A note to Cato Institute senior fellow Jerry Taylor: If you want to diss the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh cultists, best not do it on the National Review group blog. Writing on The Corner, Taylor makes a handful of perfectly sensible points about Limbaugh's "sub-Nixon popularity figures" and the sometimes "dubious logic and dodgy evidence being forwarded to buttress [talk radio hosts'] arguments." As Taylor notes, he's not against conservative talk radio but would simply rather have a smarter, "better conservative talk radio."
And that's when the fun started.
Katherine Jean Lopez, doyenne of the Corner and editor of National Review Online, says that what Taylor wrote was "reckless" and that it ill-serves the conservative movement to attack those who dumb it down, like Sean Hannity. Mark Steyn piles on, writing that Taylor is but an "obscure think-tanker" whose argument is "pathetic on its face, and an embarrassment to National Review," while defending the wisdom of radio host, NR contributor, and best-selling author Mark Levin. (It is, apparently, not embarrassing when Levin bellows that former National Review staffer David Frum is a "Canadian a-hole," a "jerk," and a "putz" who writes "pathetic books and pathetic articles.")
According to Lopez, "Rush and Sean are incredible assets for the conservative movement." For the sake of argument, if I grant Steyn and Lopez that Limbaugh and Hannity possess an extraordinary ability to convert non-believers to the conservative cause (and I am not convinced that they do), this still doesn't address Taylor's point that they frequently do so using dubious sources and dodgy arguments. Is it defensible that, on a recent episode of his Fox program, Hannity fawned on the blogger Pamela Geller, who argues that Barack Obama is the bastard child of Malcolm X? Or how about Hannity's ridiculous pre-election "documentary" Obama & Friends: The History of Radicalism, which featured an interview with Andy Martin, originator of the "Obama-as-secret-Muslim" emails, whose stated political goal is the "exterminat[ion] of Jew power in America"?
Regardless, Steyn argues, it's "conservatism's only mass outlet" and it is doing rather well. So what's there to complain about?
I wrote about Limbaugh and the battle for ideological orthodoxy on the right here.