I got an insightful email from D.E.L. that I thought I might share:
One interesting thing about how much Fox news and friends are covering these tea parties is that it’s illustrative how much conservatism has been transformed from a political movement into an entertainment demographic. Political movements, I would think, are defined by a common set of semi-coherent policies and proposals that movement sympathizers hope to see implemented by government. Entertainment demographics are defined by shared tastes or predilections that media companies can target for ratings.
The GOP has abandoned the business of coming up with and articulating a political platform, opting instead to host and promote counter-cultural parties that seem strange and foreign to the vast majority of their co-nationalists. Then, Fox, Glenn and Rush cover these events relentlessly because it’s an effective way of getting the attention of a specific demographic and boosting ratings. As for the rest of us, when we think of conservatives we no longer think “fiscal responsibility” or “national security”; rather, we see one more alternative lifestyle choice among many — and a very odd one at that.
You hear a lot these days that Republicans are “in disarray.” But they’re not, really. It’s just that the way our political institutions work, a congressional minority party doesn’t generate a high-profile leader. Now you combine this leadership vacuum with the fact that the right has developed a very robust ideological media apparatus on talk radio and on Fox News and you have a problem. In effect, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are more prominent public figures than are John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, to say nothing of legislators who might actually be appealing figure. And since only a tiny minority of Republican members of congress are willing to suffer the dread “RINO” tag, the vast majority of elected officials seem to feel the need to kowtow to the whims of conservative movement media leaders.
The problem is that the incentives facing a media figure are very different from the incentives facing a politician.
A politician needs, basically, a majority. And the decisive votes are bound to come from people who don’t like politics much or really care about it. For a media figure, however, a much smaller audience than “half the people” would still constitute enormous success. But you need to appeal, intensely, to the small minority of people who care enough about politics to bother watching, reading, or listening to political commentary.