This is old news, but when Gore Vidal died, I learned that William F. Buckley once said to Vidal, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamned face and you’ll stay plastered.”
Now why the hell didn’t I learn that when Buckley died? Well, of course it’s because of our extremely harmful taboo on speaking ill of the dead, but the contrast is striking all the same. When Buckley died, it seemed that all anyone could talk about is how much worse today’s conservative commenators are in comparison.
Yet can anyone seriously imagine Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity threatening to “sock” a “queer” in the “goddamned face”? Even on Fox News it would mean their jobs for sure. Probably their careers could continue after a fashion on satellite radio, the way Glenn Beck’s did, but I suspect even that would be a bit rough. Even if most of their potential listening base wouldn’t be turned off by such a threat, I suspect enough of a percentage would be to hurt their bottom line.
Based on that, not only do I suspect that America’s conservative commentator’s haven’t gotten any worse, they’ve gotten marginally less vile. This is much the same as the situation with Rick Santorum’s imaginary gay friends. For whatever reason, there’s a powerful temptation to believe things were better in the good old days, but empirical reality consistently refutes this.