October 23rd, 2017

Republican Like Me

This piece in the NY Post by former NPR CEO Ken Stern caught my eye. The title is “Former CEO of NPR opens up about liberal bias.” It is about that, but it’s actually about something a good deal more than that:

Spurred by a fear that red and blue America were drifting irrevocably apart, I decided to venture out from my overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and engage Republicans where they live, work and pray. For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents [see *NOTE below] (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike.

Mock him if you will; it’s easy to do. After all, why did it take him all these years to learn something about Republicans? And what is he, an anthropologist, learning the arcane customs of some exotic far-off people? Note that the places he went—NASCAR races and Tea Party meetings—didn’t give him much variety in terms of Republicans, and played into certain stereotypes. But maybe that was just as well, because moderate and/or “country-club” Republicans probably wouldn’t have had as much of an impact on Stern.

However, I give him credit. Rather then continuing to demonize people he didn’t know, he set out to learn something, and his mind was open enough for some of his preconceptions to be changed. That’s not very common; it’s unusual for people to be able to change their minds and admit it, as I’ve said many times:

None of my new hunting partners fit the lazy caricature of the angry NRA member. Rather, they saw guns as both a shared sport and as a necessary means to protect their families during uncertain times…

I also spent time in depressed areas of Kentucky and Ohio with workers who felt that their concerns had long fallen on deaf ears and were looking for every opportunity to protest a government and political and media establishment that had left them behind. I drank late into the night at the Royal Oaks Bar in Youngstown and met workers who had been out of the mills for almost two decades and had suffered the interlocking plagues of unemployment, opioid addiction and declining health…To a man (and sometimes a woman), they looked at media and saw stories that did not reflect the world that they knew or the fears that they had.

Over the course of this past year, I have tried to consume media as they do and understand it as a partisan player. It is not so hard to do. Take guns. Gun control and gun rights is one of our most divisive issues, and there are legitimate points on both sides. But media is obsessed with the gun-control side and gives only scant, mostly negative, recognition to the gun-rights sides.

Take for instance the issue of the legitimate defensive gun use (DGUs), which is often dismissed by the media as myth. But DGUs happen all the time…

Reading this, you might well ask: and it took you how long to be aware of the point of view of the right, something that shouldn’t have required a year of total immersion because all you had to do was read a bit on the right and you would have seen it decades ago? As CEO of NPR, why didn’t it behoove you to become marginally well-informed about the other side?

These are valid questions, and I’d love to have a chat with Stern and hear his answers. It would be a friendly chat, because I tend to be kindly disposed to thoughtful mind-changers. He has written a book, however, and perhaps he deals with some of these questions in the book. It’s called Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right, and it’s due to come out tomorrow.

No, Stern didn’t end up a Republican. His title doesn’t refer to a political conversion; it is a riff on the book Black Like Me, which came out in the 1961 and was written by a white journalist who had darkened his skin and passed for black in the Deep South of the segregated era.

[*NOTE: This is probably nitpicky of me, but when Obama made his “bitter clinger” remark he was not yet president, he was a presidential candidate. That Stern makes the error of indicating Obama was president at the time (at least, that’s how I read what Stern wrote) surprises me, because this was a memorable moment in the campaign. Stern was the NPR CEO beginning in 2007 and held the post for eight and a half years, so he had that position at the time Obama made the statement.]

34 Responses to “Republican Like Me”

  1. Glen H Says:

    I would assume his distinction between Presidents and Presidential candidates is not based on their jobs as of the time they made the statements, but whether or not they eventually became President (Obama) vs never became President (Clinton).

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    Glen H:

    Of course, that’s a possibility that occurred to me. But I rejected it because it makes no sense whatsoever in terms of the perspective of the ones making the remarks, which is the important aspect of the incidents. Who cares what Obama later became? He didn’t make the remarks as president, so they don’t represent the thoughts of a president vs. a presidential candidate (Obama vs. Clinton). They represent the thoughts of two presidential candidates, one of whom later became president. This isn’t about their career trajectories, it’s about the state of mind of two presidential candidates.

    In fact, when he made his statement (April, 2008), Obama wasn’t even the Democratic nominee yet. Clinton was the nominee when she made her statement (September 2016). So she was even higher up in the hierarchy.

  3. Griffin Says:

    While I commend this guy’s effort his choices for where to find Republicans is pretty clichéd. I for example have never even touched a gun in my entire life, have never attended a NASCAR race or a tea party event. The problem I see with this is that it is pretty easy to find places that are certain attracters of progressives like academia and the arts but conservatives are far more diverse and spread out in every way in the country. Look at California it is ridiculously left wing yet there are still millions of Republicans in that state they just have little power.

    So I guess what this guy did is a positive the stereotyping is a bit much.

  4. Griffin Says:

    Just an additional to my comment above I think the thing that is hard for these media types to understand is that not all Republican/conservatives are into these things that their left wing buddies fixate on. I mean you kind find Republicans in every office and jobsite in the country though you might not realize it.

    Now the faculty lounge at some second rate university that is a different story.

    They think the right operates like they do on the left with their insane identity politics. We don’t, at least no where near the levels of the left.

  5. CBI Says:

    I also read that article in yesterday, and although I had similar conclusions, I didn’t notice as much as you did. Two other things caught my attention. The first was Stern’s declaration:

    It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally. It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.

    There is an ambiguity in the use of “suppress”. The mainstream media don’t necessarily try to suppress others from publishing the stories, but when such stories are encountered, they suppress them—keep them from being revealed, published, or circulated—in media that they control.

    The second was that, although I think he did a very good job overall in reporting, he could not avoid “virtue signalling” his belief that Trump is significantly at fault as well, while not dealing with the actual amount of “fake news”.

    Like you, I would love a chat with Stern, and hope to read his book.

  6. The Other Gary Says:

    As CEO of NPR, why didn’t it behoove you to become marginally well-informed about the other side?

    Excuse the nitpicking, but it did “behoove” him; he just failed to live up to his responsibility to learn the essential background information about those who don’t share his worldview.

    Had he become even “marginally well-informed about the other side,” he might have felt the duty to actually do something to alter the absurdly biased “reporting” of NPR, aka National Proletariat Radio. Which in turn would involve nasty battles with the lefties at NPR and the all the rancor that accompanies such things.

    From the safety of his non-position as former CEO of NPR, he can repose in the serenity of not being obliged to take action. And perhaps he’ll even make a few bucks from his too-little-too-late book.

  7. Stan Brown Says:

    Scary just how clueless this idiot continues to be. He gets credit for admitting that he was a total incompetent at his job with NPR. He gets credit for admitting he was a fool as a citizen and as a person.

    After a year of thinking about it and learning what a dumbass he was, he still hasn’t learned nearly enough.

  8. Oldflyer Says:

    I had thought to comment along the lines of Griffin. I applaud Stern’s intent; but, cringe at its stereotypical characterizations. I doubt that many of the Conservatives on this forum, and for that matter on any of the forums I visit, resemble his description.

    Rather than anger over any personal hardships, I strongly suspect that a fair number share my anger over the corruption of our Constitutional system; manifest most clearly by the growth of bureaucratic despotism, compounded by repeated episodes of judicial malfeasance.

  9. Bilwick Says:

    I think Glenn Reynolds, on his Instapundit blog, predicting what he called “gorillas in the mist” articles coming out after Trump won the election. Stern’s article could be one such.

  10. Ann Says:

    Also worth a read is this piece in The Atlantic — “On Safari in Trump’s America”; here’s some of it:

    Nearly a year after Donald Trump’s election shocked the prognosticators, ivory-tower types are still sifting through the wreckage. Group after group of befuddled elites has crisscrossed America to poke and prod and try to figure out what they missed—“Margaret Meads among the Samoans,” one prominent strategist remarked to me. …

    The researchers [from Third Way, a center-left think tank] I rode with had dived into the heart of America with the best of intentions and the openest of minds. They believed that their only goal was to emerge with a better understanding of their country. And yet the conclusions they drew from what they heard corresponded only roughly to what I heard. Instead, they seemed to revert to their preconceptions, squeezing their findings into the same old mold. It seems possible, if not likely, that all the other delegations of earnest listeners are returning with similarly comforting, selective lessons. If the aim of such tours is to find new ways to bring the country together, or new political messages for a changed electorate, the chances of success seem remote as long as even the sharpest researchers are only capable of seeing what they want to see.

  11. Ymar Sakar Says:

    American dollars, used by the Marxists to buy a longer rope to hang you. As expected.

  12. parker Says:

    They are our betters, they are the in crowd. We are peasants who need the whips of the elitists to plan how we think, live, and speak. It is that simple.

  13. vanderleun Says:

    “This is probably nitpicky of me, but when Obama made his “bitter clinger” remark he was not yet president,”

    Yes it is. No nit left unpicked here.

  14. L.B. Says:

    “For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side…”

    The other side?

  15. Ray Says:

    He isn’t that bright. For example he said.
    “Take guns. Gun control and gun rights is one of our most divisive issues, and there are legitimate points on both sides.”
    Guns are inanimate objects and they don’t have rights and can’t be controlled by legislation. The guy still talks like the typical liberal who talks about “gun violence” as though guns had volition and actually committed violence.

  16. neo-neocon Says:


    I think the phrase “gun rights” is ordinarily understood as people’s right to bear arms. The Second Amendment. Plenty of people refer to it that way and it’s understood pretty well not to mean the rights of guns themselves.

  17. Gringo Says:

    The irony about his going to coal country, to NASCAR events, or to go hunt in Texas, is that there are probably wingnuts in his neighborhood. He most likely doesn’t know about them because many wingnuts in very liberal neighborhoods keep a low profile.

    On the one hand, I am pleased that a former CEO of NPR has done this investigating, given the sneering, condescending tone of NPR since at least the Reagan years. I voted third party when Reagan ran for President, so I listened to election results with a somewhat neutral view. The sneering, condescending tone of NPR announcers while announcing a Regan victory left a lasting impression on me. That is probably why I stopped listening to NPR.

    Nonetheless, he made some statements that did not please me.

    Some of this loss of reputation stems from effective demagoguery from the right and the left, as well as from our demagogue-in-chief, but the attacks wouldn’t be so successful if our media institutions hadn’t failed us as well.

    He doesn’t point out that the media has consistently leaned left. Recall that newspapers supporting Trump accounted for 3% of circulation. That rather makes his effort at being “even-handed” rather lame. The following would have been more accurate: “There is demagoguery from both the left and from the right, but as the left dominates the media, demagoguery on the left has had decidedly more impact.”

    Consider the following statement.

    None of this justifies the attacks from President Trump, which are terribly inappropriate coming from the head of government.

    For as long as I can recall, the media has engaged in merciless attacks on Republican Presidents or Presidential candidates, while essentially giving a free pass to their Democrat equivalents. Remember Romney the high school bully or the cruel person who had the dog ride in a crate.
    Trump is, for the most part, the first one that has fought back. I, for one, like that he fights back. While Trump wasn’t my first choice, his attacking media people – the enemy of my enemy is my friend- helped gain my support. Moreover, when the media is attacking Trump, the king of the deplorables, the media is attacking all deplorables.

    Whether Obama was or wasn’t President when he made the “bitter clingers” remark is irrelevant to me. He made the statement. As someone born and raised in a small town, Obama’s “bitter clingers” remark left an impression on me.

  18. Gringo Says:

    Ann: Also worth a read is this piece in The Atlantic
    From the link:

    In 2005, she was one of the founders of Third Way, a center-left think tank, and it was in that capacity that she and four colleagues had journeyed from both coasts to the town of Viroqua, Wisconsin, as part of a post-election listening tour.

    She didn’t mention one of Viroqua’s claims to fame. Gerald L. K. Smith, who gained some renown and notoriety as a political agitator in the 1930s and 1940s, grew up in Viroqua. He was associated with Huey Long, but unlike Huey Long, was also racist and an anti-Semite.

    Gerald Lyman Kenneth Smith (February 27, 1898 – April 15, 1976) was an American clergyman and far-right political organizer, who became a leader of the Share Our Wealth movement during the Great Depression and later founded the Christian Nationalist Crusade. He founded the America First Party in 1944, for which he was a presidential candidate in the election that year.[1][2]

    I wonder if the author of the Atlantic article was aware of that. The moment I heard Viroqua, I thought Gerald L.K. Smith, having some awareness of history.(Though I had a head start, as I knew some academics who had researched him.)

  19. Oldflyer Says:

    After some reflection, it seemed to me that Stern was pretty condescending. He was on with Tucker Carlson this evening; and reinforced my opinion.

  20. John Guilfoyle Says:

    So…like those tourists who get on those high-dollar first-class cruise ships & take a few pencils & blankets to the Philippines or to an island in Indonesia & rave about what great people they are, I’m supposed to applaud this numb nuts who was derelict in his intellectual duty whilst on the NPR payroll and ONLY NOW decides that folks in flyover country are real people most with their own teeth & who aren’t related to themselves by marriage.

    “Mock him if you will; it’s easy to do.” Oh…I do.
    Like fishing at a trout farm, the catching is easy but it still puts a lovely meal on the table. Call me when he’s ready to admit that Obama was the worst president ever and that HRC is a criminal who should be locked up with her pervert husband.

  21. Gringo Says:

    After some reflection, it seemed to me that Stern was pretty condescending.
    Which is practically the norm for liberals. They assume that they are the more educated, the more knowledgeable, the more enlightened, the more sophisticated, the more tolerant, the more virtuous, the more everything that is good.

    Because their condescension is, shall we say, embedded into their approach- sorry about that choice of words 🙂 – they don’t realize how condescending they are. Those of us who have left the left are especially aware of this condescension- because we used to practice it. At the same time, this means that as former leftists we are relatively immune to being shamed by being condescended to. Being condescended to doesn’t mean we wingnuts are inferior- it means a snooty eso-bee is looking down at us because he needs this feeling of superiority in order to validate his existence.

  22. AesopFan Says:

    These are all great comments, especially on the dereliction of duty and failure to actually practice journalism, as opposed to partisan cheer-leading (I personally cannot listen to NPR any more, because the lies and spin are so blatant).

    This sentence jumped out at me on my initial reading a few days ago, and supports the consensus here of “too little, too late”:
    “I did that, and loved it, though I regret waiting until well after I left NPR to do so.”

    Perish the thought that he might have learned about “the other side” (yeah, L.B. – !?!?!?) while actually serving as the leader of an institution which the people he despised were funding equally — or more, through taxes — than the ones he admired.

    * * *
    CBI Says:
    October 23rd, 2017 at 3:59 pm
    I also read that article in yesterday, and although I had similar conclusions, I didn’t notice as much as you did. Two other things caught my attention. The first was Stern’s declaration:

    It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally. It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.

    There is an ambiguity in the use of “suppress”. The mainstream media don’t necessarily try to suppress others from publishing the stories, but when such stories are encountered, they suppress them—keep them from being revealed, published, or circulated—in media that they control.
    * *
    Well said — it’s exactly what I was thinking!
    But Stern (and presumably the others) clearly doesn’t see it as “suppressing” — after all, you only have so many column inches in an issue, or minutes in a broadcast, so you have to choose the “important stories” — which oddly all conform to their own “interests and beliefs” — and besides, all that other stuff was “just a local story” or whatever was the excuse-of-the-day.

    And they wonder why some people cheer Trump’s Tweets — which don’t have to pass through the NPR gateway.

  23. AesopFan Says:

    Ann Says:
    October 23rd, 2017 at 5:04 pm
    Also worth a read is this piece in The Atlantic — “On Safari in Trump’s America”;
    * *
    That was an interesting piece, and the author/journalist (MollyBall) was clearly more than a bit ticked off at the “researchers” – who apparently only wanted anecdotes to back up their own claims, as opposed to collecting some kind of qualitative data.
    That they lied (essentially) to their focus groups tells you why they had no qualms about shaping their report to fit their own views (assuming Ball’s analysis stands up – and she obviously has her own agenda).

    That said, the group’s views need to be addressed in the context of the election:
    “For all intents and purposes, it was Third Way’s vision that had been on the ballot in 2016—and lost. The think tank, inspired by the New Democrat centrism of the 1990s, had advised Hillary Clinton on her 2016 policy platform. In debates within the Democratic Party, Third Way advocated for the sensible center. It argued that a left-wing platform could not win elections, and that what voters preferred was a pragmatic, moderate, technocratic philosophy, socially liberal but pro-business and wary of big government. It used research and data to demonstrate that these policies made good politics.”
    * *
    I think their view of the voters’ preferences is correct.
    Where they erred was in the delusion that Hillary Clinton could put across that message, and persuade voters to trust her with its implementation.

    Doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in their work.

  24. AesopFan Says:

    It’s worth reading J. E. Dyer’s post on this article, because of her analysis of a key segment of Ball’s reporting. (BTW, all of the commentary presupposes that we accept Ball’s reporting as accurate, although she isn’t exactly hiding her own preconceptions about what the tour discovered.)


    (discussing in particular the “hippies” and their rejection of Third Way’s premises)

    “Regardless of what end of the political spectrum they occupy, such groups of Americans are quintessentially resistant to the one thing progressives demand: that everyone submit to an idea of government (first, foremost) and community that is fundamentally closed-ended.

    Americans simply don’t see life that way – as closed-ended, according to an unchanging political vision (e.g., progressive socialism). They aren’t interested in coming together with people of differing views to try to implement such a vision on the basis of compromise – because it’s the vision of government and politics itself that doesn’t resonate.

    The ascendant progressive idea of government – what it’s supposed to be, the relation in which it should stand to us – is what makes Americans less and less interested in agreeing with each other.

    The reason for that is that the progressive idea raises the stakes on agreement, to an unworkable level.

    Once the concept of inherently interventionist government takes hold, actively trying to reorder everything in our lives with the force of the state, it is no longer possible to agree with political opponents on a host of things. The cost of doing so is too high. You’re signing up for too much.

    The cost of agreement becomes extraordinary, when every tick in the agreement box means a new law, a new regulatory imposition, and a new reason to tax or “redistribute.” Eventually, there’s no living left, in this model; it’s all government regulation, mandates, and confiscation.

    We have gone such a long way down the path of progressive interventionism that many people younger than perhaps 60 or 70 today can’t even see what an astonishing amount of sheer government we have hovering over us. We used to be able to simply have differing opinions on a whole lot of things, without those opinions incessantly triggering actions of the government. But that is no longer the case. Now, every opinion on everything is the basis for a new law or a lawsuit.

    Under those conditions, it is far too costly to agree with people, or even to remain silent, on things we could once go our entire lives without commenting on as political issues at all. Failing to speak out now too often means that the next thing you know, something that didn’t even matter is being made into a mandatory catechism for your children in the public schools, or is sucking more money out of your wallet in the form of taxes or regulation, or has become a condition of legal employment, unless your employer is willing to court endless lawsuits.

    There is no compromising with this concept of government. When every agreement triggers the same type of government mechanism, the only political option is disagreement, whether on facts, implications, or conclusions. To avert the inevitable pouncing of the government juggernaut, one has to keep disagreement alive.”

  25. AesopFan Says:

    In regard to the exponential growth of regulations (under both Democrats and Republicans, alas), this report is encouraging.


    I can’t access the article anymore because of viewing limits, but the money-quote is that, not only has President Trump’s administration rolled back many of Obama’s regs, it has issued very few new ones. Almost zero.

    Is that winning, or what?

  26. steve walsh Says:

    It reads to me as if he has traveled to the zoo and is inquiring as to the location of the great apes exhibit. Condescending and fully engaged in verifying & justifying the conservative stereotype.

  27. GRA Says:

    Well, I suppose some effort is better than nothing, right? Upon reflection, besides confronting some inner demons and social realities of modernism, I will tribute family road trips, living in the a small college town and mentoring two kids – one white (9 yrs old) living in this small college town and another black (16 yrs old), but living in a lower-middle class urban neighborhood – as events that helped me take life in perspective. This later made the transition to conservatism easier and there was lesser urgency of saying, “gee what do ya know, they ain’t all racists!

  28. GRA Says:

    @ Griffin: It’s interesting when I look at the research interests of academics and learn that if they are in, say, politics or sociology their interest of conservative topics, if they are interested, is usually from a critical standpoint. As neo said they act like anthropologists looking at primates and their daily activities, but unlike primates and indigenous tribes, conservatism looked at with disdain. They find it fascinating but in a bad way.

    The academics didn’t outright say it but they should: I’ve dedicated an entire book on the Tea Party because I just don’t ‘get’ them; or I’m a sociologist and I really, really don’t like religion so I’ve dedicated half of my research to the Christian Right and their influence on social policy.

  29. TommyJay Says:

    Great comments.

    “I did that, [learn about conservatives] and loved it, though I regret waiting until well after I left NPR to do so.”

    I don’t believe him. It just never occurred to him to take a 3 month sabbatical as CEO, and then maybe make reforms to NPR as a result his learning tour. Can you imagine how that would have gone had he done it?

    “None of this justifies the attacks from President Trump, which are terribly inappropriate coming from the head of government.”

    Of course it is justified. On the left, they call it “speaking truth to power.” Also, inappropriateness coming from the head of something?? Look in the mirror pal. The guy spent hundreds of millions in tax dollars in a manner entirely hostile to those unwillingly providing the cash.

    My recommendation is DON’T buy the book. Borrow it from a friend or library.

  30. ConceptJunkie Says:

    You’ve got a point in “why did it take you so long”, but he did it. And even if he didn’t do it perfectly, he sought out people on the right, real people, and learned something.

    This could be a tremendous victory if more people could do this.
    We could return to the days when the left and right could understand each other’s points of view and find common ground.

    I’ve been debating people online since the 90s, and it was a lot easier back then. It was much easier to find common ground, and to be civil. And frankly, a lot of liberals these days (especially in the media) are very bigoted.

  31. Liz Says:

    I’m now on the wait list for the book at the library. My first reaction was that the person was being a bit fake,but that’s why I wanted to get the book.

    I remember after the election that some groups were mentioning going out on a “talking tour”… Not a listening tour.

    Perhaps Neo can schedule a post on a month or so after some of us read the book – a book of the month report?

  32. CBI Says:

    Ms. Neo:

    I think the phrase “gun rights” is ordinarily understood as people’s right to bear arms. The Second Amendment. Plenty of people refer to it that way and it’s understood pretty well not to mean the rights of guns themselves.

    You are correct that it is often used that way by proponents of the right to keep and bear arms. That said, I don’t care for the phrase, and instead refer to that right as part of natural rights, human rights, and (sometimes) civil rights.

  33. Ann Says:

    From Stern’s article:

    At Urbana, I met dozens of people who were dedicating their lives to the mission, spreading the good news of Jesus, of course, but doing so through a life of charity and compassion for others: staffing remote hospitals, building homes for the homeless and, in one case, flying a “powered parachute” over miles of uninhabited jungle in the western Congo to bring a little bit of entertainment, education and relief to some of the remotest villages you could imagine. It was all inspiring — and a little foolhardy, if you ask me about the safety of a powered parachute — but it left me with a very different impression of a community that was previously known to me only through Jerry Falwell and the movie “Footloose.”

    My goodness, what a limited life the fellow has lived. He had no idea Christians were into missionary work, etc.? If that’s actually true, no wonder Christians have such a bad rep with folks like him. By the way, catch that “spreading the good news of Jesus, of course, but …”. I’d call that quiet ridicule.

  34. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Is that winning, or what?

    It is normal Republican politics.

    That’s why people complained about the Old Guard, how they would try to nullify Leftist policies, they would compromise, and then new laws will always crop up, pushing the Leftist agenda.

    Reagan signed a lot of EOs too, and Trum may trump that one.

    That, however, isn’t going to drain the swamp the way many Americans worship, celebrate, and have faith in.

    To fight against the Left requires a strictly offensive strategy, not a defensive or “conservative” one.

    DC, even Trum, can’t change the corrupt culture of the US just by rescinding EOs. Trum needs to fight, but how can he when the rest of America is lazy and no longer brave? It is ridiculous to expect one guy, even if he is treated as a Hero King, to save all of Israel or everybody who broke the Covenant. Doesn’t work like that.

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