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March 14, 2013

Something Which Is Totally False But False In a Way That's Important

Noah C. Rothman, who identifies as a conservative (I think), writes:

Conservatives should suppress the instinct to dismiss Chris Hayes, the new host of MSNBC’s 8 p.m. programming slot soon to be vacated by Ed Schultz. Yes, Hayes’ addition to MSNBC’s prime time lineup, serving as the lead-in to the left-leaning cable network’s flagship program, The Rachel Maddow Show, signals the network will continue to represent a brand of liberalism well to the left of the American center. It is also a continuation of another trend that should trouble conservatives: MSNBC branded itself both as a sophisticated and academic debate forum in the weekends and they are moving that format to prime time. What’s more, both Hayes and Maddow know how to make an argument that eschews force of personality and rests on data.


Of course, some of MSNBC’s most progressive hosts are often guilty of indulging in confirmation bias. Those programs, primarily but not exclusively relegated to the network’s dayside, choose not to make a case and instead berate and mock those who disagree with their unsupported assertions. Contempt and scorn in lieu of an argument is rarely a feature, though, of Maddow or Hayes’ programs. They know how to make valid case for a policy prescription that is buttressed by data. Night after night, they will be arming their audience with indisputable facts designed to advance liberalism.

He then says something to the effect of "We need to emulate this."

Now I completely think he's wrong to claim Maddow doesn't indulge in contempt and scorn. I do actually tune into her -- rarely -- and what I see is nothing but contempt and scorn and smug laughing and stories pulled from Kos and some conspiracy theories, too.

But he is right in a certain way. I think he and I (and probably you) could agree -- even if we disagree on whether or not Rachel Maddow presents a "substantive," "erudite," "intellectual" show -- that she presents at least a simulacrum of these things, something that her viewers, all nine of them, mistake for these things.

I disagree strongly that she's much different than Ed what's his name, the fat red one, in what she actually says, but she does offer the tone, the surface affect, of the intellectual.

And this is important because, as I always say, one of the biggest appeals of liberalism is towards those who self-identify as intellectuals but are in fact not terribly intelligent; believing in liberalism grants them a sense of being among the Intellectual Elite which they otherwise wouldn't have.

But whether that's dumb or not (and let's confirm: It's dumb), it is nonetheless an important aspect of human behavior. Most humans are aspirational -- they set an idea in their head of the Ideal and adopt the attitudes and beliefs they see people who approach that Ideal adopting. Conservatives are less so, but I think most of us have that too.

I could even claim that Conservatives are contentious and contrarian partly because of the Ideal we have in mind that a Man or Woman Who Stands on His or Her Own Feet rejects the swell of the mob's advance and in fact swims strenuously against it. That might be taking a point too far into sophistry but whatever.

But, while I reject this daft notion that Rachel Maddow is some kind of intellectual lodestar, I do accept that people believe she is one, and they find that attractive.

And my point here is that conservative media doesn't offer enough of this sort of thing for the sort of person who clutches at the Ideal of the Intellectual Elite. Now, we actually have a lot of that, but not enough, and further most of that we have in print. Print is certainly the better medium for actual intellectual discussion-- TV is just moving pictures and fun, fun, fun! -- but it is television, not the book or magazine, which is the chief technology of propagation of ideas and straight-up propaganda in the world.

It's a matter of psychographics, understanding what people value and conning them convincing them by use of the things they value.

It does us no particular amount of good, as a political matter, to simply mock those with the psychographic profile of "Fancies himself and intellectual and responds strongly to faux shows of intellectualism he sees on his Idiot Box." It's fun to do, of course, but end of the day, we cannot change people. At best, we can change votes. Changing the core personality type of a person is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do; I would imagine most psychiatrists would confess it's all but impossible, even given a motivated, self-selecting cadre of people who want to change their cores and are willing to spend two hours and $600 per week attempting it. (I know the noun-verb agreement there is wrong but writing it the "correct" way reads weird.)

But you can change their voting patterns. People do that all the time.

This is not some kind of call to turn the conservative movement into a self-identifying faux-intellectual movement. Furthest thing from my mind. Just as you cannot talk someone out of faux-intellectualism (or even real intellectualism), you cannot talk someone into it, either. The rule about changing people's core applies here as well.

But the point is that if, say, 30% of the public (or whatever, I'm making up numbers, and 30% always seems like a safe guess) responds to this sort of Ideal of Pop Intellectualism, shouldn't we have more of this, just to attract this cadre?

That doesn't mean we change the whole movement for 30% of the population. It would, however, suggest we have some of this going on so that the people who are attracted to this type of thing can be attracted to the conservative version of this kind of thing.

Fox right now doesn't have much this. Oh, it has smart people, I'll give you that. But I'm not talking about smart. I'm talking about a play for the particular psychographic profile that is attracted to shows of intellectualism.

Much of Fox's programming is keyed to attract those animated by Moral Values. Which I would not change, in the main. I'm talking more about a dumping-ground weekend show for these purposes. (Which apparently MSNBC did with Chris Hayes, until they decided he'd become popular enough to replace the populist shouter Ed Redfat in primetime.)

RedEye is sort of like this, and, if not exactly faux-intellectual, it's certainly designed to attract a different psychography than, say, O'Reilly, or Huckabee; the Bret Baier show is designed to be the classy, gold-plated sort of thing that attracts those interested in classy, gold-plated sorts of things.

Nevertheless, there isn't much of it. Most shows make a similar pitch to a similar psychography.

But what about the persuadable near-conservative who likes drinking Starbucks coffee and easy-listening classical music like Vivaldi and reading through the New York Times Book Review, not because he likes the NYT's politics, but just because he likes books? And feels better about himself when he at least keeps up on current books through reading capsule reviews?

That's not an insignificant slice of the American pie. And the conservative movement is not giving that particular psychograhic much of a Come Hither look.

Another way to make this argument is to begin with the assumption -- which I think is 95% true -- that everyone votes on Values. The values of the self-conceived Intellectual Elite are also high on their own values, as they define "values." That's why they're so damnably smug. And if everyone votes on values, then we need to put out the word that all values, including whatever values the fake intellectual televised Kos diarist Rachel Maddow embodies, also lead to conservativism.

Otherwise we're just conceding this profile of voter to the liberal, without any kind of fight.

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posted by Ace at 03:42 PM

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