Conservatives are from radio. Liberals are from…?

Nate Silver is spot-on in saying that conservatives have been rendered unpersuasive by their accustomed medium, talk radio. But if conservatives are from talk radio, where are liberals and moderates from?

By the dog, Nate Silver is smart. His latest post is spot-on in suggesting that conservatives have forgotten the art of persuasion by burrowing too deep into the habits of talk radio. As they say, read it all.

Like most fascinating theories, this one needs to spread its wings by expanding from a single insight into a parlor game. (About 80 percent of the best political theory consists of profound and well-argued parlor games: speculations and arguments about what characteristically goes with what. Well-known instances include Plato’s Republic, Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, Hume’s History of England, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and anything by Rousseau.)

So: is the conservative medium is talk radio, what’s the liberal medium? And how about moderates? Libertarians? Answer below the jump.

The liberal medium is, of course, the written periodical. The New York Times is to liberalism what Rush Limbaugh is to conservatism (draw your own conclusions). Extended political arguments in print are, of course, a minority taste. So liberalism only morphed into a potentially majority “progressive” movement when it branched out into the accessible, lower-attention-span version of print: blogs (and Twitter, FaceBook, etc.–I’m told).

The moderate medium is old-fashioned TV news. If you like Jim Lehrer or whoever anchors the network newscasts these days, you’re a moderate. (And that’s the way it is.)

The libertarian medium is the doctrinaire treatise (or treatise pretending to be a novel). There is no liberal or conservative equivalent to The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. There are, of course, Marxist equivalents. This is one reason why sectarian libertarians and Marxists find arguing with each other more congenial than engaging with viewpoints that have real political importance. The two sides agree on what kind of thing political debate should aim to discover: the right Book.

The neoconservative medium is the political speech–provided that it’s by the President, so that it can be accompanied by leadership, i.e. killing lots of people with bombs. Speeches by mere candidates are “presumptuous”: they suggest a distressing tendency to endanger national unity by producing debate.

The wingnut “they’re all part of the conspiracy” medium is the print pamphlet.

As with all parlor games, this post is intended as outrageous, unfair, overgeneralizing–and productive of truth as a direct result of all that. Email me comments, or links to your own version, and we’ll keep this going.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.