Final thoughts on the election, Six Weeks of Rush, angry conservatives, uptight liberals, and democracy

All right, dudes. This is going to be a long one, and by the end of it I’ll have given just about everyone a reason to cuss me out and stop reading. But because it’s about the eagerness of too many voters to block out any opinion that might contradict their own, I hope you’ll do us both a solid and stick it out to the end.

On the day after the US election, the folks at the Atlantic posted a piece by Conor Friedersdorf entitled “How Conservative Media Lost to the MSM and Failed the Rank and File.” The whole thing’s worth a read, especially among conservatives who are still trying to figure out what the hell went wrong.

Barack Obama just trounced a Republican opponent for the second time,” Friedersdorf writes. “But unlike four years ago, when most conservatives saw it coming, Tuesday’s result was, for them, an unpleasant surprise. So many on the right had predicted a Mitt Romney victory, or even a blowout… These voices drove the coverage on Fox News, talk radio, the Drudge Report, and conservative blogs.”

To say that the audiences of these conservative media outlets “were misinformed,” as Friedersdorf does, is an understatement. But it’s also a careful choice of words that puts the blame where it belongs. Friedersdorf doesn’t says these audiences are willfully stupid or ignorant, and neither would I. But I think we can all agree that during the weeks and months leading up to the vote, these audiences consistently got some very bad information from the people they trusted to give them the real story.

Which brings me, of course, to Rush Limbaugh, the conservative loudmouth whose show I pledged to listen to for six weeks in order to learn more about the American conservative mindset. Friday would have been the last day of that challenge, if I hadn’t given up after two weeks because I’d realized I was totally wasting my time.

In many ways, Friedersdorf might as well have been writing about my own experiences these past few weeks:

  • “For years, [conservatives have] been arguing that liberal control of media and academia confers one advantage: Folks on the right can’t help but be familiar with the thinking of liberals, whereas leftists can operate entirely within a liberal cocoon.” Limbaugh consistently said this during my two weeks of listening – usually as a very weak defense of his refusal to interview or take calls from actual liberals – and several of his fans personally tried to assure me that he was right.
  • “It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio.” This is not only the reason why I stopped listening to Limbaugh, but also the reason why I stopped engaging with his most ardent fans. Readers of this blog will know that one fan in particular, who’s otherwise a very lovely person, complained about her failure to understand liberals even as she confessed that she refused to talk to her liberal friends about politics.
  • “Conservatives were at an information disadvantage because so many right-leaning outlets wasted time on stories the rest of America dismissed as nonsense… [Most conservative pundits] see criticizing their own side as a sign of disloyalty. I see a coalition that has lost all perspective, partly because there’s no cost to broadcasting or publishing inane bullshit… A lot of cynical people have gotten rich broadcasting and publishing red meat for movement conservative consumption.” Well, that’s Limbaugh in a nutshell. It was embarrassingly obvious after just two weeks that the man’s a pioneer among partisan hacks, and the truly sad fact of the matter is that he’s gotten very, very rich on the backs of millions of scared, misinformed people who still don’t understand how Obama managed to get reelected.

If you’re one of those people, then I’m genuinely glad and grateful that you’ve read this far. I hope you’ll believe me, and won’t think I’m gloating, when I say that you deserve better than you’ve gotten from your party and your media. For the good of your democracy, you need to put them both in their place.

In fact, let me reward your patience by linking to another Atlantic article by Friedersdorf that’s bound to piss off a few liberals. In the wake of the widespread call for boycotts that erupted after the Sandra Fluke controversy, Friedersdorf argued that the liberals who wanted Limbaugh off the air, because he’d said something that offended them, were disrespecting not only his audience and their capacity to disagree with him, but also the supposedly liberal value of free speech itself.

I agree, and I’m probably going to take some heat for it. Some of the most loyal followers of this project on Twitter are people who consider it their duty to harass Limbaugh’s sponsors in the hope of cutting his funding and getting him off the air. And while I respect them for taking what they consider a stand, I think it’s a misguided approach that’s not only doomed to fail, but which also encourages Limbaugh’s listeners to bite back.

Take it from me, conservatives: if anybody’s going to get Limbaugh off the air, it’s not going to be a bunch of whiny liberals calling for boycotts. It’s going to be you, once you start getting your news from more rigorous and trustworthy sources.

And you should really give it some thought, for the good of yourself and your country. Because Rush and his colleagues let you down. They’re the reason you’re the only ones who didn’t see Obama’s substantial reelection coming. They lied to you day after day, they exploited your fears about the future of your country, and beyond the part you play in their ratings, they don’t give a shit about you.

I’ve seen a lot of you talking about taking your country back in the wake of this election, and as a fan of democracy in general, I wish you all the best. I hope you take the first step, right here and now, of figuring out who’s actually taken it from you.

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