Of the many problems that currently face the conservative movement (and there are far more than most of us are willing to admit), none gets my blood pressure racing more rapidly than our abject incompetence and gutlessness when it comes to defending our best warriors.
We often stand meekly on the sidelines and watch as our best spokespeople — people like Sarah Palin, Trent Lott, and Rush Limbaugh — get their credibility destroyed in the media until they are rendered largely powerless at persuading middle-of-the-road voters to support conservative causes. Conservatism suffers as a result.
Criticize liberals all you want, but they hardly ever let one of their own be killed off without a serious fight, even when they clearly deserve to be. From Bill Clinton to Keith Olbermann to Al Sharpton, it seems almost impossible for a liberal to be completely ostracized from the mainstream, no matter how many laws they break, lies they tell, or social mores they trample upon.
The latest example of this phenomenon is the demise of talk radio legend Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who just announced that she is leaving radio because of the controversy over her on-air use of the “n-word” in an academic discussion she had with a caller. (It should be noted that I know Schlessinger personally and that I was fired from a radio station in Nashville for committing almost exactly the same “crime” that Schlessinger did).
All Schlessinger did was treat her audience like adults and use a word that is heard on the radio all the time in far less benign circumstances. (Is there anything more childish than having a word that people of certain skin colors are not allowed to use?) She even apologized before it ever really became a news story. And yet, thanks largely to media coverage that referred to Schlessinger’s statements as a “racist rant,” she feels as it she is being forced off the air. The media has completely and unfairly vilified her, and by extension, all conservatives.
Now, Dr. Laura is neither overtly political nor completely “conservative,” but that doesn’t really matter. Perception is reality and there is no doubt that as a talk radio giant Schlessinger is perceived as a “conservative” and that, as a result of this controversy, the myth that conservatives are racist has gotten a little bit more engrained in the minds of the “independent” third of the country that doesn’t pay close attention to politics.
Conservatives have responded to the Schlessinger controversy in pretty much the same way they responded to the allegations that Rush Limbaugh was racist — with the faint sound of crickets.
I think there are a few reasons why conservatives keep letting this kind of thing happen.
First, unlike the liberal establishment, which fights every skirmish as if it could be decisive (and win many more than they deserve to win), most conservatives don’t understand the significance of losing these types of battles. That conservatives don’t seem to comprehend how allowing Sarah Palin to be unjustly crucified will have serious long-term political consequences for them is truly a mystery to me.
Second, many conservatives are under so much pressure to keep their seats at the table (which, thanks to extreme media bias, are far scarcer than those reserved for their liberal counterparts) that they almost never risk their own position in order to defend another conservative. Conservatives fear that supporting people who have been accused of being racist, corrupt or stupid (the most common charges used to disable conservatives) will likely result in them being branded with the same labels. This is why conservatives are far more likely to throw their own under the bus (see George W. Bush’s reaction to the Trent Lott controversy or Steve Schmidt’s treatment of Sarah Palin) than defend their warriors, even when those warriors have done nothing wrong. Unfortunately, this cowardice perpetuates a negative narrative about the nature of the conservative movement.
Finally, I think that many in the conservative elite are actually happy when they see someone on our side cut down to size. After all, that is one less person ahead of them in the pecking order when it comes to television appearances, speaking engagements and book deals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of powerbrokers within the conservative movement seem to view the movement as more of a business than a crusade.
The bottom line is that if conservatives don’t learn to protect and defend their warriors, there won’t be anyone worthy left to carry our flag.
John Ziegler is currently a documentary filmmaker who most recently released a movie on the 2008 election called, “Media Malpractice… How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” He has also been in radio talk show host in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Louisville and Nashville. Ziegler has written two books and has appeared live on numerous national television shows including the Today Show, The View, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC.