It’s time to save Michael Savage

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My contention since the 2008 election is that Republicans are losing today because they’re acting like Democrats in the 1990s. They’re only catering to their extreme base, and worse they’re betraying each other and stabbing one another in the back whenever they think their political fortunes are at stake (Sarah Palin anyone?) Nowhere is this new theory on display more prominently than with the cold shoulder the hard right press has been giving one of their most powerful members, radio host Michael Savage.

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If you haven’t heard of him, Michael Savage is roughly the third most popular talk radio host in America. He’s got a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, has written over 25 books, has millions of loyal fans, and was barred this year from visiting the United Kingdom. British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced the names of 16 people who would be barred travel visas to England for various problematic activities or statements. Savage is on the list because England feels that he “…foments hatred…division…and violence” through his radio show. The rest of the 16 includes a Jewish extremist, a member of Hamas, suspected terrorists, skinheads and American homophobe Fred Phelps. The Home Secretary insists that visiting England is a privilege and they have to right to keep out anyone that they wish.

Far be it for me to lecture the British on who they let into their country, but the nation’s record of who is and isn’t allowed to get a travel visa is hard to fathom. In recent years Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg and President Obama’s brother, Samson, have been denied travel visas. However, pedophiles like Roman Polanski and convicted rapists like Mike Tyson travel in and out of the country with impunity.

Of course the real issue isn’t what the British are doing but what the conservative press in America isn’t doing. The right-wing press has always rallied around prominent members who get into trouble or face real or imagined censorship, so why aren’t they supporting one of their best and brightest in his hour of need? When Rush Limbaugh was in trouble for using illegal drugs, and talked himself out of buying the St. Louis Rams, every right-wing talker in America championed his cause. When Bill O’Reilly was caught on tape sexually harassing a subordinate, the right-wingers took to the air to defend him. Half of these guys have no problem attacking Europe; remember this is the crowd that brought us “Freedom Fries” instead of “French Fries” when the French were seen as impeding the War on Terror. Now our closest ally in the War on Terror denies a pundit the right to visit because of “hate speech” and all you hear is crickets.

Rest assured, I’m not championing Michael Savage. I find him to be paranoid, bitter and pathologically bigoted. He’s almost a caricature of an old school bigot, more likely to show up at the pizza parlor in “Do the Right Thing” than on the air. On his show he constantly claims that Mexicans are diseased, refers to Blacks as savages, calls for the killing of Muslims before they kill us and generally spends every show decrying the downfall of a nation that he at one point in the past considered great. But at least he’s honest. He doesn’t use code words or dance around his bigotry like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity to placate advertisers and ameliorate the racist guilt of suburbanites. The one time he sold out was in 2003 after he was fired from MSNBC for yelling at a homosexual guest and telling the man to get AIDS and die. I was disappointed that he apologized for his statement in a cowardly attempt to stay on the air.

It will be enjoyable to sit back and see the right ignore his visa denial and leave yet another of their team out to dry in their desperate attempt to win back the marketplace of ideas and congressional seats. I prefer Savage, who will tell me that he hates me, and I can ignore him, to a whole slew of charlatans out there who feign inclusiveness over ideological commitment. The right wing press might fear Savage represents an extreme negative wing of the party, but if you look at the polls lately he might be the only wing they’ve got left.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor at Hiram College in Ohio.)

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