Canaries are not very formidable birds, but they have their uses. For instance, coal miners learned over a century ago that when canaries gag and drop dead at the bottom of the cage, it’s a sign that maybe there’s something wrong with the air in the mine.
MSNBC is not a very formidable network, but its wheezing is similarly instructive. MSNBC’s slogan is “Lean Forward,” which has a robust sound to it. But it turns out the phrase is a more apt descriptor of how the Peacock Network’s mini-me is poised to teeter off its perch and plunge beak-first into the droppings-stained pages of the fading New Republic below.
MSNBC had thought it could mimic Fox News’s success from the left. The problem is that it never understood what Fox News is. MSNBC’s execs saw it through the prism of their own ideological bias and so ended up offering a left-wing caricature of a caricature. Contrary to myth, Fox (where I am a contributor) is in fact an actual news network, albeit with prime-time opinion shows. Meanwhile, a study by Pew found that MSNBC was 85 percent opinion.
The more salient point is that there’s such a small appetite for that opinion. As Josh Kraushaar of National Journal recently observed, Barack Obama has successfully moved his party to the left but has failed utterly to bring the rest of the country with him. In 2012, James Stimson, arguably America’s leading expert on U.S. public opinion, found that the country was more conservative than at any time since 1952.
The president is unbowed, of course. He’s unilaterally using — and abusing — the powers of his office to legalize illegal immigration, throw a wet blanket on cheap energy, and turn the Internet into a government-regulated utility. He has the support of his dwindling party and the equally dwindling mainstream media. But even here his policy agenda is as threadbare as his cultural legacy. A majority of Americans believe race relations have gotten worse since he was elected.
Meanwhile, the cultural Left has disengaged from mainstream political arguments, preferring instead the comforts of identity-politics argy-bargy. You judge political movements not by their manifestos but by where they put their passion. And on the left these days, the only things that arouse passion are arguments about race and gender.
For instance, the feminist agitprop drama The Vagina Monologues is now under fire from the left because it is not inclusive of men who believe they are women. Patricia Arquette was criticized from the right for her Oscar-acceptance rant about women’s wage equality, but the criticism paled in comparison to the bile from the left, which flayed her for leaving out the plight of the transgendered and other members of the Coalition of the Oppressed.
Such critiques may seem like a cutting-edge fight for the future among the protagonists, but looked at from the political center, it suggests political exhaustion. At least old-fashioned Marxists talked about the economy.
Of course liberalism isn’t dead; it’s just resting. But it certainly could use an exciting, charismatic savior to breathe new life and fresh thinking into its ranks. Thank goodness Hillary Clinton is waiting in the wings.
— Jonah Goldberg is a senior editor of National Review and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at [email protected] or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2015 Tribune Content Agency, LLC