CNN has hired a conservative commentator. Me.
Yes, you read that right. For the past few days of the mania surrounding the Fox presidential debate I have been holed up at CNN’s New York headquarters, emerging before cameras periodically to stand up for the conservative world view. Rush Limbaugh took note of this and essentially made the point - gospel in the conservative world - that liberals in and out of the media have over the decades constructed a straw man view of conservatives and conservatism. Speaking of liberals in general, Rush said:
They have no idea what conservatism is. They have constructed this straw man of conservatism, which is odd, screwball, racist, bigoted, sexist, homophobic, and so forth.
Believe it or not, while he may not agree with Rush on that (I haven’t asked), the President of CNN himself - that would be Jeff Zucker - wants me there because he too feels there is a legitimate conservative view of the world and it should be represented on CNN in political discussions. He may not agree with it - but that’s not the point. Mr. Zucker is famously seen by conservatives as a man of the left, but he is a television executive and he has made it specifically clear to me in person that he wants my straight-up, unvarnished conservative take on political events.
And so..I have tried to deliver.
Rush made an excellent point in his comments on this. It is safe to say that conservatives believe in their gut that “the media” - or if you wish “the liberal media” as a subdivision of liberalism itself - view conservatives as inhabiting some strange, alien world in a political, social and cultural parallel universe. There is a reason why conservatives believe this. There is history.
Conservatism has been around for centuries. As Mark Levin never ceases to remind, "Conservatism is a way of understanding life, society, and governance.”
As Mark notes of the Founders of the United States, conservatism is “heavily influenced by certain philosophers, among them Adam Smith (spontaneous order), Charles Montesquieu (separation of powers), and especially John Locke (natural rights).” It is also influenced by “faith, personal experiences and knowledge of history (including the rise and fall of the Roman Empire).” If there is a “father” of modern conservatism that would be the British statesman Edmund Burke who, during the American Revolution, not only defended the Americans fighting for their rights but “wrote of the interconnection of liberty, free markets, tradition, and authority.”
So what does all of that have to do with CNN? A network that is raked over the coals with regularity right here in the cyber pages of NewsBusters?
In the 1950’s, what might be called the American “liberal consensus” on everything from the role of government to culture began to unravel. Conservatism was on a sudden if slow rise in opposition. The leader in this brewing conservative revolt was a young William F. Buckley, Jr. When Buckley took on his own Yale University in God and Man at Yale, his first-of-many bestsellers (the very fact of his best sellers in and of themselves a signal of the coming political and cultural division) he was assaulted with a startling ferocity.
The book’s premise - that Yale was no longer a conservative university but had become a hotbed of leftwing collectivism/secularism - is now a standard issue in discussions of everything from the creation of the US Department of Education to Common Core to political correctness on campuses. Buckley’s book launched a firestorm of irrationality. He was labeled, among other things, a Nazi, a Fascist and a would-be member of the Ku Klux Klan.Yet at his death decades later, the New York Times would treat Buckley as a figure of well-deserved respect, saying that Buckley:
…marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, famously arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse
Say again, Buckley elevated “conservatism to the center of American political discourse.” And so he had. Over the decades other conservatives would follow the path blazed by Buckley as the liberal consensus fell apart and the conservative movement grew. From Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to Rush Limbaugh and many others, the conservative view of the world ascended in both politics and eventually the media. Or, if you will in the latter case, the “conservative media” that is seen today as talk radio, Internet sites and Fox News.
As this occurred, the division that surfaced in the controversy over Buckley’s book decades ago metastasized into the larger liberal world view. And in the world that is the liberal media, it is very safe to say that conservatives believe, as mentioned, that liberals see conservatives as occupying some strange parallel universe.
So. With that in mind, there I am now as a CNN commentator, specifically charged by Jeff Zucker to sit on the set of CNN (or Skype in, as is frequently the case, from Central Pennsylvania and the America that is not the intellectually, politically and culturally cloistered world of New York and Washington) and discuss/debate/explain the conservative view of the world.
I’m happy to do it. How’s it going? Mr. Zucker asked me that question directly as my three day visit came to an end. I am happy to answer. CNN was completely fair to me. I was totally uncensored. I discussed things that conservatives believe are never said on CNN. I mentioned Rush Limbaugh - favorably. I stood up for Ronald Reagan. I discussed the internals of what I call the Reagan-Bush divide, which is to say the eternal battle between conservatives and the GOP Establishment and moderate Republicans. I have been paired for passionate discussions of GOP internals with Jeb Bush supporter Ana Navarro, defended Donald Trump from Establishment broadsides, debated liberals Donna Brazile and Van Jones. In one show I mentioned, as Rush cited on his show, a pre-debate story in DC Whispers that GOP donors were urging the other candidates to “take out” Donald Trump, a story that I thought CNN might not be aware of. On a couple of occasions as the subject of Donald Trump and his language about women came up I brought up the touchy (for liberals) subject of Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill and the famous Juanita Broaddrick charge that he had raped her, and also mentioned Bill Clinton’s record of sexual harassment charges. Not to mention that Broaddrick herself also accuses Hillary Clinton personally of threatening Broaddrick to keep quiet about the rape charge. I have cited on air- again favorably - the Drudge Report and Breitbart. And I am repeatedly identified as writing for The American Spectator.
All of this and more was said uninterrupted on CNN air. Over the last three days and even before that in the last few weeks before I was asked to sign on I have appeared with CNN’s top personalities. From morning til night that has included Alisyn Camerota, Brooke Baldwin, Chris Cuomo, John Berman and Kate Bolduan, Brianna Keilar, Wolf Blitzer, Ashleigh Banfield, Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper. And there were the usual get-to-knows with a whole host of behind-the-cameras professionals. Without exception they have all been welcoming and utterly professional.
Was I challenged? Sure. Was there debate? Absolutely. Was there discussion both calm and passionate? Yes, yes and yes again. Are there some -or more than some - that listen to me, roll their eyes and are asking themselves “what in the hell is he talking about?!” Maybe. Who knows? Rush pondered on his show that CNN’ers might see me “as kind of like a cute zoo animal. They don't quite know what it is, but they'd like to take it home if they could. It's cute, it's cuddly, says some really cute, funny things that they're not familiar with at all. And I think they're just intrigued.”
I have no idea. But that’s not the point.
The point is in a free society this is what debate and free speech is all about. This is exactly the way free speech in the television world should work and what many conservatives see as missing in the liberal media. It is continuing to do what the New York Times credited William F. Buckley with doing. That would be bringing “conservatism to the center of American political discourse.” (And no, I am decidedly not comparing myself to the legendary WFB. As if!)
It may well be that everybody at CNN sees me and the world conservative as strange - or worse. Certainly it is safe to say that the conservative view of the liberal media is that liberals lean heavily to “the worse” side of that formulation. My job, as I understand it, is to bring the conservative perspective. To debate, discuss and explain the conservative world. To be unafraid to reference points with favorable cites from conservative talk radio hosts or other outlets in the world of conservative media that may be unfamiliar or unread by CNN viewers and even scorned by other CNN personalities and commentators. To be able on-air to say names like Ronald Reagan, Bill Buckley, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Brent Bozell, and others when relevant to a point under discussion. To say them favorably - and be ready to debate or discuss with CNN colleagues and fellow commentators in a way that is rational, passionate when needed, and respectful always.
Has there been any feedback? Why, as I write I have already received a hot e-mail from a CNN viewer calling me a “moron.”
God Bless America. And CNN for giving this a try. I hope you'll tune in.