In a really smart post, Ross Douthat considers whether conservatism benefits from Fox News. It seems clear to me (and Ross) that the rise of the FNC/Talk Radio machine has led to great political success in some respects for a rump right in dominating the discourse, but has led to concomitant and substantive shifts toward liberalism in actual policy. This is rather mischievously put here:

If you were feeling particularly unfair, you could probably make a chart linking Fox’s rising ratings to the renewed growth of government spending under Bush and Obama.

I don't think that's particularly unfair. Under Bush, the conservative media machine's partisan loyalty enabled the GOP to put domestic spending on steroids, launch two enormously expensive unending wars, drastically increase the power of the executive to trample on civil liberties, and added a huge unfunded entitlement, Medicare D. So while Fox was giddily celebrating power, conservatism was busy abandoning whatever policy principles it once had.

I also think the recession was far more brutal on the debt than it might have been because Bush et al had left the US no margin of error on deficits. They spent in the good times (like Blair and Brown in Britain) making the sudden downturn fiscally disastrous, and a stimulus more necessary and more damaging to the fiscal future. I have long believed that the knee jerk support for Bush from Fox, talk radio, National Review, the Weekly Standard, et al made government bigger, more wasteful, more utopian and less effective in the last decade. And that's why I can't quite take them seriously now that they are posing as small government absolutists as soon as a Democrat reaches the White House to clean up the mess.

By the way, I find Bush's lurch to the big spending left much more offensive than Obama's attempt to keep the ship afloat after the Great Recession. I don't believe it would have been better for the US and the world economy to spiral downward with massive bank failures in late 2008 and 2009. So sue me. I also believe that the health insurance reform was about as centrist a bill for universal care as you could get (but needs improvement and cost-vigilance) and that a winning party gets to pass what it ran on. For a Democrat, Obama is as moderate as it comes. So the powerful policy successes of the new president really do matter more than Glenn Beck's ratings. Back to Ross:

[G]iven the trajectory of conservatism across the last thirty years, I think the burden of proof here is on the partisans of Fox News and talk radio: It may be that conservative politics have benefited dramatically from the rise of a right-wing media-industrial complex, but there’s plenty of evidence pointing the other way. (The elite journals are another matter: It’s easy to point to major policy successes that were made possible by National Review, Commentary, The Public Interest, etc. But it’s much harder to do the same with Fox News.)

Really? Which policy successes came from these organs since 2000? I can think of only one issue they truly pioneered in that decade: the Iraq war. Everything else - rounding up illegals, barring gay marriage, and ending abortion, to name three - ended in horrible failure and long-term poisoning of the conservative brand. So name some policy successes that emanated from the conservative elite magazines, Ross. Not from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s - from the new millennium, when Rovian cynicism bested all policy comers. And Ross was far more cagey in his criticism of the right.

(Photo: Evan Agostini/Getty.)