The graceless aging of Donahue, Moyers and Keillor

By Hugh Hewitt

The president’s sweeping win on Nov. 5 has unleashed panic in some parts, despair in others, and among a certain demographic – aging, white, very liberal males working in the commentariat – the defining reaction has been a deep bitterness that cannot be disguised. Let’s call this reaction Hunt’s Syndrome, after the original caught-in-the-swamp-tar leftosauraus, Al Hunt.

Symptoms include repeated expression of tired cliches and an attachment to factual fantasies. The underlying condition has to do with aging, however, and the inescapable feel of influence drifting away. Where once invitations to state dinners and top-drawer speaking engagements flooded, there is now only a trickle of BBC reporters and the lunch slot at an Emily’s List regional coffee klatch. Growing old is always difficult to manage with grace. It gets very hard indeed when with the years also arrives irrelevance.

Phil Donahue provides a nightly prime-time clinic on eclipse, and no mere mountain of data or flat-line in the ratings will persuade him that he no longer has game. Phil’s been doing television since 1967, and no kid born in FDR’s first term is going to slink away simply because nobody cares enough even to complain.

Bill Moyers was born even before Donahue, and since no one at PBS has ever much cared about ratings, he is even less vulnerable to the public’s verdict. Still, his commentary in the aftermath of the Bush wins set a new low for publicly funded hate speech. This diatribe cannot accurately be called anything other than hate speech because of the venom it displays – at public expense, mind you.

Moyers rants that the GOP victories mean “using the power of the state to force pregnant women to give up control over their own lives,” “giving corporations a free hand to eviscerate the environment,” and “secrecy on a scale that will scare you.” Moyers saves his best blast for the religious: “If you like God in government, get ready for the Rapture.”

The youngster in this gang of three who couldn’t think straight is Garrison Keillor, but his mere 60 years perhaps gave him the energy to emit the sharpest shriek of all. Keillor – gentle, charming, buffoonish Garrison – will lower himself to trading in rumors and inventing polls, excusing the repugnant behavior of others and inventing the new gold standard of elitism, the F. Scott index, and more, just so he can attempt to dent Norm Coleman’s big win in Minnesota.

As I have often said on my radio show, every time I think Democrats hit bottom, they dig a new basement. Keillor has done even more than that – he’s excavated an entire cavern. That he did so at Salon.com – which has an even smaller audience than MSNBC and PBS – does not excuse the exercise. Like his aging pals, Keillor is the sorest of losers.

So why this bitterness? At first I thought it was the first rule of audiences – always give your audience what they have come for, and the narrow, smug audiences of the left must have their bile served in large amounts. (Audiences on the center-right, by contrast, demand facts, logic and at least some humor.)

But other lefty commentators are not drowning in bitterness. They are, in fact, busy lynching their leadership in a time-honored ritual practiced on both sides of the aisle. Why then did this Triumvirate of New Men go off the rails at the same time?

They are old. They may possibly hang on in the public eye a bit longer, but their day is past. And it is not an easy passing either, because they are revealed – first by events and then by votes – to have been fundamentally wrong about everything that matters. The New Men are clearly not prepared for the new world post 9-11. Their ideals are not our ideals, and their leaders are not our leaders. Their audiences have shrunk – continue to shrink – and are, in fact, dwindling to unmeasurable levels.

There will always be a small and devoted audience, and an occasional reading in a high-end book store. But the cheering has stopped. And in that hard reality is bitterness. It is a shame that, faced with that growing silence, they are responding with howls.