The Rush to Create a Liberal Rush

Is there a national market to support a stable of liberal talk show hosts?

Liberals have noted they lag in the medium of talk radio. The most popular talk radio hosts tend to be conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, and Larry Elder. So, a group of venture capitalists from Chicago and an Atlanta radio executive are trying to put together a radio network. They’ve pledged $10 million and are looking for others to join the effort. One of the people they’re talking to as a potential host is writer Al Franken – author of the book Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.

Liberal talk radio has not succeeded in the past. Will they succeed this time? Thomas Sowell thinks not.

I might add that IMHO the reason liberal talk radio cannot succeed is that there just isn’t enough content to today’s liberal philosophy.

Many liberal programs are now taken for granted, like Social Security, so there’s nothing to be debated. Others don’t work, like much of education theory, but liberals would not want to admit that in a public discussion. Furthermore much of Democratic policy is simply supporting the position of special interest groups, like union leaders and plaintiffs’ attorneys. That’s the last thing a talk radio host would want to face.

A combination of slogans and attacks may suffice to get candidates elected, but it doesn’t make for much of a discussion. And, the liberal is apt to lose a fair debate with a listener. There are liberal positions that look worse the deeper they get analyzed, such as support for bi-lingual education or opposition to school vouchers.

I used to listen to liberal talk show host Lynn Samuel. On of her charms was to have honest debates, in which she allowed the caller full opportunity to present his POV. Lynn frequently lost these debates (in my opinion), which she accepted with good grace.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a nationwide “Democratic Rush Limbaugh” who cannot convince his listeners of the liberal POV.

In short, liberalism has lost its theoretical underpinnings, so it will not support 15 hours a week of technical policy debate.

Gosh, I wasn’t aware that Rush and company were engaged in “technical policy debate.” And I would be thrilled to hear what must be a blooper reel of a conservative talk show host engagi in “fair debate.”

Generally, the reason liberal shows haven’t gone over as well is because many liberals try to be balanced, try to maintain decorum, and try to avoid as many ad hominems as conservative talking heads. Please note that I am not saying that all conservatives are boorish louts who smear others at every turn–the talking heads are. Why? Because it equals ratings. A liberal would have to be every bit as mean, cruel, pigheaded, and biased as Rush to succeed.

I’m JUST the man for the job!


I’ll bet there’s always a market for whatever is the “opposite” of what’s in the White House. Rush became big in the Clinton years, a liberal could become big in W’s years, especially if he wins re-election.

That’s the point, isn’t it? To have a one-sided presentation, which supports your friends and attacks your enemies.

Humor might help, too. Rush’s show is often quite funny, including some pretty neat satires and songs. OTOH Sean Hannity has no humor at all. He’s got 13 million listeners (vs Rush’s 20 million.)

What they both have in common is being cheerful and upbeat. Maybe that’s the problem. Most listeners want a show that focuses on the positive; liberalism mostly revolves around complaining about problems.

Why not contact the group and apply for the job. They already have $10 million set aside. Please credit The Straight Dope on your first broadcast! :cool:

I think liberals are taking talk radio far too seriously, and ascribe to it far more power and influence than it has.

Think for a second- before the rise of Rush Limbaugh, did ANY liberal think of talk radio as a potent medium, or a force to be reckoned with? Of course not! Radio was regarded as a joke! And phone-in talk shows, in particular, were dismissed as the province of insomniacs (at best) or opinionated cranks. In 1980, any prominent liberal who was offered a chance to host a phone-in radio talk show would have scoffed at the idea! It would have been BENEATH him!

After all, why would any liberal have seen a NEED for such programming in 1980? At that point, his opinions were the conventional wisdom in the mainstream media! Walter Cronkite parroted standard liberal opinion on the evening news; the major newspapers and news magazines shared his views. His political heroes were regularly given forums to speak at every major university. So, in 1980, liberals had every reason to dismiss talk radio. It was only AFTER Rush Limbaugh (et al) achieved some prominencer that liberals started paying attention to talk radio… and they panicked! It was only natural that Rush Limbaugh would want to exaggerated his own importance (he’s in show biz, after all!), but liberals played into his hands by exaggerating his importance even MORE!

It’s always the people who think their ideas are NOT being heard who flock to new or under-utilized media to get their message out. Right-wingers embraced talk radio because it was one of the few media forums (at the time) where they could hear THEIR opinions being voiced. In the same way, Libertarians flocked to the Internet.

Now, if you listen to talk radio for very long, you may get the erroneous idea that everybody out there is a raging conservative. Similarly, if you spend too much time on the Internet, you may conclude there are waaaaay more Libertarians out there than there really are. In reality, what you have in both media are (relatively) powerless, impotent minorities talking to each other.

Now, the major, mainstream media aren’t quite as liberal or as monolithically liberal as they once were (Fox is a big part of the reason), but the fact remains: liberal opinion is the conventional wisdom on the big 3 networks and in the newspapers of record in almost every major city.

Liberals have CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and pretty much everyone in show biz on their side. Conservatives have talk radio and Fox. You’d THINK that liberals would be delighted, even smug about their advantages. Instead, they go berserk over the one medium that leans right!

I mean, PURELY from a media perspective, do you think the liberals would be willing to trade places with the Right? If a genie told Ted Kennedy, “I can wave my wand, and change everything. The Right would get all the leading liberal newspapers and the Big 3 networks, but you’d get talk radio and Fox,” would Kennedy go for it?

Heck no!

Now, ultimately, is it possible that a left-wing equivalent of Rush will emerge? Sure, BUT (and this is a huge “but”) I can tell you this: if the plan is to keep handing radio talk shows to leading liberals until one of them succeeds, that plan is doomed. Remember, Rush Limbaugh was NOT a right-winger to decided to get into radio to spread his message. Just the opposite! He was a radio professional who evetually used his gifts and experience as a radio entertainer to spread a right-wing message!

IF the liberals want a successful radio show of their own, they shouldn’t take a Mario Cuomo and give him a talk show (they tried that, and even Mario’s admirers were dozing off in no time. Rather, they should find a charming, funny, professional broadcaster who happens to share their views, and let HIM build an audience by being entertaining.

Even the most rabid conservative wouldn’t listen to Rush if they didn’t find him amusing and personable. A talk radio show has to be FUN for its listeners! NOBODY wants to be lectured, even if he generally agrees with the lecturer! NOBODY wants to be bored, even if he symptathizes with the bore’s political opinions.

Al Franken will fail miserably IF he creates a radio show that isn’t fun for listeners. For a radio show to succeed, entertainment has to come first, politics second. Think about it- could George Will or Cal Thomas do what Rush does? Not likely! Even people who agreed with every word they said would start tuning out before long.

If Franken creates an entertaining program with an engaging host, he can build a successful liberal talk show. But my hunch is, Franken thinks that radio listeners are stupid sheep who mindlessly believe whatever they hear on the radio. He thinks all he has to do is put an articulate, preachy liberal on the radio, and everyone will be spellbound (“why, he’s right! What could I have been thinking of, listening to Sean Hannity!”).

If he takes that approach, he’ll bomb, just as Mario Cuomo did.

december, indeed you nailed it in the OP when you gave the Lynn Samuel example. A “good sport” is not ratings-friendly. As you said in the later post, it’s about being able to nail the other side and make your followers say to themselves “gee ain’t it fun to stomp on 'em?”

And hey, the Rightwingers do a lot of complaining about problems. Only their take on it usually can be resumed as: “those stupid liberals insist on silly policies! look how silly! laugh at them!”. While over on this other side it’s usually a lot of handwringing, breast-beating and wailing of woe about how the ascent fo conservatism means Evil is triumphant.

Just about the only person in the “liberal” side I can see having the right attitude would be James Carville, IMO.

You’re absolutely right. I once heard Carville in person speaking to a conservative audience of insurance executives. He totally charmed them, even while saying things they didn’t want to hear.

I don’t think you’ve ever answered this one, december, but this post requires me to ask again: What color is the sky in your world? These programs are about the content of the conservative agenda? Why then is the topic nearly entirely about how bad Clinton was, or how bad current democrats are, or how morally indignant we should be about this liberal thought or behavior or that one? These shows are about a positive discussion of conservative ideology in the same way that reality television is real.

Liberalism revolves around complaining about problems? Yeeesh. I noticed in your post about why you are a republican that nearly all of your reasons had to do with “the democrats are this or that.” These conservative talk shows succeed because the hosts make asinine complaints about the things that the self-described dittoheads want to hear.

These guys are cheerful and upbeat in the same manner that GW Bush is cheerful and upbeat when speaking about employing the death penalty.

It’s december’s fantasy world, we’re just living in it.

I suspect that the reason the Democrats can’t get any effective opposition to Rush and company is that you can’t make a convinvcing demagogue as a centrist. Despite the claims of the OP, the Democrats are hardly “Liberals” in the since of Europe (or even the U.S. in the 1930s). A Michael Harrington would have been far enough off to the Left to oppose the Rush fringe, but he was too scholarly and too polite to make it in the market.

If the Democrats were actual Liberals, rather than centrists, they might have a chance, but then, the U.S. (including most of its “Left”) is so far to the Right on any objective scale that a genuine Liberal would be dismissed as a crank.

Most of the GOP is also centrist, but with a nation that leans to the Right, the fringe of the GOP at least appears to be within sight of reality, (not that Limbaugh or O’Reilly actually get within hailing distance, but they are visible from the center).

If either the Democrats or the Left (two separate groups) want to put up a spokesman, Moore might be able to pull it off. He did not do that badly on TV (and the management of the so-called “Liberal” media played a number of games that reduced his ratings). I would no more believe Moore than I would Limbaugh, but he might be able to garner the ratings in a phone-in show.
Carville might also pull it off–he certainly has the go-for-the-throat mentality necessary. On the other hand, Carville is probably making enough money (and wielding enough power) to be uninterested in the job.

There would be plenty for a liberal rabble-rouser to talk about, like for example the idea that Republican tax policies amount to an attack on the middle class. Plenty of fodder there.

Plenty of fodder in Republican efforts to undermine environmental protections.

Plenty of fodder in our soon-to-be-exploding budget deficit (thanks to Republican tax cuts), and the seeming lack of Republican concern over the looming Medicare and Social Security crises.

A liberal attack dog would have no shortage of material.

Liberal radio has not succeeded in the past because it has lacked someone who understands the entertainment aspect of the job, IMHO. Carville would be the best man for the task. I’ll take a wait-and-see attitude on Al Franken. He would certainly be entertaining. My fear is that comes off as a bit too smug to appeal to most folks. Carville is more of a “man of the people.”

All of this assumes these guys even manage to get on the air. It is my understanding that they are hitting some stone walls with station owners. They may be relegated to a few low-power stations here and there.

This just does not and can not explain the current state of affairs. There are dozens of conservative personalities in radio that are successful. My area (boston, MA) has many good local conservative radio hosts, as I am sure many other areas do, in addition to the nationals like Orielly, Rush, Dr. Laura, Hannity, etc.

It just doesn’t make sense to claim that no liberals have been successful because they aren’t intertaining. It’s quite an amazing coincidence that every liberal who tries, isn’t intertaining, and every conservative somehow seems to be.

The problem isn’t the personalities, it’s the message. The liberal media for a long time has left a segment of America not hearing their point of view. They had to go somewhere.

Theres that right wing conspiracy again. :rolleyes:

If the right is so powerful it can prevent the left from getting radio shows then why does it allow the continued domination of the mainstream media without exerting it’s massive controlling influence? :smack:

**Yes, they could certainly attack the Republicans on this issue. But, when it came to discussing the tax issue itself, could they justify higher taxes as an end in itself (as conservatives argue for low taxes)? Tax increases are not not a happy subject for most people.

This is news to me. Do you have any more details or any cites? Are the “stone walls” due to difference in politics or to station owners’ doubts as to the shows’ success?

There was an article in the Atlanta paper discussing the difficulties these guys are having getting their foot in the door with station owners. I’ll see if I can find the article on line.

Are they having problems because the station owners don’t think liberal talk radio would have traction with listeners? That was the position taken by the station reps interviewed. But then what would you expect them to say? That they just don’t want to air opposing views?

It doesn’t take a “conspiracy” to keep left-of-center radio off the air, just a convergence of like-minded conservative radio owners and station managers.

Liberals already have their own network. It’s called PBS.

I doubt if it will ever be self-supporting, as Rush Limbaugh is required to be, but I suppose that could be seen as consistent with their views. Liberals want the government to subsidize selected failures; conservatives tend more to the free market side of things. So Rush has to attract advertisers, while Bill Moyers can approach the government with his hand out.

I think those who mention the necessity of a sense of humor have pegged it. Rush succeeds because he is funny. If Franken wants three hours of liberal tirades a day, he is going to get tuned out. That gets real stale real soon.

Good luck to him. NPR is too deadly dull and preachy, and I don’t care anything about jazz, so a real alternative that can stand on its own might be a good idea.


Well, if a radio station has 12 straight hours of conservative programming that’s what the audience wants.

They can’t throw Carville in between Rush and Oreilly and expect the listeners to not change the channel.

This seems reasonable to me. You could just as easily accuse MTV of agism because they only play new videos, and not stuff from the 70’s.

No need to argue for “higher taxes.” Just argue for fairer taxes. For example: Republicans want to make permanent the elimination of the estate tax. This leads me to wonder: why isn’t inheritance taxed the same way as income? Let’s say I (as a member of the working middle class) have to go out and work for $50K a year. That money (which I worked to earn gets taxed as income. But then if someone receives an inheritance of $50 million that they didn’t work for, that income would not be taxed. Where’s the fairness in that? Ditto taxes on dividends. Ditto taxes on capital gains. If you’re going to tax the income I earned by the sweat of my brow, then you sure as hell ought to tax these other forms of income.

But that’s a matter for another thread (or for James Carville to tackle).

It’s ironic that the only way a liberal radio network survives is because of goverment funding.

The article I mentioned was in Wednesday’s (2/19) Atlanta Journal/Constitution. Unfortunately, the AJC charges a fee for online viewing of their articles, so you’ll either have to dig up (and pay for) the article yourself, or take my word for its contents. (Unless some other poster has a copy of Wednesday’s AJC lying around.)

It is hardly surprising (and certainly not ironic) that persons of wealth and power (radio station owners) support a Republican agenda that protects their wealth and power.