Can Conservative Comments from Bono and Ashton Kutcher Change the Culture?
Last night I had a chance to dine with some conservative bloggers, new media, and social-networking types, and once again the topic turned to winning the culture.
I won’t get into the specifics of our off-the-record discussion; instead, let me direct your attention to this blunt assessment from John Brodigan, one of the contributors over at Misfit Politics:
Today the new measuring stick of your conservatism is whether or not you want to defund ObamaCare which — in lieu of anyone explaining to me what the marketing plan is to appeal to people outside of our echo chamber — seems like just a ploy to fundraise and build mailing lists.
Nothing we’re doing is trying to engage the culture. Nothing we’re doing is winning hearts and minds, or challenging the view of what it means to be a Republican.
Then, one day, Ashton Kutcher gave a speech after winning an award.
He linked to this video, which has 3.1 million views. He continues:
Heritage (yes I realize they’re #DefundObamacare, but at least they’re trying to reach out) turned it into this:
They did the same with something Bono said recently:
Don’t get me wrong. I know neither guy is going to be showing up at a FreedomWorks event anytime soon. Granted Bono has always cared less about being a slave to liberal ideology and intransigence than he is about helping people, but Kutcher I’m fairly certain supported Obama and is probably going to have to do penance in the entertainment industry for having so many conservatives sing his praise. Just focus on their words. If you swapped out their pictures with one of Ronald Reagan or Marco Rubio, would you know it wasn’t one of their quotes?
I’m still chewing this over, and trying to decide whether this represents a necessary tactic in an era of celebrity-obsessed pop culture, or whether it’s just the latest version of the conservative tendency to instantly adopt and celebrate any celebrity who happens to echo some of our arguments.
After all, when we say it’s shallow and silly and superficial for Democrats to emphasize their Hollywood star supporters at their political conventions, and to hold campaign events with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z and such . . . we’re not wrong.
At the Democrats’ 2012 convention in Charlotte, noted policy wonk Eva Longoria offers a detailed critique of Mitt Romney’s policy and its ramifications for small businesses.
Politics may be entertaining at times, but politics and governing are supposed to be distinct from entertainment. Not everything in life is supposed to be a fun show! Sometimes the country’s problems and potential solutions are complicated, detailed, involve trade-offs, and require a bit of thinking to evaluate. If you’re going to try to transform every aspect of the public’s evaluation of public-policy decisions into a flashy, glamorous, sexy, exciting thrill, pretty soon we’ll see campaigns rolling out Katy Perry in a latex dress at a campaign rallies!
Oh. Too late.
The Katy-Perry-in-latex approach obviously aims to get people with no actual interest or knowledge of what’s going on in the political world to suddenly become interested. Apparently it works, and there will be quite a few folks on the Right side who will want to see our side emulate the same tactics. And Lord knows, Republican beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to effective vote-getting tactics, especially with the young. But how likely are we to win if, through our own decisions, we legitimize the notion that campaigns ought to be duels of celebrities?
After the election, the great Melissa Clouthier pointed out that there is a large segment of Internet users who log onto Facebook . . . and never leave. It’s an audience left untouched by conservative blogs, web sites, magazines, and other media institutions. That’s why NR and every other institution is putting new energy into making these little square graphics with a quote, an illustration, and a hashtag: it’s an effort to bring conservative ideas, messages, and arguments to audiences that may otherwise never encounter them. (This is why we love it so much when you hit “like” for our stuff on Facebook, and share it on your pages with your apolitical friends.)
Those Bono and Ashton Kutcher quotes are swell, but it’s hard to shake the subtext,“look, these aren’t just bromides or slogans that nutty conservatives believe, because these apolitical celebrities are saying them, too!” But these arguments would be just as compelling and just as right if Bono or Kutcher had the exact opposite views. Touting the pair is an implied argument from authority, and we on the Right have generally believed that Hollywood stars are knowledgeable about what it takes to succeed in Hollywood, and not much else.* (Bono might have particular credibility because of his extensive work with international charities and aid groups.)
These sorts of efforts are probably necessary; a big rallying cry since November has been, “We have to take back the culture!” But I feel like we sometimes forget conservatives recoiled from American popular culture for a lot of good reasons.
We felt, and still feel, that Hollywood in particular has become trapped in its own liberal clichés, convincing itself that the latest dreck is a masterpiece. We’re tired of big corporations telling us stories about how bad big corporations are. We’re tired of seeing some of our religions mocked and demonized while others are protected by political correctness.
(If you ever find yourself in a Stephen King novel, trapped between a horrible monster and the small Maine town’s most overtly devout Christian, move away from the Christian and towards the tentacles, because by the end of the book, the monster will be less villainous.)
We’re tired of seeing our own military revealed as the bad guys behind the conspiracy, southerners depicted as ignorant hicks, suburban parenthood portrayed as soul-crushing conformity, and so on. The problem is that a whole segment of the electorate has marinated in that for years, and our efforts to persuade them lack a common frame of reference.
*Inevitably, some lefty will point to this . . .
. . . as if Reagan hadn’t been a successful governor, thinker, debater, columnist, radio commentator, etc.