August 4, 2014

Ebola vs. Conservatism

Ebola is an enemy of conservatism. It's a deadly disease, it's spreading in Africa and there is more than one case in the United States.  To date the current outbreak has killed several hundred people in Africa. But it's not going to become an epidemic - at least in the Western world.  Africa could be another story. In fact that should be the story, here without proper intervention, thousands more could die.

Influenza by comparison, kills hundreds of thousands of people every year.  But Ebola is a virus that lends itself to sensationalism in journalism.  That's because the symptoms and relatively quick and inevitable death is so gruesome. 

This is where Ebola, like so many other news stories, are problematic for conservatism.  Because so many people have still not caught on to the sensational nature of journalism and the media in general, they are susceptible to hysteria and panic reactions.  Meanwhile, more important problems like influenza are neglected as a result.

Cancer has never gotten the media attention that AIDS did at its peak. Malaria, which has killed millions, never got the bad name that DDT, the pesticide which did wonders to combat it did.  So DDT was banned and millions more have succumbed to malaria since then.  CNN spent a month on a missing airplane while government scandals abounded in America.

Ebola, like other sensationalist news stories, distract from other important items. The media is addicted to sensationalism.  It attract attention and it sells.  It drives advertising revenue.  That's not only true in news, but in television, movies, music, video games and any other type of media as well.

But sensationalism is like a drug in the sense that as we see more of it, we become desensitized to it and what kept us raptly attentive last year, is less shocking and less interesting today.  We need something bigger and more exciting.  Gladiators are no longer enough, we need lions feasting on defenseless Christians now. That's bad for society in terms of civility, in terms of cohesiveness and it just coarsens us all.

It's also bad for the cause of conservatism.  Sensationalism also shortens our attention span.  We don't want the movie to drag on for 60 minutes before the awesome car chase.  Maybe 10 minutes we can handle.  Conservatives greatest proponents have always been accustomed to considered debate.  William F. Buckley while brilliant, was never "sensational" in a media sense.  The landscape keeps changing to less and less friendly terms for lengthy discourse.

Conservatism needs to shorten it's meaning to 6 second soundbites.  But that's no easy task.  In an environment where our positions have for so long been misrepresented, we need to explain ourselves.  We also face a mostly hostile media landscape.  Simplifying our message will lend itself to criticism of being populist and too simple to be real policy consideration.  The same is not true for liberal candidates: Hope and Change gets a free pass, but Reagan's Morning in America campaign would be torn to shreds today.

But it's not all the media's fault.  Conservative standard bearers for the most part, have not adapted their methods to the changing media landscape.  We are partly to blame ourselves.  We need to adapt the tactics of our political opponents because they have been managing media much more successfully for decades.  

When you have to compete with Ebola, you can't stand still.

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