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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Thursday, April 27, 2006


What's best for you

posted by Aziz P. at Thursday, April 27, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
Steven has a post at Red State that argues that liberals have a "I know what's best for you" mentality. He also points to the BART system in San Francisco, supposedly low sales numbers for Marko's book Crashing the Gate, and declining radio ratings for liberal network Air America, as examples.

I certainly agree that the "what's best for you" mentality is antithetical to what I would broadly call the American Way of Life. I disagree as to how balanced the distribution of that behavior is along the political spetrum, however - it's less of a political impulse, in my opinion, and more of a simple failing of normal human behavior. It just manifests in different ways under different overlaying ideologies.

That said, the BART ridership statistics show a pretty clear increasing trend. The total cost doesn't seem particularly crazy to me either - less than $1.7 billion, about half from a bond referendum passed back in 1962 for general infrastructure improvements, and another big chunk from toll revenues (which I think is quite reasonable).

The Katy Freeway project right here in Houston will cost about 2.7 billion and is almost entirely funded from federal grants. That is, at taxpayer expense.

If we are to make generalizations about democrats based on how the SF Bay Area chooses to fund its infrastructure projects, what should we conclude about Republicans given Houston's freeway addiction? It seems that commuters from Katy - despite strong interest in commuter rail - are also being told what's best for them - drive to work, and spend 1.5 hours on the road. I speak from personal experience here.

Liekwise, what does book sales numbers really tell us about anything? As Kos points out, Drudge's numbers are badly skewed. The book has only been out for three weeks, and in addition to the 3600 copies that Drudge mentions, has also sold 5000 copies in advance orders (the "special" edition - I bought one copy myself). Take into account the online retailers and the independent bookstores (again not represented in Drudge's estimate) and the total surpasses 10,000. Distributors have ordered another 50,000 copies and the book has already gone through three printings.

So what? what does any of this mean? How are we to make any meaningful conclusion about Democrats, the "Left", politics, America, etc from this? All it means is that Drudge's numbers are meaningless.

As for Air America, I can't listen to it, it's the same garbage that is on conservative talk radio for the most part. Same sheiss, different spin. Whether Drudge is accurate about their ratings is irrelevant to me.

However, Air America isn't the only liberal talk radio game in town. In fact, the real liberal power player (aside from Howard Stern, who single-handedly obliterates the thesis that liberal issues have no market on the airwaves), is "Big" Ed Schultz. From his bio:

A Virginia native, Ed was lured to the Plains on a football scholarship at Moorhead State in Moorhead, Minnesota. He became a high-profile athlete and an All-American quarterback. After taking a shot at playing professional football, he returned to Fargo, North Dakota, where he put his talents to work as a sportscaster. He spent nearly 15 years providing play-by-play and color commentary for local teams, and serving as Sports Director and Anchor for WDAY-TV (ABC), prepping him for his natural transition to talk radio host on KFGO 790-AM, in Fargo.

Ed launched "News and Views," a regional talk show in 1992. His fearless approach to topics and innate ability on radio quickly catapulted him to the top of the ratings chart. Ed was the lead talent for KFGO AM which won numerous awards including "The Marconi" (News/Talk/Sports Station of the Year), "The Peabody” in 1997, and two individual "Eric Sevareid" Awards (First place Talk/Large Market) in 2002 & 2003.

Big ed was a very conservative talk radio host at first but has shifted leftwards without apology. In Houston you can only get him late at night, but his show is imensely popular and his ratings are ahead of Limbaughs in many markets (I can't find hard numbers). There was a interesting piece at that discusses Big Ed, with this comment:

If you haven't sampled Schultz, he's worth sampling, no matter what your political views. If you're quickly switching the dial and get him you'd almost swear at first that you have Rush Limbaugh because there are some similarities in voice tone and speech pattern, but the accents — and the ideas — are quite different.

One Schultz's main strengths is that he's willing to talk to virtually any caller, even (you might say especially) those with whom he disagrees. And disagree he certainly will, usually respectfully, thoughtfully and strongly. Schultz recently took a blast of heat from listeners by opening up both barrels on Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean for Dean's controversial remarks about Republicans — he argued that they were counterproductive (as this site has repeatedly argued) — and for not doing better to match GOP funds.

Schultz also made clear when he talked to Dean about his ire over Dean not returning his calls and not going on his show earlier. Schultz was accused by some callers (and on some weblogs) of not being a true liberal. Actually, Schultz is a liberal but he's a pragmatic one who runs his radio show the way you can see he would like to see the Democratic party be run: by getting the ear of and making his case to centrists and some Republicans versus simply preaching to the same, already-convinced group of people over and over again.

I am sure that there are many progressives who do indeed think Air America is some kind of "antidote" to the "poison" of right-wing talk radio and therefore do indeed want YOU to listen to it. But they would also be listening too, and the fact that they aren't suggests more that they were a minority to begin with. After all, most liberals I know prefer NPR over Air America for teh same reasons I do - they find as much fault with the format of righty talk radio as they do the content - and that's why Big Ed has gained si much popularoty rather than the ideological copy of the right that is Air America's niche.

Aside. Please allow me to me plug the Chris Baker Show in Houston as the best radio talk on the planet (he happens to be conservative, but I am allowed to like radio based on its value and discussion rather than its political leanings).


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.