June 20, 2003

Checks and Balances

“At least once a day I'll get an email…accusing me of being a shill for the Bush administration. That's fine and part of the job. What's annoying is how so many people think I make money from Bush being in office. Somehow they think that having a rich Republican in the White House makes all Republicans richer. The truth is almost the complete reverse. If Howard Dean were elected president, I'd probably be able to pay off my mortgage a couple years early. Ditto if Gore had been elected. Similarly, the Nation seems to be thriving as an opposition tract now that Bush is in office. Criticizing the powers that be is always more lucrative than defending them in my business. In a sense, it's a nice little tribute to the sincerity of conservative and liberal journalists that we advocate against our interests most of the time.” – Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online.

This quote appeared in NRO’s “The Corner,” which is the blog portion of the website for the conservative magazine. It was not developed into a whole column. I certainly wouldn’t go head-to-head with one of my favorite writers if it were. Yet it’s worth looking at market forces that balance excesses and change. It’s a counter-intuitive way to look at trends but it’s valid.

Conventional wisdom dictates that trends are self-fueling. The first concept is that of critical mass. When just a few people have discovered the incredible musical talent of, say, Britney Spears, there is not much growth in her legions. Once it reaches a certain level, her songs get more airplay, her hair care gets more press coverage, and more people are exposed to her. The buzz self-fulfills, and the hit machine rolls full-tilt.

The other theory is the bandwagon effect. Mindless sheep will buy records of the newest opera diva because “everybody else is.” Without disputing either effect, I posit an E! Network corollary of Newton’s Third Law that favors forces contrary to popularity.

My level of annoyance with a particular, untalented celebrity rises pari passu with his or her popularity. The hundredth-runner-up of Teen Idol may be a terrible singer, I don’t know, but without constant exposure, I’m not too worried. Yet the success of Eminem and Madonna keeps me up at night. In the jazz world, anybody who makes any money at all is immediately despised by half the cognoscenti.

On a political level, I think Jonah’s point is well taken. An incredible arsenal of cable TV talking heads sprang to life during President Clinton’s impeachment imbroglio. I wouldn’t miss Chris Matthews’s “Hardball” in 1998 for a guitar fashion show with nude models. I discovered Ann Coulter, Barbara Olsen, Christopher Hitchens, and probably some people who were not blondes.

I didn’t notice the bull market for anti-Clinton polemics but it was there. I bought Hitchens’s “No One Left To Lie To,” (what a great title!) as well as books by Coulter, Olsen, Peggy Noonan, Laura Ingraham. I added “The Weekly Standard” to my magazine list and started watching the Fox News Network. The Vast Right Wing Conspiracy was well funded with or without Richard Mellon Scaife. The Clinton haters were funding revolution at every turn.

Now I rarely watch Hardball. Chris lost me during the war and his “Neocon Menace.” After W was inaugurated, I noticed that Bill O’Reilly was a demagogue. I still like Hitch and “The Weekly Standard” and I read Ann Coulter but realize that she is pushing the taste envelope.

I do believe in a new Republican Majority for this decade. Perhaps that augurs well for the often derided Al Franken Radio Network and GoreTV. I didn’t give these ideas a prayer but maybe Goldberg’s Law will come to play and “The Nation” readers and Michael Moore fans won’t be able to get enough anti-Bush rhetoric.


Last week: Austrian Economics in the Fast Lane

Next time: Mr. Schumpeter, Call Your Office!

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