The Power and Danger of Talk Radio

Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman

What’s the real power in America? What has revolutionalized American politics, its direction, tone, even the way political parties interact and politicos talk on the stump, in Congress and in front of cameras?

The answer: talk radio, which some argue has become a partisan unifying political force in America. But it’s also a divisive force undermining America’s already-sagging political center.

Cartoon by David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Star (click to reprint)

Cartoon by David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Star (click to reprint)

Some argue that talk radio now virtually sets Republican Party strategy.  But it has revolutionized American politics itself ““ creating a talk radio political culture that nurtures confrontation, demonization, promotion of left and right extremes, and dismissive attitudes toward centrists, consensus and compromise. This goes for most right and left talk radio and cable shows.

Starting with Rush Limbaugh, who went from funny ideological gadfly talk show host to  self-serious GOP partisan after the first President George Bush invited him to sleep over in the Lincoln Bedroom in 1992, talk radio has become American politics’ ““ and entertainment’s –  powerhouse. Talk radio is to 21st century American politics what professional wrestling is to sports.

It’s the quintessential town hall, rallying the faithful. Talk show hosts give their versions of the party line or an actual party line or a party line feeler based on party bigwigs’ feedback and communicate it to their “troops” who pick it up and run with it. Talk show hosts bring down their wrath on those (particularly moderates in both parties) who seem “squishy” and don’t follow the partisan line thus making them 21st century versions of old city political party bosses.

Party bigwigs may ultimately adopt talk show hosts’ strategical advice. These hosts have access to listeners easily won over to the views of a host who they’ve spent X hours a day listening to and watching and who they view as a trusted, credible friend.

Talk radio has shoved center-right, center-left personalities further right and left as they seek bigger audiences, better ratings and fatter paychecks. After decrying Limbaugh’s conservative talk show model how did liberals respond? By trying to clone conservative talk shows and be the anti-Rush Limbaugh.

Air America was attempted left wing Limbaugh ““ minus Limbaugh’s broadcasting talent.

All of this takes the U.S. on a shaky political path. A talk radio broadcaster’s goals aren’t the same as a political party’s. Political parties traditionally value national unity and seek broad coalitions. The only consensus a talk show host seeks is his audience demographics’ consensus which he himself shapes.

A talk show host’s goal is to saw off a portion of the populace, capture and define that key demographic, keep it coming back, get more of that demographic then deliver it to advertisers. All in today’s era of “narrowcasting” versus the 50s and early 60s era of “broadcasting” which sought to piece together entertainment coalitions of different ages and groups. Talk radio encourages both parties to cater to their bases.

The talk radio style resulted in Mark Williams and his Tea Party Express being booted from the Tea Party Federation after he wrote a blog post related to his dispute with the NAACP that even a cabbage in a supermarket would consider “racist.”  Williams, in his blog posts and TV appearances, communicated like a typical combative, polarizing talk show host. Only this time, the red meat was judged rancid.

Where will this trend take American politics, the quality of debate “” and the ability of political parties to govern once they win power after their side’s talk shows  totally trashed, demonized and infuriated their foes?

Will it forever be (totally) good us against (totally) bad them each time a party now gets in power?

Or will it swerve back to “all of us” again?

Not if talk show hosts have anything to say about it.


Copyright 2010 Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Secret Weapon

Raging Moderate, by Will Durst

The best news the Democrats have gotten all year long has little to do with early primary results, or regenerating their spine with health care reform. The best news the Democrats have gotten all year is the chair of the Republican National Committee is going to keep his job. He’s been a disaster on the order of Michael Cimino directing “Howard the Duck Meets Pluto Nash on Planet Ishtar.” Democrats have a secret weapon this November and his name is Michael Steele.

Michael Steele

Cartoon by Dave Granlund - (click to reprint)

Steele is not just the center post in the GOP big-tent movement, he’s the post, the flaps, the stakes, the ties and the canvas; and party leaders would rather stick a fist full of paper cuts in a vat of Tabasco Sauce than write off their first African- American chairman during an election year. These days, the GOP Black Caucus could hold its convention in a phone booth, and they don’t make phone booths anymore, and the analogy still holds.

Most of the places he visits, he’s not simply the only black guy in the room, he’s the only black guy admitted to the grounds without a police escort. His hiring was a blatant attempt to play catch up in the “Coolest African- American in Politics Sweepstakes.” The difference being the Executive Branch landed an intelligent, hard-working political animal, and the Republicans picked a prospect who too perfectly exemplifies their “Me First” philosophy.

Straight out of Annapolis, the RNC chairman ruffled so many feathers the fluttering excess was sufficient to fill every hotel pillow case in Vegas. On CNN last February, he dismissed Rush Limbaugh as “an entertainer” and “incendiary.” The outrage from Rush’s fans, the vocal, visible, thick and dense end of the Republican base, forced Steele to backtrack faster than freshly waxed skis on newly fallen powder.

First he was directed to beg the poster boy for OxyContin Today’s forgiveness. To say Rush was less than gracious is like implying frozen goose fat makes for substandard bicycle spokes. Steele genuflected on Rush’s show and kissed his ring while Rush didn’t bother taking it out of his back pocket.

Since then Steele manages to rankle party regulars on a daily basis. He told The Washington Times the GOP needed to “uptick our image with everyone, including one-armed midgets” pissing off pretty much. everybody. Especially the highly influential one-armed Lollipop Guild. When GOP cognoscenti learned about Mr. Steele’s desire to buy a private jet with party money, he was dismissed as an interloper encroaching on donor turf.

And there’s more. Earlier this year, big wigs demanded to know why an employee was reimbursed $2,000 for an evening at a Hollywood fetish club, and they weren’t taking “excellent appetizers” as an answer. But sex scandals bounce off Republicans like hail off an Aspen roof. The most damaging detail came via an internal investigation finding the party losing money on its major donors program, spending a dollar ten for every dollar raised. Two grand for leather studded lap dances is one thing, failing to bring in the cash: thems fighting words.

Some party luminaries are so dismayed with Steele’s performance, they’ve engineered an end-around, creating a slew of new 527s as a means to funnel GOP donations. The high priest of the Church of Right Wing Big Bucks himself, Karl Rove, being a chief architect. And in the Republican Party, when you start to butt heads with Karl Rove, you better get used to grocery shopping with Salman Rushdie. On your own private jet or under the wheels of a bus back to Maryland.


Will Durst is a San Francisco-based political comic who writes. This being an incendiary example. Catch him at the Punch Line, May 27- 29,, 444 Battery St., San Francisco, 415.397.7573. New CD, “Raging Moderate” from Stand Up! Records now available on both iTunes and Amazon.

Copyright ©2010, Will Durst, distributed by the Cagle Cartoons Inc. syndicate. Call Cari Dawson-Bartley at 800-696-7561 or e-mail [email protected]. Will Durst is a political comedian who has performed around the world. He is a familiar pundit on television and radio. E-mail Will at [email protected]. Check out for the latest podcast. Will Durst’s book, “The All American Sport of Bipartisan Bashing,” is available from Amazon and better bookstores all over this great land of ours. Don’t forget to check out his rooftop comedy minutes at:

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Trust in the GOP’s Dearth of Experience

When Republicans warn that a policy is a job-killer – Americans should listen. If any group of lawmakers and thinkers know about killing jobs it’s the Grand Old Party. In 2008, the final year of the Bush Administration, after two terms of careless deregulation implemented with bastardized pseudo-free market battle cries, the economy lost 2.6 million jobs. An annual job loss not equaled since 1945. When it comes to job extermination the GOP’s display case has a full assortment of trophies. So, of course Republicans are now the best authority on how not to kill jobs. Basically, don’t do what they did.

Mitt Romney RomneyCare GOP hypocrisy

Cartoon by Pat Bagley - Salt Lake Tribune (click to purchase)

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is plotting a new massive job-killer that the American people can’t afford,” cautioned House Republican Leader John Boehner last week. He knows this because he was arguably privy to the “old” massive job-killer that Americans couldn’t afford.

Like the tobacco critic “Debbie” a life-long smoker who infamously took a drag off a cigarette through a hole in her neck for an anti-smoking PSA in the 1990’s — it’s not hypocrisy for the GOP to talk about what will or won’t tank the economy ““ it comes from their experience tanking the economy.

The GOP is solidly against everything in President Barack Obama’s agenda. Coincidence? No, it’s based on their record of being solidly for everything in President Bush’s agenda. They’re simply learning from their mistakes and gaining from their life lessons. That’s why they now are deficit hawks, because they’re trying to make up for their previous mistakes. That’s why they now want smaller government since they grew it. That’s why they now want to work on decreasing the debt since they increased it.

We need to start listening to the GOP and their leaders. They have a unique familiarity with the things they deplore. And that’s important in deploring things:

When RNC Chairman Michael Steele dismisses the Democrats for big spending, this isn’t his first prom. Steele can recognize a bulging budget by having doubled his predecessors’. He has studied the issue at length as the par-taying party chairman. He’s thought about the wasteful spending from his private jets and limousines. He can see the pork people who fly commercial would completely miss.

Chairman Steele has simply been doing research into fiscal conservatism from the opposite side of the spectrum. This way he gains the necessary perspective.

Recently Rush Limbaugh thankfully pointed out that the Obama administration is guilty of “character assassination.” Only a person who publicly accused Parkinsons patient/stem cell research spokesperson Michael J. Fox of faking his symptoms would have such an expertise on slander. You don’t just pick on the then 13-year-old daughter of the President, Chelsea Clinton, for her looks and not know how to spot cheap shots. If you spend years comparing everything Obama does with Nazis you of course are going to be more sensitive to the assassination of other people’s character.

Were the convicts in Scared Straight discounted because of their crimes? No. They were the best people to tell troubled youths what not to do because they did it. Just like today’s GOP.

Who knows more about the inside than an insider? Who knows more about sin than a sinner? Who knows more about real Americans than the politically ambitious who overuse the phrase “real Americans?” No one, that’s who.

And who knows more about “socialized” medicine and its devastating implications than former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He passed “socialized” medicine in his state four years ago this month. He told the Associated Press at a book signing near his current home in La Jolla, California that passing health care reform will cost Obama a second term. Is it because the nearly identical legislation passed in his state and he didn’t seek a second term? Yes. Romney knows about health care reform and re-elections. Or really just about health care reform and opting out of re-election.

How can we fault those who know the most about the hen houses just because happen to be foxes? Do we want to live in an America that does?


Follow the author on Twitter @tinadupuy. Copyright 2010

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