Conservatives Get More Column Space Too

An interesting study from Media Matters points out that syndicated conservative columnists actually get more print space nationwide than progressive columnists.  Right wing domination of print as a media not only puts to bed the idea that there is a “criminal liberal media” that is trying to push for a permanent liberal orthodoxy (because even if there was, they would be doing an absolutely horrific job), but also completes a trifecta of power over radio, television, and now your local paper.

The reason for this is obvious, right?  Conservative ideas are more valuable.  Just like when liberals whined about not getting enough time on the radio, now that it is known that their print columnists aren’t getting as much column space as their conservative counterparts, it would seem that the marketplace of ideas has irrefutably chosen which ideology is the one of merit.

Not so fast bucko.

Much like the entire progressive movement, the concept of merit within the marketplace of ideas is significantly complex.  If that weren’t the case, then McDonald’s would be out of business, and you’d see “Five Guys” burger joints all over the place.  But you don’t, and it’s because of the fact that in the marketplace of ideas, something being better has little to do with success all too often.

In truth, what measures the success of anything when it enters the marketplace of ideas is its marketability.  Yes it must have some merit otherwise you would have a lot of people who buy, but upon finding out that the new product is crap, the entire enterprise would crumble to dust.

But quality doesn’t get you there, not remotely.  In the marketplace of ideas, which essentially is what political punditry is, quality only has to meet a certain standard so as not to be completely void of plausibility.  Beyond that, it’s all how easy is the product to sell.

Let’s take this concept and look at the broad strokes of both the conservative and progressive arguments.

One thing that makes the conservative argument so strong is the Bumper Sticker Syndrome.  It has long been thought that conservatives are better at packaging their message for mass consumption, but contrary to this belief in a subtle way, conservatism just naturally lends itself to good packaging as a result of a minimalist approach to moving parts.

Conservatism, in other words, isn’t particularly complex.

Further, much of the wisdom employed in conservatism often times resembles common sense, and therefore is more readily digestible to non wonks.

Let’s look, for instance, at the Global War on Terror ™.  There aren’t that many moving parts to it really.  Abroad, it appears to be enforced through military action upon terrorists, suspected terrorists, states that sponsor terrorism, and suspected states that sponsor terrorism.  Put more succinctly, “You’re with us or you’re against us.”

Here at home, fighting terrorism simply means hightened security, and ramped up surveillance.  On top of this, there is a relaxing of standards in regards to human rights, ostensibly for the purpose of information gathering from suspected terrorists.

On several levels this works.  Military action gives the public the sense that something is being done.  Hightened security gives the sense that we are free, or at least that our government is doing something to make us free, while at the same time both military action and relaxed human rights allows for a vicarious release of vengeful sentiment.  We’re getting even and we’re getting justice.

Conversely, the progressive approach to combatting terrorism is significantly more complex, has far more moving parts, and does not connect with people on a basic, righty tighty, lefty loosy kind of way.  It requires study and contemplation.

John Kerry, in an interview with the New York Times prior to the 2004 election, merely scratched the surface:

”I think we can do a better job,” Kerry said, ”of cutting off financing, of exposing groups, of working cooperatively across the globe, of improving our intelligence capabilities nationally and internationally, of training our military and deploying them differently, of specializing in special forces and special ops, of working with allies, and most importantly — and I mean most importantly — of restoring America’s reputation as a country that listens, is sensitive, brings people to our side, is the seeker of peace, not war, and that uses our high moral ground and high-level values to augment us in the war on terror, not to diminish us.”


”We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance,” Kerry said. ”As a former law-enforcement person, I know we’re never going to end prostitution. We’re never going to end illegal gambling. But we’re going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn’t on the rise. It isn’t threatening people’s lives every day, and fundamentally, it’s something that you continue to fight, but it’s not threatening the fabric of your life.”

Governor Bill Richardson, in a long and detailed foreign policy paper he recently penned goes into even further detail.

The United States also must lead the world in opening an ideological front in the war against Jihadism. There is a civil war within Islam between extremists and moderates, and the United States and its allies need to stop helping their enemies in that civil war. The United States needs to start showing, both through its words and through its actions, that this is not, as the Jihadists claim, a clash of civilizations. Rather, it is a clash between civilization and barbarity. The international community needs to present Arab and Muslim populations with a better vision than the apocalyptic fantasy of the Jihadists: a vision of peace, prosperity, tolerance, and respect for human dignity. There are a number of steps the United States can take to help accomplish this.

First and foremost, the United States must live up to its own ideals. Prisoner abuse, torture, secret prisons, and evasion of the Geneva Conventions must have no place in US policy. If the United States wants Muslims to be open to it, it should start by closing Guantanamo.

The United States also needs to pressure Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other friends in the Arab world to reform their education systems, which are incubators of anti-US sentiment. Moderate US Muslims must be given a louder, more systematic voice in US policy toward the Middle East so that they can speak the truth about the West and be heard by their fellow Muslims. The United States also must re-engage the Middle East peace process, as peace would deprive the Jihadists of their most effective propaganda tool. The sole superpower must use all its sticks and carrots to strengthen Palestinian moderates and to achieve a two-state solution which guarantees Israel’s security.

The United States spends more than US$2 billion per week on Iraq, but it has left its own cities, nuclear power plants, and shipping ports vulnerable to terrorist attack. Resilience, or the ability to recover from an attack, is an essential component of national defense, and it lowers the utility to the terrorists of attacking. The United States must spend more to recruit, equip, and train more first responders and to drastically improve public health facilities, which, five years after 9/11, are not ready for a biological attack. Homeland Security dollars should be allocated to where they are needed most—to the population centers and facilities that Al Qaeda targets.

The United States needs to lead the global fight against poverty, which is the basis of so much violence. By example and diplomacy, the United States can encourage all rich countries to honor their UN Millennium goal commitments. A Commission on the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, composed of world leaders and prominent experts, should be created to recommend ways of meeting Millennium commitments.

In this effort, the United States should lead donors on debt relief, shifting aid from loans to grants, and focus on primary health care and affordable vaccines. The World Bank must focus on poverty reduction, and the IMF must be more flexible regarding social safety nets. The United States should promote trade agreements, which create more jobs in all countries and which seriously address wage disparities, worker rights, and the environment. Together with other governments, the United States should pressure pharmaceutical companies to allow expanded use of generic drugs, and it should encourage public-private partnerships to reduce costs and enhance access to anti-malarial drugs and bed nets.

Most importantly, the United States should promote a multilateral Marshall Plan for the Middle East and North Africa. For a small fraction of the cost of the Iraq war, which has created so many enemies for the United States, the nation could make many friends. A crucial effort in fighting terrorism must be support for public education in the Muslim world. Many Muslim students have no educational opportunities except for madrassas, some of which teach Jihad. It must be a major component of US aid policies to poorer Muslim countries, as well as of US diplomacy with all Muslim countries, to take education out of the hands of those who preach violence. Development alleviates the injustice and lack of opportunity that proponents of violence and terrorism exploit. To those who say the United States cannot afford an aid program to build pro-American sentiment in the developing world, I say the United States cannot afford not to.

And even still, that doesn’t cover it all.  Both gentlemen hint at commonalities that run throughout the progressive movement.  For one when a major successful terrorist attack occurs, the manner in which you immediately react is excruciatingly important.  The goal of terrorist attacks acts both as an end and a means.  In an end, it is part of an ongoing ideological war within the minds of its leaders, as a means it is an attempt at recruitment, a grab for the right headlines and the right spotlight in order to be catapulted into prominence enough to forward the movement at hand.

By launching a full scale “with us or against us” “crusade”, it is reasonable to believe that this worked very much in the favor of the terrorists who attacked us.  It validated their actions, and has in part helped contribute to recruitment for the al Qaeda cause.  Launching an actual war with Iraq only made the situation worse.

The perception is that we are on a path to war against Islam, which not only energizes the Islamic radicals, but gives credibility to their own advertizing propaganda to the moderates who might otherwise turn away.

And what else might help moderates dip into extremism?  As Kerry and Richardson both point out, part of the fight against terrorism goes beyond physical altercation and involves foreign aid, and education.  What they are trying to say is that we need to be seen as a positive force in the lives of moderate muslims while at the same time working to minimize the kind of environments that foster terrorists.  In the movie No End In Sight we see a glimmer of this early on.  Economic sanctions placed on Saddam following the first Gulf War trickled down to impact the non ruling class the hardest.  In the absence of prosperity, they turned to fundamentalist Islam.  When we removed the iron fist that kept these hardcore factions in check, they were freed to do mass amounts of damage and harm, as well as saw the birth of AQI.

And with all this complexity comes another realization that doesn’t sit well with people who are looking for something to read while they are eating their cereal, or watching prime time television; there is no perfect one hundred percent answer.  You cannot completely get rid of terrorism, for as long as there are people and governments, there will be those people who are both vehemently opposed to governance in its current form, and morally skewed enough to exact acts of terror.

It is a reality of the human condition that cannot be fixed, but true or not, it does not play well with the participants in the marketplace of ideas.

Do you see the difference?  Just looking at the disparity in complexity, is it not understandable on that basis alone why one ideology might sell better than the other?  And this is not a slight to those who prescribe to the conservative faith.  Look, I’m a sucker for good packaging.  I buy things just because they are shiny.

Add to this the fact that progressives have a tendancy to agree far less than conservatives, and it’s no wonder conservatives tend to sell better.  But there should be no mistake made.  Because it is the easier of the two pills to swallow does not make the conservative movement better medicine.  The ultimate folly in modern conservatism is that while it offers to the public a simplification of the situation at hand, complete with simple solutions, the challenges those solutions are intended to meet are themselves highly complex and not so simple to face.

Of course, I am expected to defend my own ideology, but that is beside the point.  I’m not granting a wholesale pass to the progressive movement neither.  Instead, my simple stance is that because conservatism does better in the marketplace is no reason progressives should be discounted in the national debate.  After all, people may not be quite so willing to hear what we have to say, but it’s still worth listening to.

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