Laura Ingraham Tells The Elite: "Shut Up And Listen" (11/10/03)
By Reed Bunzel
Alternately described as irreverent, satirical, fast-paced, passionate, witty, informative and substantive, Laura Ingraham whisks her listeners on a wild ride through the vast amusement park of politics, culture, news and Hollywood. In an increasingly crowded talk Radio arena, Ingraham stands out not only for her biting humor, but also for the intelligence she brings to the microphone. Her legal, political, writing and television backgrounds distinguish her from much of the rest of the talk Radio pack, and whether she's on the watch for evidence of media bias, political hypocrisy or Hollywood inanity, Ingraham infuses her program with a level of energy and commitment to traditional American values that appeal to an ever-growing conservative talk Radio audience.
Decidedly conservative, Ingraham uses her Dartmouth education and her law degree from the University of Virginia to back up her belief in and commitment to “American heartland values.” A former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Ralph K. Winter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, she got her “big break” on Radio in 1996, when she appeared as a guest on Imus in the Morning. “I hadn't listened much to talk Radio before then,” she recalls. “Don had seen me as a ‘contributor’ on MSNBC and invited me on the show. I had a blast with him and the crew, and I’ve been a fairly regular guest ever since.
“I really don't listen much to other hosts — not because I don't want to, but because I have no time,” Ingraham observes. “But perhaps I'm different because I'm a bit younger and I try to glide between politics and the culture — ideally, I'd cover them equally. Being single, I just see a lot more on the social scene than married folks, and a lot of it is really funny — and sometimes depressing! Plus, I think it's good to have my producers on the air. They keep me off the soapbox when I've hopped on for too long.”
The Laura Ingraham Show was launched by Westwood One in April 2001, and Ingraham’s unique blend of pointed opinion and acerbic wit helped the program quickly grow in popularity. Independent syndicator Talk Radio Network (TRN) recently took over distribution of the show, quickly clearing it on WABC-New York, KRLA-Los Angeles, and KSFO-San Francisco. In fact, TRN’s CEO, Mark Masters, claims that he already has agreements to air her show in nine of America’s top 10 markets and that she’ll be in 22 of the top 25 markets by mid-January. “Laura is a rare and compelling personality,” Masters says. “She’s irreverent, passionate and smart. This many top-25 commitments in this short time, plus being on the New York Times best-seller list, speaks to her strengths.”
In addition to hosting her own nationally syndicated Radio program, Ingraham is an author, frequent columnist and television commentator. Her new book, Shut Up & Sing: How the Elites in Hollywood, Politics and the UN are Subverting America, was released in September and currently is on the New York Times best-seller list.
INK: In your book and on your show, you take great umbrage with the “elite” class and their effort to wrest control of the country from the voter. Are elites and elitists one and the same?
LI: The old “elitism” that we used to be familiar with is the moneyed class, which is an old vestige of elitism in Europe, going back to King George III. We kind of left the elites in Europe and came here, where everyone had an equal opportunity. Then, mostly in the last century and developing through the 1960s, there was a new kind of elitism, which really is arrogance toward — and frustration with — traditional American values, outlooks and heartland principles. There’s a small slice of America that really doesn’t want to be held to the same standards and values, and these people would rather circumvent those pesky voters and influence society by going to unelected judges, the United Nations, international institutions or even Hollywood. The problem is, we’re still a representative democracy, so the voters still have a say.
Is a person either an elite or not?
People can be a combination. I say that George Bush has elitist tendencies, as evidenced by his views toward immigration and some of his ties with big business. And George Will, who is one of my favorite columnists, was bemoaning the California recall as this terrible thing, and I was just, “Get over yourself.” I love you, George, but this is what the people wanted.
Do elites hail from both sides of the political aisle?
There are plenty of Democrats who aren’t elites. When Joe Lieberman is being his true self, rather than his campaign self, he’s not an elite. I don’t consider Robert Byrd an elite. Meanwhile, people on the right, such as Susan Collins and even George Will, can have elitist tendencies. And George Bush: I think it goes more to the issue of how much you trust the American people, and how much you believe that the so-called “old American outlook” needs to be transformed by a new, almost European mentality. That’s what you see with a lot of the political debate in this country, and it spills over into the cultural debate, whether it’s academia or Hollywood. Then there’s Noam Chomsky, the influential MIT professor who says he’s really a citizen of the world first, and then he’s an American citizen way, way, way, way down on the list. He’s very much an elite.
Is being a citizen of the world a bad thing?
I like to think that we’re all Americans first, and then we decide as Americans what’s best for the American people. Being a citizen of the world leads us to conclude that our borders don’t matter, our culture doesn’t matter, our identity doesn’t matter because everything is interconnected; so let’s just forget about these old ideas that the framers saddled us with. A lot of these anti-war protesters will say that they’re citizens of the world and that Bush is Hitler, Cheney is Hitler, Rumsfeld is Hitler — everyone’s Hitler except the mustached guy in Iraq putting people into wood chippers. It’s a real sense that America must move into a new global European mentality, leave behind that super-power, cowboy mentality, and embrace this new progressive utopia.
Is there a great elite conspiracy going on in America?
I don’t like to throw around the word conspiracy, because it’s overused and becomes really vapid. But without a doubt, there is a significant effort to avoid the American voters on issues in which they really deserve a full say. It is done by going to unelected, unaccountable judges who strike down state laws that are duly passed and supported by the public. It’s a couple of judges trying to stop the “Do Not Call” registry, or a panel of three judges almost stopping the recall election in California. Think about it: It works well for the elites because they avoid the people. That way, Gray Davis would still be governor, this thing would have dragged out until March, and that would work better for them. The people will take having their trust abused for only so long before they react.
The last three presidential elections showed that the U.S. is almost evenly split in the way it votes. Do conservatives and liberals balance each other?
Contrary to what people like Michael Moore would say, America is a lot more conservative than the left is comfortable with. For instance, after September 11, we once again saw just how America reveres, respects and trusts the military. The left-wing elite has never been comfortable with the military, and has never liked the idea of celebrating the military. So after September 11, when we saw this great patriotism and flag-waving, you had PBS’ Bill Moyers, who was so exasperated that these anchors on television were wearing flag lapel pins. He acted as though that were the end of the world. Similarly, ABC News — great media elite establishment — was bemoaning the fact that flag lapel pins were becoming de rigueur at some networks. Some people in this country really, truly believe that this terrorism breaking out around the world is because of us — that we really created this maelstrom of radical Islam, due to past alliances and past military engagements. The “blame America” mentality is not something that most Americans buy into, but the elite left really does.
What American values and heartland principles are the elites trying to undermine?
Let’s look at the respect for life. The abortion issue pretty much splits the country down the middle, but some issues, such as partial-birth abortion, are overwhelmingly rejected by the American people. Yet, an elite group in the U.S. still believes that there should be any kind of abortion anytime, anywhere.
Are they trying to derail religion?
Americans are a very religious people. We are the most religious country of our size in the world, and there’s a significant discomfort with that among the elites. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the ACLU and a few other groups are engaged in the effort to remove all religiosity in the public square. That’s their issue; other groups focus on other things.
What about big business? Does Wall Street respect or shun American values?
Obviously, big business’ main goal is to make it easier for business to operate without maximum accountability. We demand honesty of our business leaders. When we invest in a company and the leaders lie about the value of a stock or falsely pump the value of a stock, they should go to jail. If small-business owners ripped off people in a regular fashion, like some of these Wall Street types were doing in the 1990s, they’d be in jail. There is something deeply wrong in a society where there are different ethical standards for businessmen of certain level than there are for the average citizen. The honest work ethic in this country has been perverted by the sense that there is dual justice, and it’s an issue that cuts across political lines.
You make it very clear that you don’t think the U.N. and the U.S. are in step with each other.
The last Gallup poll showed that 70 percent believe the U.N. is doing a very poor job around the world. As I’m always saying to my Democrat friends, “If you guys are tying your boat to the United Nations, how is that going to be a positive campaign strategy?” People might think we’re spending too much money in Iraq or that it was wrong-headed to go there, but when we’re in trouble protecting ourselves, I don’t think the best thing to do is to consult every five minutes with [U.N. Secretary General] Kofi Annan.
Do you think this country’s founding fathers could have foreseen an elite class’ effort to usurp power from the people?
Sure. They were grappling with the idea whether a direct democracy would be a workable government in the long run, and they decided that a representative democracy would put in better checks and balances so that the little states wouldn’t be left out. If we didn’t have the Electoral College, no presidential candidate would bother campaigning in Dakota or Idaho, because few people live there. The candidate would have to campaign only in the more elite havens of California, New York and maybe a few of the New England states. There was a real concern for representing all American people from all parts of the country. That ultimately is a good thing, because we don’t want only the population centers of the country to determine how best to guide our country.
Does the U.S. Constitution do a good job of checking and balancing legislative, executive and judicial power?
The Constitution is such a brilliantly conceived document that it’s hard for me to believe that our framers ever considered the courts’ finding unconstitutional establishments of religion around every corner. If, before a high school football game, a student leads nondenominational prayer over the intercom at the stadium, that’s considered an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Would our framers have believed that? Of course they wouldn’t have. No more would they have believed that the Second Amendment would lead to jurisdictions — such as D.C., where I live — where no guns were permitted to be owned, period.
Of course, they wouldn’t have foreseen people having AK 47s or drive-by shootings or snipers.
No, of course not. But the power was given to the people. It was the people’s power to decide. Remember, we had these general admonitions, where “government shall make no law…” It was a restriction of government control. We got our rights from on high; we didn’t get our rights from the government. The government doesn’t give us our rights. Today, we have that all inverted — we have rights only to the extent that the government gives us those rights. That’s wrong.
Did the Supreme Court assume too much power in Marbury vs. Madison?
The court itself decided Marbury vs. Madison, the ultimate holding of which was that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what is and is not constitutional. And that’s one of the big debates raging in the academic legal circles: Do we need a constitutional amendment to override the court’s power?
What do you think? Do we need an amendment to keep the courts in check?
I’m not advocating one way or the other, but there is a frustration with what the courts have been doing. For instance, after the courts struck down the Texas sodomy law, some people started thinking that we may need a constitutional amendment that says a super-majority of Congress can override the Supreme Court, because the court’s out of control. Justice Anthony Kennedy actually cited the International Human Rights Tribunal as an interpretive device to determine the constitutionality of a state law. A lot of people are scratching their heads, thinking, “What mess did we get ourselves into here?”
You take careful aim at Hollywood as being liberal, elitist and out of step with the American public. What’s going on out there?
I respect the artistic community enormously. I’m a huge movie buff and a music fanatic, so I don’t come at this as someone who thinks the culture is all decadent and bad. But think about it: People you knew in high school or college who went into acting or singing are different. Now, this is a generalization — although there’s a grain of truth in all generalizations — they tend to be slightly outsiders. They go into drama club or start a band, and that becomes their identity. They leave their hometown and move to either New York or L.A. Immediately, they are caught up in what is an elite echo chamber of the arts world. It becomes reflexive to think that conservatives are wrong about everything, or that the military is for people who don’t have any other opportunity, or that we need to be better global citizens.
Do creativity and liberalism go hand in hand?
Unemployment in the acting world hovers around 95 percent. Think about it. If you’re in a profession where there’s massive unemployment, it behooves you to be for massive social welfare, because most people are out of work. So you need big government to take care of you. You either believe you’re not being rewarded sufficiently for your talent and you’re a little bitter about it, or you are one of the lucky few to have made it. If you are lucky, you make a lot of money for doing little. I’m not belittling the effort it takes to make a movie, but if you work six months and make $15 million, or even $5 million, you lose a sense of reality. You lose touch with the way most people work for a living, and this sense of unjust enrichment can warp your outlook, creating this odd sense of political liberalism. You’re either guilty because you’re making so much money, or you’re surrounded by so many yes-men and lackeys and hangers-on that you’re never challenged in your views. That happened with a lot of the Hollywood crowd. They simply don’t speak to conservatives.
Of course, most politicians who have come out of Hollywood have been Republican.
There are a few, but they’re the ones who have thrown their hats into the political ring. They don’t go on Larry King every few minutes to blast the current administration. When Clinton engaged our military in Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sudan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson and Tom Selleck weren’t on television all the time, bemoaning the Clinton administration. You didn’t hear anyone speaking out. Contrast that with today, where there’s been a non-stop parade of Hollywood liberal elites coming forward to denounce the motives, the intelligence, the aspirations and the make-up of the Bush administration. At least, Arnold actually put his views on the line.
Is there an inherent liberal bias in the media?
Yes, of course there is, but most conservatives have gotten used to it and have worked around it, through talk Radio and the Internet. Fox News certainly adds much-needed balance. For instance, what happened with the L.A. Times before the recall election was abominable. The bias is there even in small, subtle ways: The New York Times says my book and Bill O’Reilly’s book “attack” while Al Franken’s and Molly Ivins’ books offer “satirical analysis.” It’s so humorous. The nightly news programs have lost so much of their luster and their audience because we get our news when we want it and how we want it — that’s the great thing about the Internet.
Likewise, is there an inherent conservative bias in talk Radio?
We don’t pretend to be reporters. That’s the difference. I don’t pretend to be objective. I don’t come on the Radio and say I am offering both sides. I have guests who offer balance in almost every subject, but I certainly don’t pass myself off except as a commentator. If liberals want to make it in talk Radio, they have to actually try to make it in talk Radio.
Would a liberal talk network work on Radio?
The liberals have NPR. All the liberals I know listen to it. They also have ABC and BBC, and they certainly have a great deal of compatriots in network news. Still, I think it’s possible for great liberal talk shows to work. They have to come at it with the idea of offering the public a service that they don’t already have — and it remains to be seen whether there’s a clamoring on the Radio for a liberal perspective.
What do you bring to the talk Radio audience?
I don’t really know. I do what I think is both substantive and funny. I don’t cover just politics. I hit the culture and the political scenes equally hard. Humor is a lot of it. I’m a serious person, but I try not to take myself too seriously. I think it’s important that we talk Radio hosts continue to be self-deprecating and remind our audience that we’re just people. Anyone can come on and give the conservative line, some more persuasively than others. But a real healthy dose of humor at the same time, some real satire, brings something different to the table; and that’s why we’re attracting a lot of younger listeners. I know the culture; I don’t just trash it. I go to concerts and nearly every movie. I’m single, so I move throughout the culture in a different way from what I would if I were married with three kids. Even so, I have flooded basements, contractors who don’t show up, social-life struggles, and two producers who are very close friends but they drive me insane. I try to keep it real, and I guess it’s working pretty well so far.
Does Radio treat women different from the way it treats men?
Radio is a marathon, not a sprint. Women can’t just dip in and out of it, as in other professions. It’s a long-term commitment, and as we’ve seen the balancing that has to be done with work and family, Radio is no different. So if you have kids, you can’t just leave it and come back. That’s real hard. But women will do very well in Radio as they have in everything else.
Without question, next year’s presidential election will be hotly contested. Are you looking forward to it?
It’s going to be great. The recall was fabulous. I actually started covering the recall on February 2, before it happened. These so-called Washington insiders were telling me I was off my rocker, but I had lived in California off and on, and I knew how much people hated Gray Davis. I thought at the time that it could work, and I started cheering on the recall.
With the presidential race, it will be even more fun, because the country is divided. The mean season has begun. That’s what politics is in the country, and it provides great fodder for talk Radio. It’s a continuing discussion of the kind of nation we want to be and how far will we go to meet these deadly challenges ahead. It’s going to be a rollicking ride.
Ingraham Grades The Candidates
First, the Democrats:
“With his religious background and his respect for faith — and because he does not play to the unions, which exercise inordinate influence over the American agenda — Joe Lieberman is the least elitist of the Democrats. General Wesley Clark would be another.
“On the other hand, John Kerry is one of the most elite. Al Sharpton shouldn’t be an elite, given his background, but he gets caught up in this idea that we need judges and the U.N. to save us from ourselves. John Edwards is clearly captive to the trial lawyers, and we know what they’ve done to American business and the medical profession. Carol Moseley Braun — well, there’s not really any point to dissect her views, because we don’t even know them. And Dennis Kucinich? I think he’s just nuts.
“Howard Dean is interesting. He speaks the populist rhetoric, but you have to weigh the populist rhetoric vs. the elite reality. He’s talking about how ‘the people need to be heard; we need to restore the government to the people.’ When you first listen to him, you understand that Dean could create a movement with that kind of rhetoric. If he were saying we need to enforce our borders, and keep America safe at home before we worry about the rest of the world, that would be one thing. But instead, he’s saying we need to build bridges to the U.N. I can’t tell that Howard Dean’s positions are that much different from John Kerry’s, except that he has a populist emphasis in his rhetoric.”
And now, the Republicans:
“Bush is at his best when he’s with the people, such as when he was in the rubble at the Trade Center with his arm around the firefighter, just talking person-to-person. That’s why Bush has been able to maintain his popularity over the last few years, even though it’s dipped in recent weeks. People believe him; they believe in him. They think he has good intentions even if he has made misjudgments and mistakes along the way. But his two elite weaknesses are immigration and border enforcement. I also believe that some of his more elite tendencies have to do with business. Do we really want to have technology sold to China? Why is that in the American interest? It might be good for business, but why is it good for us?
“Dick Cheney is a bit of an enigmatic figure. He clearly was a man who succeeded in working for a large corporation — but just because you work for a large corporation doesn’t make you an elite. He’s been a public servant for four different administrations, and I think Cheney at best is a patriot and really believes in the goodness of this country.”
Comment on this story
|| From the Publisher