Presidential Candidate Ron Paul is beginning to challenge the talk radio conservative hegemony. His appearance on yesterday’s Sean Hannity show was a case in point.
A few weeks ago I used the term, Conservative Establishment, to describe the manistream conservative thinking promoted by popular giants in talk radio. The leading trio, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin, Noon – 3 PM, 3 – 6 PM, and 6 – 9 PM respectively are hugely popular among grass roots conservatives around the country. If one wants to add Glenn Beck, 9 AM – Noon, to that mix, the airwaves are practically covered with highly opinionated conservative voices for almost an entire day. I called them idea sanctioners because people listen to these giants to have their conservative opinions validated. These gentlemen thus, have a lot of power across Conservative America.
Each of these gentlemen has been critical of Congressman Ron Paul in the past. Limbaugh has said he believed Ron Paul was destroying the Republican Party. Hannity has called Paul a kook and has often discounted his opinions. Levin, similarly, is disrespectful to Paul and refers to him as Ru-Paul, a confusing perjorative. In an on-line query of his listeners, Levin conspicuously left Ron Paul out of a list of presidential options. Glenn Beck has recently done some schticks ridiculing Paul’s supporters. These guys do not like Ron Paul.
Recently there have been a few cracks in the facade as Limbaugh and Hannity (above clip) have begun to signal that they may be open to Paul’s ideas. We are also starting to see the disagreement getting a little more personal. Hannity pointed out during the Paul interview last night that he did not appreciate Paul calling him a statist, a charge that Paul, who prefers dialogue to conflict, tried to deflect.
Ron Paul is seeing a surge in popularity and he is accumulating a substantial money war chest. My guess is these commentators fear Paul’s power to influence and that could jeopardize their ratings if the winds begin to shift even further. Paul is showing signs that he is willing to engage in this battle of ideas. He has nothing to lose.
This rift reflects a philosophical difference that is being debated before the public at large. The talk radio heads are Reagan Conservatives who essentially believe one can be an economic libertarian and also a military interventionist. Congressman Paul, on the other hand, believes libertarianism does not end at a nation’s borders. Paul is an ideologically consistent libertarian. Paul believes militarism is statism in the same way that welfare is statism. Paul wants to defend the country without being adventurous overseas. He does not believe in nation building.
For the leaders of the Conservative Establishment to embrace Ron Paul’s platform they would need to adjust a significant aspect of their conservative identity. They would need to moderate their hawkish positions with respect to interventionism abroad. They would need to acknowledge that their unyielding support for unending military spending has to change. It is a difficult thing to do. Afterall, this military interventionist belief has defined who they are for decades.
For Paul to win the Republican nomination he either needs to change their opinions or build up enough of a base of support within the party outside of the talk radio establishment. My gusss is the radio heads fear the second option.
Kevin Kervick is author of Discovering Possibility: A Common Sense Conservative Manifesto.