Tucker Carlson Embodies the GOP's CynicismRoundup
tags: Republican Party, Fox News, media, Tucker Carlson
Tucker Carlson is, for now, off the air and lying low. But his rapid slide from would-be journalist to venomous demagogue is the story of a generation of political commentators who found that inducing madness in the American public was better than the drudgery of working a job outside the conservative hothouses.
Tucker Carlson has been fired, and you’ve probably already read a bushel of stories about his dismissal, his career, and his influence. Today, I want to share with you a more personal reflection. (Full disclosure: Carlson took a bizarre swipe at me toward the end of his time at Fox.) I always thought of Carlson as one of the worst things to happen to millions of Americans, and particularly to the working class. As Margaret Sullivan recently wrote, “Despite his smarmy demeanor, and aging prep-school appearance,” Carlson became “a twisted kind of working-class hero.”
Not to me. I grew up working-class, and I admit that I never much cared for Carlson, a son of remarkable privilege and wealth, even before he became this creepy version of himself. I am about a decade older than Carlson, and when he began his career in the 1990s, I was a young academic and a Republican who’d worked in a city hall, a state legislature, and the U.S. Senate (as well as a number of other less glamorous jobs). Perhaps I should have liked him more because of his obvious desire to be taken seriously as an intellectual, but maybe that was also the problem: Carlson was too obvious, too effortful. I was already a fan of people such as George Will and Charles Krauthammer, and I didn’t need a young, bow-tied, lightweight imitator.
But still, I read his writing in conservative magazines, and that of others in his cohort. After all, back in those days, they were my tribe. But the early ’90s, I believe, is where things went wrong for this generation of young conservatives. Privileged, highly educated, stung by Bill Clinton’s win—and, soon, bored—they decided that they were all slated for greater things in public life. The dull slog of high-paying professional jobs was not for them, not if it meant living outside the media or political ecosystems of New York and Washington.
Carlson joined this attention-seeking conservative generation and tried on various personas. At one point, he had a show on MSNBC that was canceled after a year. I never saw it. I do remember Carlson as the co-host of Crossfire; I didn’t think he did a very good job representing thoughtful conservatives, and he ended up getting pantsed live on national television by Jon Stewart. He was soon let go from CNN.
When Carlson got his own show on Fox News in 2016, however, I noticed.
This new Tucker Carlson decided to throw off the pretense of intellectualism. (According to The New York Times, he was “determined to avoid his fate at CNN and MSNBC.”) He understood what Fox viewers wanted, and he took the old Tucker—the one who claimed to care about truth and journalistic responsibility—and drove him to a farm upstate where he could run free with the other journalists. The guy who returned alone in his car to the studio in Manhattan was a stone-cold, cynical demagogue. By God, no one was going to fire that guy.
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