Politics as Entertainment

One of the most disturbing trends in American politics has been the increasing rise of conservative pundits who I don’t think are honestly mistaken or lying for tactical political advantage, but rather just making stuff up because they don’t really care about political activism at all and are just trying to get attention. Certainly that’s the impression Andrew Breitbart always gives off, and Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker profile only tends to confirm it.

Consider his master theory of American politics:

Breitbart, who is Jewish, grew up in Brentwood, an affluent part of Los Angeles. He seems a familiar bicoastal type until he starts explaining his conviction that President Barack Obama’s election was the culmination of a plot, set in place in the nineteen-thirties by émigré members of the Frankfurt School, to take over Hollywood, the media, the academy, and the government, with the aim of imposing socialism. “He’s a Marxist,” Breitbart says of Obama. “His life work, his life experience, his life writings, and now his legislative legacy speak to his ideological point of view.” […]

“A lot of these guys I was reading about in my American Studies class were German and Italian social scientists from the University of Frankfurt,” he says. “Once you see what their plan was, you realize that it was implemented. It was taking over the cultural institutions. The left is smart enough to understand that the way to change a political system is through its cultural systems. So you look at the conservative movement — working the levers of power, creating think tanks, and trying to get people elected in different places — while the left is taking over Hollywood, the music industry, the churches. They did it through academia; they did it with K-12. You look back at the last forty years, and people didn’t put up a fight.” In 1992, Breitbart voted for Ross Perot. Thereafter, he has voted Republican.


This just doesn’t even begin to make sense. Absolutely nobody believes that the 1980s — the Age of Reagan, as you’ll recall — were a decade of left-wing political triumph in the United States. It’s not so much wrong or dishonest as it is silly, about as silly as the idea that Barack Obama represents the working-out of a Frankfurt School plot. And there often seems to be a competition between Breitbart and Glenn Beck to construct the more baroque conspiracy theory, and they’re both having enormous success doing it. Unfortunately, the country is facing a lot of difficult policy problems in both the short- and medium-term and at just the moment when we could use a better-informed public we’re getting the reverse, and by design.