Thursday, July 05, 2007
Philadelphia's Big Dope
Howard Eskin. An illuminating archetype of liberal smarts.
IRA.21.1-33. En route to a July 4th event yesterday, I happened to be listening to WIP/AM in Philadelphia and was treated to a kind of epiphany by talk host Howard Eskin. I'll tell you all about it, but first some background.
We've had all this blabber lately about the Fairness Doctrine, which gives liberals a chance to show off just how little they actually know about talk radio and its most influential conservative personalities. Since they can't bring themselves to listen to Limbaugh, Hannity, Hewitt, Ingraham et al, they make up their impressions of the shows out of whole cloth and never learn their mistake because all their liberal friends who also don't listen have exactly the same unsubstantiated impressions. That's why they keep saying the same things over and over again -- conservative talkers are fact-free propagandists, servile to Republican politicians, vicious to political opponents and callers who disagree, and sustained on the air by hopelessly uninformed idiots. Never mind that right-wing talkers have displayed an independence from the party line you'll look for in vain on Air America, which bores its few listeners to death with a changeless diet of Bush bashing and rote recitals of Dem talking points.
In recent years conservative talkers have attacked their party and their president for profligate spending, the Harriet Miers nomination, the Dubai ports deal, and almost nonstop on immigration. And their policy arguments are hardly fact free. Indeed, even the dumbest of the syndicated conservatives, Sean Hannity, helped sway the senate vote on the late immigration bill by humiliating Ohio Republican George Voinovich in an on-air debate that exposed the senator's disgraceful ignorance of the content of the bill and its projected costs, as well as his paranoid view of the conservative base.
It's true that Hannity may be among the sharper tongued of the most popular talkers, but he also has two regular features that illustrate the principal misconceptions liberals have about the medium. Hannity has a hate-line, a permanent voicemail system on which the liberals who despise him can record their hostility in whatever terms they prefer. Obscenities are bleeped, but the comments are otherwise unedited and used as a bumper going to and from commercials. Their abuse is far uglier and more personal than any Hannity deals out to callers. Hannity also has a weekly segment in which he sends one of his producers onto the streets of Manhattan to ask the residents of that overwhelmingly Democratic city questions like, "Who is the Vice-President of the United States?" and "How many senators are there in the U.S. Congress?" He often asks them about their party affiliation, too. The far-and-away most common answer to questions like the first two is "I don't know," and the usual answer to the third is "Democrat." The segment is only entertaining to Hannity's listeners because they do know quite a bit about politics and politicians. Otherwise, it would be about as soporific as watching endless reruns of the exact same episode of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" It gets dull anyway because after a while you know they don't know anything about the government or the Constitution and then they'll boast about having voted for Kerry.
The dirty secret that explains the popularity of conservative talk radio and the utter failure of liberal talk radio is that except for their high-profile elitists in academia, the mainstream media, and the public sector (10 percent of the base? 5 percent?), Democrats are much much more ignorant and uneducated than conservatives.
Which brings us to Howard Eskin. He hosts the number-one rated local talk radio show in Philadelphia, another overwhelmingly Democrat city. But WIP isn't talk radio of the Limbaugh-Hannity sort. It's sports talk. All sports all the time. Or it's supposed to be. The listeners are the people -- mostly, but not all, men -- who pay attention to nothing in public affairs but the fortunes of the Eagles, the Phillies, the Sixers, and the Flyers. To them it doesn't matter if Texas is burning, California is breaking apart along the San Andreas fault, and another European capital is counting bodies after the latest riot or terrorist attack; they are really steamed about the pitiful performance last night by the Phillies bullpen. And Howard Eskin is their favorite. Why? Most of the other WIP hosts are reasonably friendly and polite to callers. Eskin is merciless. He tells them they're stupid, he interrupts them, he interrogates them to expose further ignorance, he makes fun of their lame strategies and diagnoses, and he hangs up on them in mid-sentence, all while sounding continuously bored to death with his job and the teams it's his responsibility to cover. And they love him for it.
Eskin's only real expertise is in-depth knowledge of Philadelphia's teams and their histories. This he gets from being a born Philadelphian (nobody can mangle the pronunciation of the letter "P" -- as in 'WIP' -- like a Philly native). He also has learned the mysterious feature of talk radio Phil Hendrie has exploited to become a cult phenomenon. The people who call in to a radio show are a tiny subset of those who listen, and the callers will keep calling and keep being as stupid as you dare them to be. Eskin's bread-and-butter fans would never call him because his whole shtick is torturing callers for the entertainment of those who listen for the easy pleasure of feeling smart; i.e., smarter than the tireless victims who don't ever get the joke. Unlike Hendrie's application of this principle, which is creative, funny, and sometimes inspired, Eskin's exploitation of dim bulbs is akin to masturbation. His whole act is designed to solicit calls only from the dumbest rocks in the box, and putting them down strokes his own insecure ego on a continuous basis.
The real genius of Hendrie, who makes up his own on-air guests and argues with callers as both host and guest, is that he makes no secret of what he's doing. He talks about his systematic deceptions on his show, sometimes at length, and he's even been known to perform the whole charade in front of a large audience. But the callers keep calling, outraged anew every day by the shocking positions taken by Hendrie's fictitious interviewees. Eskin is no genius and he never lets anyone in on the joke. Why? Because his non-calling listeners don't entirely get the joke either, that is, the part of it that's also laughing at them. Like Eskin, they're feeling smart because they're smarter than the inexhaustible parade of self-selecting numbskull victims. Unlike Eskin, they don't realize that he has just as much contempt for the listeners who don't have the guts to call. In his own mind, he's a smart guy because he's smarter than all of them. Could there be any shorter yardstick of intellect?
And so, you see, Eskin really is bored to death almost all the time. He talks about sports because it's his job, but even the idea of a radio audience that is obsessively concerned with sports and nothing else repels him. Groucho Marx once said he'd refuse to belong to any club that would have him as a member. That's Eskin's plight, too. Which explains why, every so often, he can't stop himself from doing what he did yesterday -- use his air time on WIP SportsTalk to rant about politics.
Eskin permitting himself to talk politics is a mistake. A HUGE mistake. He decided we would all benefit from hearing his views on Bush's commutation of the Libby sentence. As he rolled through his spiel, I realized I was finally hearing a pure example of what liberals claim conservative talk radio is -- fact-free propaganda delivered with maximum rhetorical abuse and so little relation to any foundation of learning, facts, or actual ideas that it becomes an oxymoron -- dead air that is nevertheless annoyingly unsilent. He kept referring to the commutation as a pardon, which it isn't. He raged repetitiously about the "appearance of corruption," without referencing a single definable act of corruption. He repeated ad nauseam his personal demand that George W. Bush should be impeached. "Impeached and removed." Impeached for what? Exercising a presidential prerogative that is clearly delineated in the Constitution? Removed how? By radio outrage? If he chooses to, the President of the United States is legally entitled to grant a full pardon to a child-raping serial killer and we can disapprove all we want, but he can't be impeached for it. At no point did he mention the Constitution, the mechanics of the impeachment process itself (indictment in the House, trial in the Senate, two-thirds majority required for conviction), any specific charges that might constitute an impeachable offense, or the inconvenient conflict-of-interest liberals have on the questions of perjury and pardons in the context of recent history, as laid out in a New Jersey newspaper editorial Eskin undoubtedly didn't, and wouldn't, read:
Reasonable people can debate whether the crime of perjury for which Libby was convicted warranted more or less than his sentence of 30 months in federal prison. But is it too much to ask the president’s critics to show at least a minimal respect for logic and consistency?...
[N]o GOPer is making as much noise as the chorus of the nation’s most prominent Democratic leaders, some of whom should have Googled Clinton’s commutation record before opening fire on Bush and his Libby decision.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, accused Bush of “betraying the American people” and then added that “he has abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice, he has failed to uphold the rule of law.”
Pelosi had a much different understanding of fairness, justice and the importance of upholding the law back in 1999, when Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 imprisoned members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution of disapproval, but Pelosi said she would have voted no had she been present for the tally. Pelosi was thus defending Clinton’s commutations of sentences received for seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to make bombs, bank robbery and illegal possession of stolen firearms, among other things. Between 1974 and 1983, FALN mounted numerous attacks against this nation’s police and military, killing six people and maiming many others.
Then there is Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., who saw in Bush’s Libby commutation “a clear signal that in this administration, cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Clinton touts her years as first lady among her qualifications for being president, but she has never publicly repudiated either her husband’s FALN commutations or his pardons of Susan McDougall, convicted of mail fraud, and Marc Rich, the stock speculator convicted of tax evasion. McDougall was a former Clinton business partner, and Rich was the former husband of Denise Rich, a major Clinton fundraiser, both of whom clearly qualify as Clinton cronies.
Read the whole thing, because it also includes fair criticism of Republican defenders of the commutation, although it should be noted that conservatives in particular are hardly unanimous in backing the president's decision. Some, indeed, despise it. They're against a president condoning lying under oath. Just as they were nine years ago. Go figure.
Of course, Howard Eskin would be exempt from this admonition if he had ever criticized Bill Clinton's perjuries and pardons in the same terms that he attacked George W. Bush, whom he declared, without a single factual citation of any kind, to be "the worst President in the history of the United States." Do you think he ever handed it out to Clinton like that? You be the judge.
Eskin exhibiting a rare (very) bashful smile.
What was funny as hell about the rant was that my internal prediction about it came immediately true. The first caller after his eight-or-ten minute solo tirade wanted to talk about the Phillies. Eskin brushed him off quickly and resumed his rant, waiting long minutes before the call board showed him a caller who wanted to talk politics.
The second caller agreed with Eskin about the "pardon." He cited what he'd heard from other people he knew who believed "in that right-wing stuff," because even they were saying Bush was incompetent. This inspired Eskin to shout that Bush was "incompetent, an idiot, the worst president in the history of the United States." Again.
That's when my better half reached out and changed the channel on the radio. "That's enough," she said. And she was right, as usual. So I can't prove to you that subsequent callers kept trying to reintroduce the one true topic, sports, and the despicable machinations of Phillies owners and Sixers management, etc ("Yeah, Bush is a big dumb a**hole, but do you think there's any chance the Sixers could get Iverson back?...), but I have an educated guess that Eskin didn't have a great deal more to add to his political analysis. For example, I found this gem -- from a lefty, no less, in May of this year -- in no time flat:
We had an interesting ride into the office tonight: We were bopping back and forth between the lunatic anti-immigrant ravings of Susanne LaFrankie on WPHT -- "possibly the greatest crisis facing this country" -- and WIP's Howard Eskin, who was having one of his occasional "political" shows, in which he was (mostly) anti-Bush on the privacy stuff.
We have very mixed feelings when Eskin goes political. Despite the stereotypes about "sports guys," most of the talkers on WIP range from center-left to flaming-lib, and Eskin is no exception, so we usually agree with his broader point. George W. Bush is, as Howard would say, "a dope." [emphasis added]
But the devil in in the details. And when it comes to facts about American politics, Eskin has less information than your cab driver who just arrived here from Uzbekistan three weeks ago. Tonight, we switched over just as a caller was comparing what's going on the Bush administration to George Orwell's "1984," but Eskin wasn't sure he'd go that far.
"That book came out, what, about 15 years ago?," Eskin asked.
The caller seemed stunned -- pausing for a moment before noting that in fact Orwell published it in the late 1940s... (To be exact, 1949 -- here's Wikipedia's article on the book.)
We would have been speechless -- especially because "about 15 years" ago would have been 1991, or seven years after the real 1984. It's very hard to write a futuristic novel about a time that was two-thirds of a decade earlier. If Orwell had written "1984" 15 years ago, he would have had to put in chapters about the Cubs' collapse in the NL playoffs and a whole riff on Walter Mondale. Probably wouldn't have been as good a book.
Then there's the whole problem of Orwell dying in 1950, but we won't even go there.
Suffice it to say that Howard has a large "memory hole."
We come full circle. The author of this blog item is obviously one of the 5 or 10 percent of the Democrat base which works so hard to maintain the image that lefties are smarter, better informed, and better educated than Rush Limbaugh's ditto-heads. The emotion on display is embarrassment. What's missing is any honest insight about what it means. My own belief is that in Howard Eskin and his sports ditto-heads we can get a glimpse of the real Democrat base, people who pay no attention whatever to politics until some local or categorical issue (health care, ethnic entitlements, the economy) induce them to go to the polls on voting day. They vote for Democrats because Democrats promise them the most and are ever so much better at demonizing the evil rich Republicans. In fact, they're so ignorant that they don't even know how often their preferred political party is working against their own interests in day-to-day politics. (Where is Jesse Jackson to declare his outrage that illegal aliens who work for less than minimum wage are directly increasing the already sky-high 9.7 percent unemployment rate of African-American males? He's greenmailing corporations. Where is NOW to protest the same catastrophic effect on unskilled single mothers? They're promoting lesbian marriages on TV. Where is organized labor to denounce precisely the same impact on union membership and bargaining clout? They're working out how to funnel more money under the table to Dem candidates. Phooey.)
There are lots and lots of these people, Democrats by pitiful, traditional default, but they don't want to listen to political talk radio at all. Ever. When you don't even know the names of your own congressman and U.S. senators, how can you possibly care about specific provisions of a bill or policy being chewed to death by procedural maneuvers in the Congress? Howard Eskin is, in this instance, simply a first among equals (that's primus inter paribus for you elitist lefties), the figurehead spokesman for a bunch of know-nothing, do-nothing idiots who think they are smart because if you asked them, what do you suppose they would tell you?
Liberal talk radio already exists, and it's enormously popular. It consists of NPR for the privileged few and Sports Talk for the immense dumb majority. If you're a lib and you want to experience the paradise of equal time for your side, just work your way along the AM dial till you hear the name of the major league baseball team nearest you. (You can look your team up on the internet if you don't know who it is). You'll be home then. And they probably have their own ignorant, ill-tempered, arrogant clone of Howard Eskin. Enjoy.
Thanks, Howard. It all makes sense now.