TV may a visual medium, but my view has always been that the best cable opinion shows depend on their writing. If you get a host who knows what he or she thinks and why, and can write it compellingly, the chances are you have a compelling program. I had no use for him, but this was true of Keith Olbermann in his heyday at MSNBC. It’s true of Rachel Maddow now. And it’s definitely true of Tucker Carlson. His response last night to the Media Matters hit on him was remarkably powerful rhetoric:
Good evening and welcome to Tucker Carlson Tonight.
As anyone who’s ever been caught in its gears can tell you, the great American outrage machine is a remarkable thing. One day you’re having dinner with your family, imagining everything is fine. The next, your phone is exploding with calls from reporters. They read you snippets from a press release written by Democratic party operatives. They demand to know how you could possibly have said something so awful and offensive. Do you have a statement on how immoral you are? It’s a bewildering moment, especially when the quotes in question are more than a decade old.
There’s really not that much you can do to respond. It’s pointless to try to explain how the words were spoken in jest, or taken out of context, or in any case bear no resemblance to what you actually think, or would want for the country. None of that matters. Nobody cares. You know the role you’re required to play: You are a sinner, begging the forgiveness of Twitter. So you issue a statement of deep contrition. You apologize profusely for your transgressions. You promise to be a better person going forward. With the guidance of your contrition consultants, you send money to whatever organization claims to represent the people you supposedly offended. Then you sit back and brace for a wave of stories about your apology, all of which are simply pretexts for attacking you again. In the end, you get fired, you lose your job. Nobody defends you. Your neighbors avert their gaze as you pull into the driveway. You are ruined.
And yet, no matter how bad it gets, no matter how despised and humiliated you may be, there is one thing you can never do, one thing that is absolutely not allowed: You can never acknowledge the comic absurdity of the whole thing. You can never laugh in the face of the mob. You must always pretend that the people yelling at you are somehow your moral superiors. You have to assume that what they say they’re mad about is what they’re actually mad about. You have to take them at face value. You must pretend this is a debate about virtue, and not about power; that your critics are arguing from principle and not from partisanship. No matter what they take from you in the end, you must continue to pretend that these things are true: You are bad. They are good. The system is on the level.
But what if we stopped pretending for a minute? What if we acknowledged what’s actually going on? One side is deadly serious. They believe that politics is war. They’re not interested in abstractions or principles, rules or traditions. They seek power. They plan to win it, whatever it takes. If that includes getting you fired, or silencing you, or threatening your family at home, or throwing you in prison, ok, they know what their goal is. If you’re in the way, they will crush you.
What’s interesting is how reliably the other side pretends that none of this is happening. Republicans in Washington do a fairly credible imitation of an opposition party. The still give speeches. They tweet quite a bit. They make concerned noises about how liberals are bad. But on the deepest level, it’s all a pose. In their minds, where it matters, Republican leaders are controlled by the left. They know exactly what they’re allowed to say and believe. They know what the rules are. They may understand that those rules were written by the very people who seek their destruction. They ruthlessly enforce them anyway. Republicans in Washington police their own with a never-ending enthusiasm. Like trustees in a prison, they dutifully report back to the warden, hoping for perks. Nobody wants to be called names. Nobody wants to be Trump.
How many times have you seen it happen? Some conservative figure will say something stupid, or incomplete, or too far outside the bounds of received wisdom for the moral guardians of cable news. Twitter goes bonkers. The mob demands a response. Very often, the first people calling for the destruction of that person are Republican leaders. You saw it with the Covington Catholic high school kids. You see it all the time. Kevin McCarthy spends half his day telling Republican members not to criticize progressive orthodoxy. Paul Ryan did the same before him. A couple of years ago, the entire Democratic Party decided to deny the biological reality of sex differences, an idea that’s as insane as it is dangerous. Republican leaders decided not to criticize them for it. They might get upset.
This is a system built on deceit and enforced silence. Hypocrisy is its hallmark. Yet in Washington, it’s considered rude to ask questions about how exactly it works. Why are the people who considered Bill Clinton a hero lecturing me about sexism? How can the party that demands racial quotas denounce other people as racist? After a while you begin to think that maybe their criticisms aren’t sincere. Maybe their moral puffery is a costume. Maybe the whole conversation is an absurd joke. Maybe we’re falling for it.
You sometimes hear modern progressives described as new puritans. That’s a slur on colonial Americans. Whatever their flaws, the puritans cared about the fate of the human soul and the moral regeneration of their society. Those are not topics that interest progressives. They’re too busy pushing late term abortion and cross dressing on fifth graders. These are the people who write our movies and our sitcoms. They are not shocked by naughty words. They just pretend to be when it’s useful.
It’s been very useful lately. The left’s main goal, in case you haven’t noticed, is controlling what you think. In order to do that, they have to control the information that you receive. Google and Facebook and Twitter are on fully board with that. They’re happy to ban unapproved thoughts and they don’t apologize for it. They often do. So do the other cable channels, and virtually every major news outlet in this country. One of the only places left in the United States where independent thoughts are allowed is right here, the opinion hours on this network. Just a few hours in a sea of television programming. It’s not much, relatively speaking. For the left, it’s unacceptable. They demand total conformity.
Since the day we went on the air, they’ve been working hard to kill this show. We haven’t said much about it in public. It seemed too self-referential. The point of this show has never been us. But now it’s obvious to everybody. There’s no pretending that it’s not happening. It is happening. And so going forward, we’ll be covering their efforts to make us be quiet. For now, just two points to leave you with. First, FOX News is behind us, as they have been since the very first day. Toughness is a rare quality in a TV network, and we are grateful for that. Second, we’ve always apologized when we’re wrong, and will continue to do that. That’s what decent people do. They apologize. But we will never bow to the mob. Ever. No matter what.