Prager And Medved Talk Radio And TIME'S Question: Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?

During the day, I usually listen to a couple of radio talk show hosts.  I remember the late 1980’s when Rush Limbaugh was growing into a national phenomenon. All of my life before, there had been no media representation of conservative thought, save William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” a relatively academic idea exchange on PBS, to draw militant ideologues like myself. Meanwhile, most of the world was busy about unrefined little things like…oh, designing, building, serving, teaching…you know, generally making the world’s most productive and prosperous society run. But, common-sense conservatism in America was developing a discomforting little boil of pressure from the liberal domination of pop-culture.

That’s not to say that most of the liberals that dominated it were deviants set out to destroy society. No, it’s mainly that their occupations in media and education were not so hostage to unforgiving realities. If you plug an error into the design of a construction project, collapsing efforts will correct that error very quickly. On the other hand, you can spray erroneous ideas onto the public for quite a long time, especially if you suppose you are doing the poor uncultured people a favor. But, the appearance of Limbaugh was an initial lance of this irritation in conservative minds. And, today of course, conservative outlets multiply with cable and satellite television, the Internet, and many other conservative talk radio programs.

I also appreciated Limbaugh’s arrival in broadcast media, and regularly listened for about a decade. The error and impracticality of liberal ideas was not new to me, but it was refreshing to hear a voice in popular media ACTUALLY SAY IT!  But, about ten years ago now, I stopped listening to Limbaugh. After over a decade on the air and years of a Republican majority in the US Congress, he was still majoring on how dumb Democratic ideas were. Yeah sure, but how are we going to teach people better ones? We need positive ideas and explanations, not just negative ones. Some talk radio hosts are even sharper in the criticism of leftists. But, I listen to Dennis Prager and Michael Medved’s contiguous programs on the Salem Radio Network, usually streaming while I’m at the computer.

These are both very thoughtful conservative Jewish men who very often and usually peacefully entertain and engage with liberal guests and callers. I’m a Christian and Salem is a Christian network, but obviously they know thoughtful talent when they see it. Medved is remarkably historically informed and of course knows popular culture as a longtime film critic. But, my favorite is Prager, who simply focuses on the practical and logical implications of ideas.

I fully endorse two of Prager’s main axioms: 

1) He judges people by the morality of their actions, not the correctness of their opinions.  Good ideas are true rather than false. Good people are decent, rather than indecent. It is possible for people with a wrong idea to be decent, and for people with a right idea to be indecent. Particularly with respect to individuals in politics, I can feel certain they are right or wrong but not quite so certain of their decency. In any case, if you reflexively charge them with indecency, you probably have hurt the case for your opinion of their ideas with roughly half of the people.

2)  Prager’s other motto is, “I prefer clarity over agreement.”  You make your case and I’ll make mine, but let’s be clear on the basis of our disagreement. If you can boil down to that, that will be the clearest ground from which one can make a clear decision. Philosophers deliberate on the substance and accuracy of ideas. One hundred years ago, the England-educated Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein described the primary task of the philosopher as that of clarifying questions. Otherwise you may well have as we so often see today, people arguing past and perhaps insulting each other. Dig up your assumptions until you can agree that at bottom (other disagreements may be derivative). How could I not love that?

Prager often refers to the destruction that higher education has been prevailing on American minds in recent generations. He often refers to ideas that are so bad that you have to have a graduate degree to believe them. That is something of a restatement of George Orwell’s repeated assertion that some ideas are so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them. I would only add that today at least, I don’t think a graduate degree necessarily makes one an intellectual.

On Medved’s show Monday, he had Dr. Richard Brake of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which just released, "The Shaping of the American Mind: The Diverging Influences of the College Degree & Civic Learning on American Beliefs." Most Americans believe that America is a model of freedom and justice. But the more extensive your education beyond high school, the more likely you are to disbelieve that and to believe that America corrupts otherwise good people. There is a summary at FOX News’s website: "Dumb and Dumber? What Are College Kids Learning About Our Country?"

TIME magazine wrote a silly article in its last issue pondering whether liberals were smarter than conservatives. I said over twenty years ago that in the humanities and social sciences, the enterprise of American education has become to teach people something better than common-sense. Core conservative values are the wisdom of centuries about human nature and liberty.  But, ahhhh! That’s before our modern scholars learned better than that old-fashioned rubbish!


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