I categorically reject this unseemly wave of vitriol being directed at Trent Lott for his recent caustic gripe that "talk radio is running the country." An elder statesman should not be castigated for one flip offhand throwaway line. Instead, we should focus on his august career punctuated by so many poignant and quotable insights. (NOTE TO RESEARCH ASSISTANT: Honey, please get me some of Lott’s gems from his Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations entry.)
While we look into that, let us review the top ten reasons why Sen. Lott is wrong in his observation and unjustified in his grumble.
10. NOBODY IS RUNNING THE COUNTRY. This is not a polity that requires much running. Walking usually suffices: folks walking the walk of family and business, trying to play by the admittedly sketchy and shifting rules while keeping their integrity more or less intact.
9. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TALK RADIO. The impression of a behemoth conglomerate swallowing the public imagination is more than a tad overblown, it is downright wrongheaded. These hosts are all individuals, with egos healthy enough to make them think they are making a difference. The local ones, in particular, are acutely conscious of the demographics of their listenership, much in the way that politicians are themselves.
8. HOSTS HAVE NO BRAINWASHING EQUIPMENT. Brainwashing is ten guys standing in the light berating the one schnook in the dark. One guy sitting in a dank cubicle without windows and bitching into a microphone can only win people by persuasion or by solidifying what they intuitively know already.
7. HOSTS HAVE NO PERSONAL INTEREST IN A PARTICULAR OUTCOME. The host has nothing to gain on either side of the debate. He is not running anything that gives him advantage. His only payoff is gaining audience if they are enlightened, entertained or inspired by him. The incentives are positioned to make him do the right thing, what is best for the people.
6. HOSTS HAVE LIMITED MONOLOGUE TIME. The main opportunity for a host to get his individual point of view across is in the opening monologue segment. The requirement to spend most of his time in conversation with you and me has the dual benefit of exposing him to other viewpoints and depriving him of monopolistic control of the message.
5. HOSTS ARE RELUCTANT TO BASH BOTH PARTIES. The last thing a radio host wants is for his views to seem marginal or conspiratorial. He has a very strong interest in backing one of the major parties, which makes him seem like a part of the mainstream. To be forced to bash the Republicans from their right on immigration, or to bash the President on Dubai, is very uncomfortable for them. If they do it, it is only because of utmost sincerity.
4. ANY VIEW DELIVERED BY AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY OF CALLERS IS A LEGITIMATE POPULAR VIEW. When a critical mass of callers is passionate in one direction, the host has little choice but to acquiesce at some point, as in the case of Rush Limbaugh on the Dubai port issue. This is occurring on the immigration issue. If, say, Laura Ingraham came out vehemently for the newest compromise, she would still be shouted down by a groundswell of callers. In which case the people are doing the moving and shaking, and the hosts are just dancing to the tune.
3. ANECDOTAL SUPPORT IS MORE POWERFUL, AND THAT MOSTLY ORIGINATES WITH CALLERS. The hosts can deliver opinions, but people are as likely to be swayed by that as by a long-winded college professor. Anecdotes are the most effective tool in actually getting people to change their views on issues, and these are delivered mostly by callers out there living life, not by the hosts in their little cocoon.
2. TALK RADIO HAS GIVEN REPUBLICANS A VOICE IN THE MEDIA. To complain about this medium is suicidal for an intelligent Republican. After decades of whistling into the wind, unable to find an audience in mainstream media, the Republicans now have a place to be heard. If talk radio is running the country, that is wonderful news for Republicans, almost without exception. (NOTE TO R.A.: Honey, are you getting anywhere with that? Yes, L-O-T-T. It is probably a huge section. The man has been in the Senate forever.)
1. CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVE. If the nation were not run by these guys, we might be stuck having our lives dominated by the deep thoughts of Chairman Lott in his little Yellow Book. I say better the gold of Rush than the counsel of Trent.