Republican Pollster Frank Luntz Secretly Taped

(Credit: Gage Skidmore) (Credit: Gage Skidmore)[/caption]

On the secret recording of Republican pollster Frank Luntz criticizing conservative talk radio hosts at the University of Pennsylvania, Jeffrey Lord makes an unusual statement about their importance:

“For decades liberalism was in 100% control of this country. The government, the media, the culture. If Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity . . .  and other talk radio stars sit at their microphones until they are 100, it will take another fifty years at least to understand their individual and collective importance in shattering the liberal Iron Curtain that had descended on the American mind. And that’s before you even get to Fox and the Internet and the magazines and newspapers like The American Spectator, National Review, Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal and people like Reagan, Buckley, Goldwater, etc.”

Is that the “liberal Iron Curtain” that was in place in the government through two terms of Reagan?

It’s hard to accept any claim that talkers like Limbaugh, Levin, and Hannity were catalysts in “shattering the liberal Iron Curtain” or much of anything else. This is especially the case when we remember that Reagan, William F. Buckley, and Barry Goldwater all predated modern conservative talk radio.

Frank Luntz belongs to the consultant class, so he talks and acts like a consultant. His shtick is always about what words people use and how they sound to people (and how to manipulate poll-takers). That was no different at Penn when he said, “It’s not what you say that matters. It’s what people hear.”

But Luntz was right when he says there is a talk radio problem. I wouldn’t go as far as he did in saying that the divisiveness is only a Republican problem, but he was right that talk radio itself is a peculiarly Republican problem. Whether it was the infamous comments about Sandra Fluke or the 47% meme, this medium tends to peddle only what the base wants to hear, not in breaking down any walls. When the people at the top of the party start sounding like that when they need to expand the voting coalition, there’s a problem.

But Lord’s argument is just silly.

National Review, Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan all operated in the liberal consensus of their day. We can debate whether the influences of NR, Buckley and his gang really represented a beneficial turn for the American body politic, but they nevertheless all contributed to an alternative vision and had ideas of their own. Supply-side economics, states’ rights to a degree, and anti-Communism were all staples of the so-called New Right. They were also solutions for issues affecting America at the time.

What have radio talkers, take your pick, contributed to the landscape of ideas? This isn’t to besmirch them – not everyone has the Next Big Idea. But if we’re talking about tearing down a pre-existing political edifice, a fresh idea or at least a fresh perspective might be involved. Rather, I noted last week that one of Limbaugh’s rants was militant know-nothingness criticizing why liberals always want to ask why. God forbid we outsource all forms of intellectual curiosity to the left!

Joe Scarborough of MSNBC has pointed out that before talk radio and Fox, Nixon and Reagan won 49-state landslides. Now Republicans have lost every presidential popular vote since 1992 except for one, so talk radio must have something to do with it. Perhaps, but this is a little simplistic: it is a correlation, but not a causation. The country was different in 1972 and 1984 compared to 2013. There is more to Republicans’ electoral woes than just the radio or the country’s changing demographic profile. But it is interesting to note that Republican landslides ended after the “shattering of the liberal Iron Curtain.”

The GOP governed horrendously and received its reward beginning in 2006. When the party messed up, there was no credible faction from within to offer an alternative vision.

What did talk radio bring to the table? Be more “conservative?” That tends to mean more tax cuts, more military spending, and more invective hurled at adversaries. With such staleness, is it any surprise that it’s the Ron Paul movement where most of the GOP’s youthful energy is channeled?

Jeffrey Lord is free to listen to any of the talk radio shows he wishes. Half of his articles and blog posts at The American Spectator seem to be about them, so he probably isn’t about to stop. Yet, when the GOP was routed, he and other listeners have to notice that the screaming and name-calling belies any notion that the medium is offering a credible alternative to anything, much less dismantling it.