A tweet today pointed me to the Dan Riehl, Ross Douthat, Mark Levin et/al stuff. So lets talk about thinkers who are or are not entertainers.
Douthat dismisses Levin as an entertainer saying that it is the only way to define Levin’s book and defend it.
There’s nothing wrong with appreciating these entertainers, admiring their success, and enjoying the way they skewer people and causes you dislike. But to insist that they’re also worth taking seriously as political and intellectual actors in their own right, worthy of keynote speeches at CPAC and admiring reviews in highbrow journals, is to make a category error that does no favors to the larger causes that you and they support.
Dan (the blogger least like what people expected at CPAC) Riehl hits Douthat as an entertainer as well:
The sum total of Douthat’s accomplishment comes from writing two books. That’s it. One can say anything one wants about them – but in point of fact, they are little more than entertainment for a mostly eggheaded bunch that enjoys talking about the nuance around and within politics without ever actually having accomplished much of anything.
Both Douthat and Riehl are right but I think both are missing the point here, so lets take this backwards:
When Dan blogs I presume he writes not only to express himself but in the hope that others might find his writing and ideas interesting enough to come back to read (If I’m wrong please correct me). He writes with the hope that it may be entertaining enough on either an intellectual or gut level to get that tweet from Sissy Willis or a blog post by someone else to get his thoughts and ideas out there. In other words he wants someone to entertain his ideas.
The relevancy of that thought and it’s worth in terms of expression come both from the meat of what he is saying and the response it generates, thus the entertainment value of said thoughts are part of the discussion of it is worthy emulating or advancing his positions.
Now I’ve met Dan once in passing at CPAC but I don’t know Dan or how he makes his living but he is not to my knowledge dependent on his writing for support so if he fails to cause people to entertain his thoughts it’s no skin off his back.
As far as Ross I’ve never met him at all, I’ve not read his books, and only occasionally read his columns which frankly leave me cold. But he’s writing for the NYT. He is paid to cover a niche, a conservative writer in a liberal paper. Just enough of a conservative to be called one but not enough of one to actually risk challenging the readers who are looking for affirmation over information.
Conservatives and conservative thinkers are not his audience. The times knows that he is not going to draw them and that’s not what he is paid for. His audience is the current times readership and it’s current publishing team. If he fails to generate the proper buzz, the right reaction, to entertain he will be replaced.
I don’t know if he cares if his ideas are advanced. I don’t know what ideas he wants to advance or any. I don’t know if he needs this job to make a living, but he is where he is as long as he serves the purpose in question and not a moment longer. If he fails to sustain that purpose, he’s out.
Now onto Mark Levin. I haven’t read his book, I don’t listen to his radio show, he’s louder than I like but when I’ve heard him he’s tended to talk sense. His arguments are strong enough that Millions of copies of his book have been purchased and read and his ideas advanced. His presentation is strong enough that thousands of people listen to him on the radio. The fact that they might also be entertained has no relevance on if his thoughts should be rejected, however if he fails to get those listeners his show will be off the air. This is a basic fact.
But Levin’s goal is two fold. He wants to make a living and he wants to advance a series of ideas. The combination of said ideas and an entertaining presentation has allowed him to do this.
The entertainer argument is most commonalty used against Rush Limbaugh. His job is to host a radio show and draw the greatest number of listeners possible to maximize the profit he can make selling ads. He has done this better than anyone else. No serious person denies this.
Rush also has a series of beliefs and ideas that he wants to advance. He has been very successful in this endeavor. No serious person can claim he has not been.
Rush’s ideas are also serious ideas offering solutions for actual problems. This is where certain serious people don’t DARE agree, not because it is not true, but because to acknowledge it imperils their own agendas.
Entertainer is not a bad word, to pretend it is rejects stump speakers who have made their case for hundreds of years and denies history. The rejection of that aspect of intellectual persuasion is in my opinion simply an aspect of pride and bigotry or simply sour grapes.
For related stuff check out this post at SISU