The Fairness Doctrine

There’s been a lot of bemusement on the left side of the blogosphere in the last few days about the right side’s obsession with railing against the fairness doctrine, even though there’s no real support for it anywhere on the left. This tells us, I think, that the left still largely doesn’t understand the way the conservative movement blends its messaging and its organizing. Take Atrios:

I know there are some on the left who support it. I don’t for various reasons. But Obama doesn’t support it. There’s no serious movement in Congress to reinstate it. It isn’t part of the current list of priorities of the Vast Left Conspiracy. But wingnuts will obsess, because they’re very silly people. Actually, some obsess about it because they’re very stupid people. And some obsess about it because they think it’s political useful to do so even though they know it’s bullshit.

While this certainly could be true, it operates under two assumptions, first of all that the right would obsess over something they don’t like and isn’t going to happen more than something they don’t like but is going to be taken up by Democrats, and that there’s nothing political in that calculation. But what the obsession with the Fairness Doctrine really is is a structural ploy for the rank and file. It’s designed for the subset of people who like talk radio, and who get their “news” almost exclusively from radio and right-wing blogs. In other words, people who can be tricked into believing there actually is some sort of intention or support for reapplying the fairness doctrine, and can subsequently be scared into thinking Democrats are going to take their talk radio away from them. There’s not necessarily a lot of obvious utility to that, these are the sorts of people who vote for Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo after all, but it is good for raising money, and this is the point in the cycle where raising money is of ultimate importance, especially when you’re the minority party.