesting question in light of all that is going on in this arena. Members of the judiciary at all levels see the activist role by other courts/judges up the line and they are feeling empowered to render their own personal opinions, creating not only case law but also basis for appeal. A large percentage of judges are elected, which means, ta da, constitutents’ views matter. We would all like to think that the judicial process is impartial, follows case law, and is not influenced by politics.

        Thank again.

      • johngalt says:

        Shiro, the underlying problem has not been resolved. Her office is now issuing licenses, but she is saying that they are not valid because she, as the clerk, did not approve them. Probably a grey area, but she’s going to stay in jail until she complies, which is a little more than a slap on the wrist.

        Had the tables been reversed and a clerk kept issuing licenses in violation of state law, I would condemn that too. Elected officials are expected to honor and uphold the laws; if you don’t like the law, work to change it.

      • 1mime says:

        Guess the Kim Davis topic will hang around a while. This commentary pulls all the points together neatly.

        http://weeklysift.com/2015/09/07/is-kim-davis-a-martyr/

  10. flypusher says:

    Talk about flinging napalm on an inferno:

    http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/09/01/texas-racist-vows-to-kill-black-protesters-in-revenge-for-deputys-murder-video/

    I’m impressed, Mr. Ener. Chanting things like “pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon.”, is very offensive to many people. How to surpass that? But we can count on you to come up with the brilliant proposal to physically assault people who, while they may advocate for a cause you don’t agree with, and some of them may even say things you find offensive, are still behaving legally. Nice job, you totally one-upped them!!

  11. Griffin says:

    Thought this was interesting. According to PPP apparently 54% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim, 32% are unsure, and 14% said he’s a Christian.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/252393-poll-majority-of-republicans-thinks-obama-is-a-muslim

    Also 51% of Republicans want to end Birthright citizenship and only 29% believe Obama was born in the US.

    http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/2015/08/trump-supporters-think-obama-is-a-muslim-born-in-another-country.html

    Trump supporters were more likely to think that Obama is a Muslim and to want to end birthright citizenship.

    However interestingly enough a majority of Republicans still support background checks for guns and a plurality support raising the minimum wage to at least $10 and hour.

    • Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

      I believe a recent poll showed that more Republicans in Louisiana believe that Obama is to blame for the poor response to Katrina than is Bush to blame.

      This kind of finding makes the fact that Jindal is governor much more logical.

  12. 1mime says:

    Here’s an interesting new (old) face for political analysis and commentary: David Axelrod, former Obama strategist and advisor, will join CNN as a senior political analyst and commentator. Boy can this network use some beefing up in this area. Hopefully, Axelrod will be able to add more depth to their current line up and liven up their coverage. We shall see.

  13. Doug says:

    “Channeling the insecurities of a generation frightened by the loss of their supremacy, they helped white racial angst…”

    Still wearing your RaceLens™ I see. Everything looks different through a RaceLens™, and answers to all life’s problems are clear.

    I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to speak for an entire generation, but as a frequent AM listener I can say that white supremacy doesn’t enter the picture. My angst, if you must call it that, is over the erosion of principles that made this country great. Liberty (the opposite of supremacy), limited government, work ethic, the Constitution, things like that. Mark Levin, a real Constitutional scholar, has the fastest growing show right now, and pretty much all he talks about is the Constitution. It’s not about race, no matter how hard the left wants it to be. What’s in the brain, and heart…that’s what matters. But apparently that’s not good enough these days. Everything is now racist, unless it is explicitly anti-racist – even if it has nothing to do with racism.*

    *That last sentence, which sums things up nicely, is from an article about the morons who see racism in Talyor Swift’s new video, which was produced, directed, and edited by an Asian man, a black woman, and a black man.

    • goplifer says:

      ***Mark Levin, a real Constitutional scholar***

      Now you’re just trolling.

    • Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

      Doug,

      “My angst, if you must call it that, is over the erosion of principles that made this country great.”

      There are an awful lot of folks for whom this country wasn’t so peachy keen before your perception of this “erosion” of principles.

      Hearkening back to the days when you perceive things to have been better is almost exactly what folks suggest might be at least a bit out of touch on race issues if not necessarily racist itself. Those good ol’ days were not all that good for lots of folks.

      • Tuttabella says:

        HT, the term “erosion of principles” is often mentioned in relation to age and is not necessarily racist. Even older minorities — Black and Hispanic — yearn for the days when kids showed respect toward their elders, when teachers didn’t have to live in fear in the classroom, kids didn’t let it all hang out (literally), they listened to real music instead of noise, didn’t walk around like zombies, glued to their phones, etc.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Personally, I like to complain about the erosion of JOURNALISTIC principles.

      • Houston-stay-at-Homer says:

        Every generation laments the “kids these days” as the younger generations develop, and that has occurred since the beginning of time.

        Our friend Doug specified, “Liberty (the opposite of supremacy), limited government, work ethic, the Constitution, things like that.”, not whether or not kids are keeping their pants above their butt cheeks.

      • flypusher says:

        “Hearkening back to the days when you perceive things to have been better is almost exactly what folks suggest might be at least a bit out of touch on race issues if not necessarily racist itself. Those good ol’ days were not all that good for lots of folks.”

        I’m curious as to the exact era when Doug thinks things were so much better. Please give us some dates. But even before you do, I’ll go out on limb and wager that no matter when you pick, that it will compare poorly to right now in terms of how many people have more freedom and opportunity. Of course, the flip side of that increased freedom is that people are free to behave in ways you just might disapprove of.

      • Turtles Run says:

        Tutt – I got to hand it to you. No one can excuse the actions of people and groups that make racist comments better than you.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Turtles – Even when it’s often the minorities themselves who make the comments about today’s so-called “permissiveness?”

        I prefer not to assume that every single complaint ever uttered is due to racism, even if that is the case in many instances.

      • tuttabellamia says:

        Turtles, you often talk of how this nation needs to heal racially. I don’t see how another round of bickering between you and me will help the cause of race relations, or how everyone coming out and saying the same thing day in and day out, on this blog, or on the Chron, will help matters. This that we all do is nothing more than an addiction to social media, and it leads nowhere.

      • Turtles Run says:

        “This that we all do is nothing more than an addiction to social media, and it leads nowhere.”

        So let you make your excuses uninterrupted? Eehhhhh…..No.

      • objv says:

        Turtles, I must have missed something. What exactly has Tutt written that constitutes “excuses”? Many people prefer order, respect and good manners. It is not necessarily a matter of age – or race. Personality plays a large part. Are you suggesting that Tutt should be sticking to some sort of script or set of racial beliefs because she is of Mexican-American descent?

        It will be interesting to see what pretzel-like logic liberals will use to explain Carson, Rubio, Cruz and Fiorina’s popularity among Republicans.

      • Doug says:

        I’m not harkening back to “the good old days” and clearly understand and applaud the progress we’ve made regarding race. What I am concerned about is the diminution of the concept that the federal government is restrained in any way by the constitution. A hundred years ago it was clearly understood that an amendment was needed to outlaw alcohol. Today we have a bureaucracy that just makes up drug “regulations” on a whim. Progress?

      • unarmedandunafraid says:

        Doug – Although I believe we should decriminalize all drug use, under the circumstances we find ourselves, the modern drug laws do constitute progress. Otherwise we would have to amend the constitution for every designer drug of the week. If you have a problem with drug laws in general, you have to go back to the early part of the century to shake your fist.

        Putting on my RaceLens, seems to me the opium and marijuana laws have a racial tint.

        Is it the Controlled Substance Act that causes your objection?

    • Anse says:

      Oh, your f*ing “principles”. You know what the truth is? You and every other Tea Party nut are just this generation’s Grumpy Old Man, pounding your fist at the dinner table. You aren’t new. This isn’t a new era. My granddad filled that role. My dad is following in his footsteps. As every generation does.

      There is an arrogance at the heart of all this, an assumption that My Generation Had it Right, and all the young’uns are backslidin’ away to the Devil himself. Seriously, it’s tired.

      • flypusher says:

        One of my life goals is to avoid becoming that annoying complaining old fart.

      • Turtles Run says:

        Fly – I dunno. I can’t wait to start telling kids to stay off my grass.

      • texan5142 says:

        The older I get the more I want the kids on my grass, love to watch them evolve

      • 1mime says:

        Grass? Who among us wants “grass” anymore? You know, the stuff that requires someone else to mow and liquid gold – water…not that “other” stuff….But, yeah, know what you mean TX and Turtles. Grandchildren remind us of times when pure, unadulterated fun was possible and life was simpler. As Tutta might remind us: “Love the life you live and live the life you love.” And let’s all try to leave the “P” word in a little box in the closet for just a few days and focus on those little guys rolling in the grass. It will do us all good.

  14. johngalt says:

    The problem with the modern information society is that the sources of news, entertainment, infotainment, areas many that it is hard to know what to choose. It is even harder for the news outlets to get noticed and they are absolutely not going to stand out with sober, rational discourse. Instead it’s the hyperbole, outrage, preposterousness. Donald Trump and Ann Coulter are still in front of the TV cameras for exactly the same reason the Kardashians are – they are living train wrecks and we all love a good train wreck.

    I like to think, or at least hope, that as competing sources drive each other further and further to the extremes a huge hole opens in the middle. But, again, a new source can’t get noticed with straight talk, so where might this come from? Somewhat surprisingly, I think it might be the infotainment source that started it off – FoxNews. Murdoch likes making money and if he sees that he can’t make it by going ever further right, he may realize that moving back toward the center (towards, mind you, not all the way to it). Fox has an audience with which it has credibility, advertisers, money, and a slick setup. Megyn Kelly can sound pretty reasonable most times, and is outdrawing almost everyone else there, including O’Reilly. The tiff with Trump and the specter of a so-called journalism outlet negotiating a truce with him might push them to rationality, or at least a semblance of it.

    Who else could it be? Who is going to bankroll an alternative for the time needed to build credibility with the right to center-right audience?

    • Griffin says:

      “Who is going to bankroll an alternative for the time needed to build credibility with the right to center-right audience?”

      Unfortunately it’s just a reality that, in the USA at least, the political right-wing is going to attract more rich, crazy people who want to bankroll them in order to encourage them to shift further right on economics. It’s just a kind of strength/weakness inherent to the ideology. While a lot of centrist/centre-right wealthy people exist and are involved in politics they still aren’t fanatical enough to be willing to spend as much on politics as more ideologically charged far-right rich people. And the further you go to the left the fewer rich people you find (for obvious reasons), though that’s a disadvantage as well.

      Until the gravy train for far-right pundits stops it’s difficult to imagine an increase in reasonable center-right pundits.

      • 1mime says:

        I think to find more thoughtful television on politics, it will require a completely different cast of characters. TV: Satire/comedy – Jon Stewart….(will be interesting to see what he does next…wouldn’t he be a wonderful host of a serious political show); John Oliver – (biting, smart), Charlie Rose for dignified, deep conversation on events/issues/people.

        NPR does a great job via several programs but I especially enjoy The Diane Rehm Show. Years ago I listened to one Michael Jackson (the “other’ MJ) and he has returned to broadcasting on air in L.A., CA, at station KPCC. Wonderful, balanced interviews….for those of you who have satellite radio, give him a listen.

        My car radio pretty much stays stuck on NPR and our TV tunes in to the aforementioned presenters and PBS when I’m in a “newsy” mood….and when I have time given parallel interest in reading a variety of sources and for the love of it. There are sources that will broaden one’s thinking without resorting to hyperbole and vitriol, but, I admit, you have to dig ’em out.

      • johngalt says:

        Those all might be fine shows, 1mime, but they are not going to bring reason back to the table on the right side of the aisle. These are exactly the things that conservative media derides as the liberal media; there really isn’t any debate that Stewart, Oliver and NPR are liberal-minded. Conservatives are not going to wake up one morning and realize they are Democrats. There is nothing inherently wrong with conservative principles, if they are based in reality and propose actual, workable solutions. Hopefully they will wake up one morning, realize that what they’ve been doing is not succeeding and find in voices like Chris’s a new path.

      • 1mime says:

        JG, I know Stewart and Oliver are liberals, but at least they’re smart liberals, capable of zinging both sides when it’s deserved – and they have. They also stick to the facts without all the flash of Fox. Rose (TV) and Jackson (radio) are balanced commentators and have guests who represent different positions and expertise. But, really, that’s why it is up to each of us to read broadly, view carefully, and think deeply. If nothing more is achieved than we become better informed, that’s positive, eh? Can’t worry forever about those who hold opposing views built upon sand. At the very least, you should be confident in your positions because you’ve done your homework.

  15. EJ says:

    This is a deeply interesting piece, Chris. Thanks for posting it. I look forward to reading the remainder of them.

    On the topic of pundits, it is my opinion that they’re an inescapable product of the modern age. In the past information was hard to find and analysis was easy, so objective truth was a high-value selling point for news companies. Nowadays information exists in superabundance and analysis is extremely difficult, so the selling point has become the ability to divine truth from falsehood and build a coherent narrative to make sense of the world. Sadly I think this is only going to get worse as the information age deepens.

    In 1848 Germany had a brief civil war due partially to the fact that the liberals and reactionaries did not read one another’s newspapers and so could not communicate meaningfully. As a society we have recoiled deeply from that. Like many parts of German history, I hope the rest of you can learn from our mistakes and avoid them.

  16. Pseudoperson Randomian says:

    Your brand of conservatism will go nowhere in the Republican media world. Nope, where you need to go is to liberal leaning media

    • goplifer says:

      You may be right. I used to think that using those outlets posed a problem, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we can’t get out of this bind without gaining access to new voters. As I work with other organizations it’s also becoming clear that we can’t reach those voters from inside the existing Republican institutions.

      Rethinking that.

      • Pseudoperson Randomian says:

        “it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we can’t get out of this bind without gaining access to new voters”

        Exactly my point. Here are a couple of anecdotes from me.

        I had a conversation with today with someone who’s essentially a social democrat – someone who sees Europe as a model, someone who’s a Bernie Sanders’ supporter, and someone who couldn’t pick a GOP candidate even for the sake of conversation. Also someone very favorable to banhammer approach to gun control.
        I had a long conversation about gun control using your post on it, and received a very favorable response. That’s when I informed this person that the whole idea was from a Republican. Answer was “It doesn’t matter who it’s from as long as it’s a good idea”.

        I had another conversation last week with someone else – similar political leanings and viewpoints – about health care. They were heavily in favor of British or Canadian style single payer. I argued for a multipayer system along the lines of your post on healthcare. Similar positive response and similar lack of interest of where the idea came from.

        The point I’m trying to make is that there is probably a large section of society which cares about issues, and want real solutions. They don’t care where the solutions come from as long as they are real solutions, and address definitely real issues. And these people are currently in liberal bastions, and are watching democrat leaning media – which should be a straightforward extrapolation of your post on split ticket voting.

        Most independents and a lot of Democrats, IMHO won’t complain if the phrase “Progressive Republican” is no longer an oxymoron.

      • Griffin says:

        I don’t think it would be that hard for you to get time on a liberal-leaning show. Heck Lawrence O’Donnell quoted your “Blue Wall” post word for word he owes you one for sure haha. I’m sure part of their motive will be a self-interested one (“LOOK A SANE REPUBLICAN WHO DOESN’T LIKE HIS PARTY”) but that doesn’t mean you can’t still spread those ideas somewhere. More “neutral” news outlets like CNN are too shallow on policy to have someone like you come on their shows and FOX news/conservative talk radio would just dismiss you as “liberal” and shout you down so if you’re not an experienced debater I would not recommend going up against them yet.

        As an example of how tricky debating someone on talk radio can be I once called into the Dennis Prager program (he’s my Uncle’s favorite pundit). I asked him about his claim that environmentalists banned DDT and that resulted in millions of deaths because it could have been used to kill mosquitos and fight maaria. I said that claim had been debunked and the reason DDT wasn’t effective against malaria was because mosquitos had developed a resistance to it. His response: “No that’s just something the liberal media made up to cover for it.” Microevolution was apparently a liberal lie. It was such an out of left field response that I had no clue how to respond off the top of my head. I tried to quite the WHO but he cut me off mid-sentence than basically called me an idiot off air 😦

      • flypusher says:

        “….I once called into the Dennis Prager program….”

        Not to mention that restricted DDT use is allowed in places where malaria is endemic. But why allow actual pesky facts to diminish the all-important demonizing of the opposition?

        That example is exactly why I eschew radio show call-ins (at least for politics, sports are another matter). Of all the shows I ever listened to (and I’ve sampled quite a few) there was only one host who never (at least in my hearing) engaged in any cheap debate tactics to insult a caller or prevent them from speaking their piece. That host was Dennis Miller, and I hear that he no longer has a radio show.

      • 1mime says:

        Is there a TV or radio program you respect where you would consider offering commentary?

    • TheMeansAreTheEnd says:

      As Lifer notes, right wing political commentary is now an “entertainment genre” where “accuracy becomes secondary (or perhaps irrelevant).” Which is the reason why reasoned discourse like his has no real place in right wing political commentary. Except that it isn’t really “entertainment” when the whole purpose is to evoke outrage. More like a toxic drug.

      This sentence, though, misses the point: “As the political climate for Republicans has grown more toxic, pundits have faced pressure to line up behind a policy agenda that ranges from merely impractical to absurd and occasionally catastrophic.”

      Those adjectives are accurate, but is the real problem the negative impact on the political fortunes of the Republican party? Isn’t the real problem the callous nastiness (and deceptiveness) of this kind of commentary and the gut level hatred and division that it evokes? This far down the road of using “wedge issues” to gain political power, I don’t know how the right can get down off the tiger.

      • Pseudoperson Randomian says:

        Well, the fear mongering on wedge issues has fundamentally been done for the benefit of a shrinking demographic.

        Every else has been voting “not Republican” – I.e democrat.

        The problem is completely solvable if moderate and progressive candidates speak up – and they won’t unless there’s grassroots support for it.

        Example, McCain went from wondering what to do on climate to mutely not saying a word about anything

  17. 1mime says:

    Lifer, you tout the need for a new class of donors who are rational and independent thinkers to be at the forefront in changing the messaging of the GOP. You also mention Think Tanks, saying they are important components but totally driven by ideology of the highest bidder. Is there a conservative or liberal think tank functioning that you respect?

    • goplifer says:

      The Brookings Institute does fantastic work. Also the Tax Policy Center, which they work on in a joint venture is fantastic.

      The Manhattan Institute used to be pretty good and one of it’s projects, CityJournal.org, is still OK sometimes. But they have succumbed more and more to the pressure to manufacture reality. Some of their material is pretty kooky. Their work on local minimum wage increases has been downright stupid, and they have occasionally just made stuff up. They played a key role in a lot of the disinformation about Seattle’s restaurant community.

      There aren’t a lot of credible sources for policy research remaining on the right.

      • 1mime says:

        Good to know about Brookings and the Tax Policy Center. I am also concerned about the role lobbyists play in shaping policy. People like Grover Norquist and entities like the NRA,
        US Chamber of Commerce, AFLCIO and others. These groups appear to form an important outsized role in shaping policy and laws – in tandem with Think Tanks and mega donors. Have you addressed their role in shaping politics in previous posts, and, to what extent can their function complement positive changes in the donor and think tank arena?

  18. Griffin says:

    I think the old propoganda model used by FOX is starting to backfire on them. Megyn Kelly and Fox in general is being attacked for being “liberal”. Why? Because A) they trained their viewers to consider anything even slightly critical of, or even just not supportive of, a hardline conservative to be liberal and B) a whole host of conservative pundits even further right of Fox (Breitbart, WND, Townhall, Talk radio) is competing for views with Fox and throwing them under the bus to win those viewers over. Fox has tried to make up the deficit by going even further right (See: Fox news Judge Jeanine, Eric Bolling moving up in the ranks) but it doesn’t seem to be enough to keep the base happy.

    It’s a catch-22 as the power of the GOP’s news outlets has led to their party becoming increasingly indistinguishable from their propoganda machine but without that machine much of the party would wither and die.

  19. vikinghou says:

    Demographics may be the eventual undoing of pundits like Rush Limbaugh. Just look at the current statistics for his show.

    https://www.quantcast.com/rushlimbaugh.com#!demo

    He has cornered the market on older white men with lower incomes and less education. This is not what advertisers are looking for. Given the views and habits of Millenials, I don’t see them filling the shoes of Rush’s current audience.

    • Griffin says:

      A lot conservative news outlets lose money. I’ve heard estimates that the National Review Online is losing millions of dollars, literally the only reason a good chunk of these papers are still alive is because they’re being subsidized by a handful of wealthy wingnuts.

    • PW says:

      Man, as much as I wish for Rush’s show to die, I don’t see what you’re seeing in those statistics.

      His listeners ARE overwhelmingly male, white and old. But the statistics for income and education are well above average.

      • vikinghou says:

        You are correct. I misread the income and education stats. For education I was looking at the pie graph and mistakenly thought people who weren’t in the green section were low education. However, I will maintain that an audience whose largest group makes less than $50K a year is not part of the target demo. 70% of the audience makes less than $100K. Thanks for pointing this out.

  20. texan5142 says:

    Limbaugh: You Can Tell Black Lives Matter Is A “Hate Group” By Listening To Them

    Just like most sane Americans can tell that LImbaugh and ditto heads are a hate group by listening to them.

  21. texan5142 says:

    and Bill O’Reilly was an actual journalist

    Can not stop laughing at that.

  22. […] Pundits – Imagine for a moment that the issue most discussed in Republican policy circles was the regulatory response to Uber and Airbnb rather than “anchor babies.” In that atmosphere, how would the odds of a Republican victory differ from what we currently see? A pundit class with the barest awareness of urban issues and some minimal openness to minority concerns could open up the Republican policy template. […]

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