At Large July/August 2004

I Agree With Me

When was the last time a conservative talk show changed a mind?

Coulter begins her book thus:

Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Everyone says liberals love America, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy.

Now, there's a certain truth in what she says. But it's what's called a "poetic truth." And it's the kind of poetic truth best conveyed late in the evening after six or eight drinks while pounding the bar. I wasn't in a bar. I was in my office. It was the middle of the day. And I was getting a headache.

Who's Looking Out for You? is not as loud as Treason. But there's something of the halftime harangue at the team just in the use of the second-person pronoun.

The answer to O'Reilly's title question could be condensed in the following manner: "Nobody, that's who. The fat cats aren't. The bigwigs aren't. The politicos aren't. Nobody's looking out for you except me, and I can't be everywhere. You've got to look out for yourself. How do you do that? You look out for your friends and family. That's how. And they look out for you. And that's the truth, Bud."

We've all backed away from this fellow while vigorously nodding our heads in agreement. Often the fellow we were backing away from was our own dad.

O'Reilly casts his net wide in search of a nodding, agreeing audience. He embraces people driving poky economy cars ("not imposing gas mileage standards hurts every single American except those making and driving SUVs") and people with romantic memories of the liberalism of yore ("the gold standard for public service was the tenure of Robert Kennedy as attorney general"). He positions himself as a populist worried about illegal aliens' getting across the border and taking our jobs. (I'm worried about illegal aliens' not getting across the border and leaving us with jobs, such as mowing the lawn and painting the house.) And O'Reilly reaches out to the young by prefacing each chapter with lyrics from pop music groups that are, as far as I know, very up-to-date, such as Spandau Ballet. But the person that O'Reilly's shouting at is still, basically, me: "If President Hillary becomes a reality, the United States will be a polarized, thief-ridden nanny state ..."

Does the left have this problem? Do some liberals feel as if they're guarding the net while their teammates make a furious rush at their own goal? NPR seems more whiny than hectoring, except at fundraising time. There's supposed to be a lot of liberal advocacy on TV. I looked for things that debased freedom, promoted license, ridiculed responsibility, and denigrated man and God—but that was all of TV. How do you tell the liberal parts from the car ads? Once more I resorted to books.

To answer my question I didn't even have to open Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. But having done so, I found these chapter headings: "Ann Coulter: Nutcase," "You Know Who I Don't Like? Ann Coulter," and "Bill O'Reilly: Lying Splotchy Bully."

Michael Moore's previous book was Stupid White Men, titled in a spirit of gentle persuasion unmatched since Martin Luther, that original Antinomian, wrote Against the Murderous and Thieving Hordes of Peasants. Moore's new book, Dude, Where's My Country?, contains ten chapters of fulminations convincing the convinced. However, Moore does include one chapter on how to argue with a conservative. As if. Approached by someone like Michael Moore, a conservative would drop a quarter in Moore's Starbucks cup and hurriedly walk away. Also, Moore makes this suggestion: "Tell him how dependable conservatives are. When you need something fixed, you call your redneck brother-in-law, don't you?"

Arguing, in the sense of attempting to convince others, seems to have gone out of fashion with everyone. I'm reduced to arguing with the radio. The distaste for political argument certainly hasn't made politics friendlier—or quieter, given the amount of shouting being done by people who think one thing at people who think the same thing.

But I believe I know why this shouting is popular. Today's Americans are working harder than ever, trying to balance increasing personal, family, and career demands. We just don't have time to make ourselves obnoxious. We need professional help.

P. J. O'Rourke is a correspondent for The Atlantic. His most recent book is Peace Kills (2004).
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