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Charlie Sykes and the Questions of Blame and Responsibility

By  |  August 15, 2016, 05:00am  |  @ewerickson


I have boundless admiration this campaign cycle for Charlie Sykes, the Wisconsin radio show host. And that admiration just keeps increasing. Oliver Darcy of Business Insider, last night, tweeted out some comments Charlie made about conservative media and accountability in the Age of Trump.

One of the things Charlie said was “And I have to look in the mirror and ask myself, ‘To what extent did I contribute” to the conditions that led to Trump. I have written before that I think I and virtually every other person engaged in politics at the national level contributed in various ways. In fact, at this weekend’s RedState Gathering I said I think a new rule of thumb could be to never trust a politician, political consultant, or pundit who says they had nothing to do with the rise of Trump.

For some, like me, perhaps we pushed too hard on issues and held too many people to many promises we took more literally than we should. Perhaps we encouraged activists to have too little grace for others. For others, it was making promises they had no intention of keeping. For others it was peddling stories they knew to not be true, but were just too good not to talk about. And for others, it was ignoring very real concerns of Americans in favor of the concerns of check writers. Republicans and Democrats both deserve blame for the rise of Trump — the one for talking a good game and not delivering and the other for flat out ignoring the conditions and concerns of a disaffected group of Americans in favor of identity politics.

I think, if anything, the coin operated conservative movement will never account for its participation in the rise of Trump, but deserves much blame. It decided to define conservatism based on the highest bidder instead of the highest principle. Conservative activists turned lobbyists and suddenly their issues became conservative even if they were not really.

Back in February, Rush Limbaugh interviewed me for the Limbaugh Letter and he asked me about a particular criticism often raised of me — that I somehow think I’m the standard setter for conservatism. I told him I didn’t necessarily think that was true, but I also think there has to be people in that role because otherwise everyone will claim conservatism for themselves. It’s a vastly more popular label than liberal. To the extent I can help clarify what is and is not conservative while not being the pocket of vested interests, I do try to do that.

Remember, just ten years ago we had a number of supposed conservative thought leaders telling us we should go along with Harriet Miers because they had begun to treat conservatism as a synonym for Republican. It will not surprise you that now some of the very same people are trying to tell us that Donald Trump is a conservative.

Like Charlie, I think I have to more fully assess my role and responsibility in this new phenomenon. But I don’t think a lot of the people who deserve a lot of the blame will do that.

Do not, for example, hold your breath for the Wall Street Journal editorialists to ever acknowledge they were in part responsible, though they were too. Gigot would sooner prefer to be touched by a commoner than ever admit his editorial page fluffed elites and parroted talking points at the expense of heartland voters he disdains as a way to pretend his roots are more refined than they are. Hell, his opinion writers cannot even admit there is an elite or an establishment if only because their heads are so far up the rear ends of those folks they can’t see them.

One of the other groups that I am confident will never do that is the mainstream media itself. Much of Charlie’s statement to Oliver Darcy was about how conservatives have spent years delegitimizing the mainstream press. And I think it absolutely had to be done, though it is not without consequence. Further, I think a lot of the consequences cannot be blamed on conservatives, but on the media itself.

Take Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times as one example. He flat out made up the story about George H. W. Bush and the grocery store scanner in 1992. His punishment? Promotion.

Take the cultural issues of gay marriage and transgenderism as another example. National reporters in New York and Washington who shape national news opinion on this issue have taken a one size fits all view. If you don’t want to violate your faith or have boys in your daughter’s bathroom, you are a bigot.

Take environmentalism as another example. The press has taken the left’s position that we are polluters without any recognition that we are also producers and contribute the planet. The press has completely ignored the plight of displaced coal miners, put on government assistance against their will because extreme environmentalists have shut out their jobs.

Or look at the current media coverage of Clinton and Trump. I guaran-damn-tee you that if Dylan Roof’s dad had been at a Trump event, the media cycle on that story would still be ongoing, while the media circled the wagons around Clinton when the Orlando terrorist’s dad went to her rally.

Oh, and that reminds me, look at guns as an issue and how the media covers that.

I do think, however, what guys like Charlie and I and others have to be willing to do and be consistent about is calling out bullcrap on our own side. How many conservative outlets were willing to call out Gateway Pundit and Breitbart for running pictures of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebration as if it was a Trump rally? How many were willing to call out those sites that ran pictures from February as if they were pictures from yesterday showing Hillary Clinton falling?

Conservatives have spent years calling out the mainstream media for making up stuff about the right. We do ourselves no favors if we do not also hold our own side accountable lest they discredit us all and drive our own side to the brink of dementia. That is why, for example, I have a growing list of conservative media outlets I flat out refuse to reference or rely on for my radio show and this website.

If there is one great bit of blame for conservatives, it’s that we allowed bad operators to join us because we assumed we were in common cause with them when we were not. And now, like the cuckoo bird, these bad operators would shove us out of conservatism when instead they themselves much be held to account for profiteering, corruption, and lying to senior citizens and activists alike.