Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Gutless, Fundless Liberals

by

All I know about rightwing Rep. Eric Cantor’s “shock horror” primary derailment by the blissfully named David Brat in Virginia, that cesspool of bad Tidewater politics, is what Rachel Maddow and CNN tell me.  Plus a long history of taking time to listen to “conservative” talk radio that I’ve never been able to persuade my liberal friends to tune into, not even as an experiment.   Talk about closed minds.

Cantor, a Wall Streeter to his fingertips, spent $5 million versus Brat’s mere $200,000 (not all of it used) and lost to a cleverly manufactured populist swell against government “programs that benefit the rich and powerful”.   Brat, an Ayn Rand Calvinist Catholic libertarian – say that again – justly accused Cantor of “crony capitalism”, citing Cantor’s weakening of a bill to prevent members of Congress and their families from insider trading.

Brat was a total unknown until the Terrible Trio of berserk radio hosts Glen Beck, Mark Levin but especially the wild woman of the microphone, Laura Ingraham, took up his cause, organized fundraisers and drummed Brat! Brat! Brat! into their AM listeners’ ears.  Among Cantor’s sins was his mildly decent concession to Obama on immigration.  Ingraham & Co. can congratulate themselves for causing even more misery to Honduran, Nicaraguan, Salvadorean and Guatamlan children currently pouring across our porous border.  Congrats, guys.

Cantor like my liberal friends believed AM driveby talk radio was beneath him.   Five minutes of listening to El Rushbo or Ingraham might have opened his mind to the looming threat from his right.  So Cantor is in good company with almost all my friends who despise talk radio so much they howl at me for listening.

Since the FCC’s abolition of the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987,  and the 1996 Communcation Act practically mandated radio network “consolidation” (a monopoly like Clear Channel is home to many of the professionally outraged),  half-crazed radio has become the dominant form, opening the floodgates to Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Mark Levin etc.

As of this year Rushbo and Hannity are the most listened-to radio programs in any format with ten of millions of listeners.   (Repeat that last sentence.)  So-called “progressive radio” including the increasingly timid NPR doesn’t even come close.  An attempt a few years ago to create a liberal counter-radio in Air America failed dismally.  Whether with Randi Rhodes, Stephanie Miller or Thom Hartman, we simply don’t know how to do it well, certainly since Al Franken deserted radio for the Senate.

Why are liberals so voiceless?

It shouldn’t be that hard.   Arbitron polls say that the majority of talk radio listeners are 54-plus age males, a dying Tea Party-invigorated constituency that kicks and screams – and votes – on their way out.  Yet we consistently drop the ball when it comes to “progressive” radio.  Properly done there’s a big potential audience in the tech-savvy Occupy generation who know how to nimbly access online, podcast, ITunes and satellite radio, where the lone maverick Bill Maher has his spiel.  But most young probably think talk radio is a boring lost cause.

Mainstream AM (now increasingly FM) driveby  shows are almost a fourth arm of government now.  Its hosts, funded by moneybags like Americans For Prosperity and the Koch boys’ Freedom Works, wield enormous influence on a demographic whose guts churn at the very mention of Obama’s name.   For them we on the left are the moochers and takers, they are the financially or existentially impoverished givers.  These listeners hurt, they’re raging.   What they listen for is a voice that communicates: Yes We Know How You Feel And This Is Why.

Trouble is, our liberal pitch gets constipated by political correctness and a sort of ideological uniformity.  We appeal to the rational head and bleeding heart but rarely the angry gut.  We weep for Darfur and have “concern” (one of Obama’s favorite non-words) for dislocated immigrant children but, on radio, rarely vocalize that same kind of empathy for street-level realities as experienced by most of us.  Emphasizing gay rights, pro-choice, transgenderism, whatever, we lose touch with vast audiences who don’t share our cultural reflexes.  For example, I can’t recall ever hearing a radio host speak, in plain language, to conservative religious preoccupations.  P.c. sometimes blinds us to what’s actually happening to real people in real situations

Yes I know about Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez’s “Democracy Now” and the virtually unlistenable to, in-constant-turmoil Pacifica stations.  Liberals with microphones have a tendency toward misery porn.  Only, in the grand tradition of late lamented Studs Terkel,  Jon Wiener’s KPFK Wednesday 3-5 pm music-comment-and-interview show makes my cut, and is close to what a liberal voice should sound like: Bob Dylan songs, rap-and-rock-n-roll, solid reporting and hard factual history.

Maybe I’m missing something here, and none of us has time for driveby radio.   If so, that’s sheer fatal political snobbery.

Does it come down to economics?   A friend of mine theorizes that gut-punching, emotionally true liberal radio hardly exists because a critical sector of our own demographic – that’s us, presumably – are financially comfortable and simply have lost the moxie that once was synonymous with a fighting liberalism.

Are we too dumb or too rich to have a radio voice?

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail