Paul M. Weyrich | Commentary | Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Of the Republican Senators up for re-election who are in trouble, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island, Conrad Burns of Montana, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, George F. Allen of Virginia and James Talent of Missouri, only Talent appears to be clearly leading in his race. The Zogby tracking has Allen several points behind while the Rasmussen poll has him slightly ahead. While Santorum has gained ground in recent weeks, he is still trailing.
In the races in which Republicans are supposed to have a chance at wining over a Democrat -- in Maryland, Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey and Michigan -- all Democrats are lead in the polls. Pollsters differ as to the margin, but none is predicting that a Republican will win in any place other than New Jersey. Even there, one pollster has the race tied, the other has the GOP candidate, State Senator Thomas Kean, Jr. running behind.
There are also rumors that the Democrats at the last moment may dump their appointed incumbent in New Jersey, Senator Robert Menendez, in favor of long-time Congressman Robert E. Andrews, as they did when Senator Toricelli got into deep trouble. At the last moment they persuaded Senator Frank R. Lautenberg to come out of retirement and he handily defeated the Republican candidate.
Menendez is under somewhat of a cloud with federal prosecutors breathing down his neck. Yet, Democrats appear willing to stick by him. But who knows what might lie around the corner. Whereas Kean had been running ahead all summer, he has now lost support, by all indications.
I continue to believe that if there were a slight Democratic trend by election day, all of the vulnerable Republicans may be defeated, and none of the challengers is likely to win either.
In the House it is fairly easy to see how Democrats pick up at least 12 of the 15 seats they need to take control. Getting the final three may prove difficult but by no means impossible.
The President's numbers have gone up to the mid 40s again. While that is certainly better news for Republicans than when President George W. Bush was at a 32% approval rating, to be helpful to Republicans Bush needs to be over 50%. It is possible for that to happen but not likely. We shall see.
One nasty little surprise Democrats intend to enact if they gain control of Congress is the reinstatement of the "Fairness Doctrine." I produced a radio talk show in the early 1960s called "Home Executive Club." I had to supply our host, Charles Presley, with three guests a day.
We ran the gamut from the Fire Chief to visiting dignitaries to political figures. Every time I had, for example, Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) or Representative Henry Schadeberg (R-WI) or any other politician on the show, I had to be prepared to give their opponents time to express their views. It was a pain to administer and caused us to limit the number of political guests.
The reason that talk radio as we know it today is so powerful is because guests and hosts are free to express themselves without Fairness Doctrine interference. The Fairness Doctrine was one of those ideas which sounded good and reasonable when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) promulgated the regulation in 1949.
After World War II, more and more communities were getting their own radio stations and cities which already had stations immediately got more. Some of them began talk shows, even though then whenever you had someone on the show by telephone the audience had to endure a beep every ten seconds, thus warning the person that he was being taped or broadcast.
A small radio talk show industry had begun but as soon as the Fairness Doctrine went into effect that industry died. Stations did not want to be compelled to provide time for "the other side" of a controversial issue. Guess what? There often are not two sides to an issue but ten. Stations had to pick and choose as to which opponents were legitimate. Stations at times were sued when the plaintiff believed the wrong side was selected for rebuttal.
I was in a two-station town of some 70,000 and a county of double that. Folks were decent and friendly so I received fewer requests for time than some of my colleagues in other cities. Kenosha, Wisconsin is between Milwaukee and Chicago. Radio stations were available to Kenosha listeners not only from those large cities but from Racine, Wisconsin and Waukegan, Illinois. We were one of the very few stations which had two programs, totaling six hours a day, of radio talk. There was a good reason for that. The Fairness Doctrine, while purporting to be an instrument of democracy, was in truth the instrument by which democracy was stifled.
How did we get to the position where Rush Limbaugh has saved many an AM station with controversy de jour? Where Sean Hannity is right behind Rush? Where the audiences of Mark Levin and Dr. Laura are growing? Where Gordon Liddy and Michael Reagan and Bill Bennett have expanding audiences? Where there are at least 1,100 (that's one thousand one hundred) conservative radio talk-show hosts at the local level? That number was from a couple of years ago. It is likely higher now.
This happened because Ronald Reagan's FCC Chairman got the Doctrine repealed. He wanted less government interference with the individual. With the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine radio talk shows sprung up at the local level. We need to remember that the celebrated Limbaugh did his show in Sacramento before going national. The idea of someone like Limbaugh putting together a powerful, influential news talk network was unthinkable while the Fairness Doctrine was in effect.
Since then there have been various attempts to replicate Rush from the left. All have failed. We hear now that the latest effort, Air America, may have steep financial problems. Liberals fight for real. Their screaming, whining, hate-America approach has not gone over well with the American people. So what they plan to do is to attach restoration of the Fairness Doctrine to a piece of must-pass legislation.
If they stick it on the Defense Appropriations Bill, President Bush cannot afford to veto that while we are at war. That will silence all of these great voices that have so dramatically changed things in America.
The liberals have the three major broadcast networks; they have PBS; they have CNN, MSNBC and Bloomberg on cable; they have the powerful voices of the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. We have the Fox News Channel (which only seeks to present both sides and is not outright conservative) and talk radio. If talk radio disappears we will be back where we were politically in the 1970s.
I am as disgusted with the lack of performance, especially in the Senate, as you are. But when it comes to providing rights for illegal immigrants and rights for those captured during war (men who want to kill us by any means possible) and the abolition of talk radio as we know it, then I must swallow hard.
Hopefully, a sufficient number in Congress will return who are dedicated to real democracy, that we will get a handle on all of our borders, be able to question prisoners so as to learn their plans to blow us up and who will preserve talk radio, which at last has given us a voice in this country.
(Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.)
Copyright 2006, Free Congress Foundation