Who You Calling Angry!!!
Why do right-wing radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh do so well and liberal ones not so well? Consider that Colin McEnroe, a rude liberal, has just been fired by WTIC in Hartford and that national liberal talk-show hosts have had a tough time hanging on to their jobs.
And why do letters to the editor even in liberal states like Rhode Island and Connecticut feature so many right-wingers complaining about high taxes, overspending and allegedly corrupt legislators and so on even as the general electorate elects liberal Democrats by wide margins?
Simple. It’s because the conservatives tend to be angrier than liberals and anger is a powerful energizer and seller. Radio stations, all too many of which are owned by a few few national companies, know that they need intensity of listenership above all to sell advertising time. Hiring a right-wing host is a good strategy for selling advertising time.
It’s similar to why newspapers devote so much space to sports: Followers of teams are committed readers.
That is not to say that many liberals aren’t infuriated, too. Consider the sometimes almost psychotic hatred of G.W. Bush. But, all in all, right wingers tend to be angrier, longer.
There are, no doubt, talk radio hosts who are strikingly angry, but I still have trouble counting Rush Limbaugh among them. The proverbial heavy breathing on Limbaugh is more guffaw than growl; the most strenuous tone is typically stunned amusement at liberals’ insanity. The same is true on most talk radio shows. The missing factor in the usual liberal assessment of their heat is the length of the programs, generally with unscripted conversation throughout. Show me the person who can discuss current events with strangers for three hours per day — often reaching down to core ideology — without occasionally raising his voice, and I’ll show you a man without beliefs.
If anger plays a role in the disparity in talk radio success between conservatives and liberals, the key isn’t the depth or longevity of emotion, but the different modes of expressing it — experiencing it. It’s the distinction between a heated rollick that sometimes approaches the push too hard and a passive-aggressive seething. There’s a viciousness to liberal anger — made painfully prominent in that “almost psychotic hatred of G.W. Bush” — a wipe-them-out-make-them-irrelevant belittling. Right wing anger is, in its way, more masculine; it pounds on the front door, bloodies the lip, and leaves as if the point’s been made. That sort of anger, because visible in advance, can be talked down, soothed, whereas the other sort of anger slides the knife in and out with mute certainty.
But I wonder if even that much explanation is necessary. It might be more productive to chart ideological leanings demographically and align media by occupation. NPR’s major non-music shows align with commutes. The king of conservative talk radio covers the after-lunch span of the work day. Perhaps the critical factor is the political norm among those who can talk — and listen to talk — while they work.
The thread is continuous across these various points, weaving a picture of masculine sparring, most often of a good-natured tone, among men whose hands are occupied more than their minds at work. Of course there are broad exceptions (pun intended or not), but it is the vast average of a group that will spell success for a daily show.
As for Whitcomb’s association of talk radio with letters to the editor, well, I imagine Bob designates the political inclinations of writers based on the topics that they raise. Letters don’t come, like mine, marked with a “conservative” stamp. Therefore, I’d expect letters complaining about “high taxes, overspending and allegedly corrupt legislators” to be especially common in liberal states, in which at least the first two qualities are a matter of principle.