From the 2004 launch of the ill-fated Air America radio network to the current incarnation of MSNBC, liberals have made a concerted effort to compete with the conservative movement in the dodgy business of ideological entertainment.

The effort has been a decided failure.

The short-story writer and essayist Steve Almond took to the pages of the New York Times Magazine to declare, with splenetic flair, that the effort has been something worse than a failure: It’s actually helping the enemy.

Liberals’ responses to this or that Rush Limbaugh idiocy, says Almond, only serve to propagate such idiocies even further:

Media outlets like MSNBC and The Huffington Post often justify their coverage of these voices by claiming to serve as watchdogs. It would be more accurate to think of them as de facto loudspeakers for conservative agitprop. The demagogues of the world, after all, derive power solely from their ability to provoke reaction. Those liberals (like me) who take the bait, are to blame for their outsize influence.

Almond has a solution: and that’s to cut ’em off.

Imagine, if you will, the domino effect that would ensue if liberals and moderates simply tuned out the demagogues. Yes, they would still be able to manipulate their legions into endorsing cruel and self-defeating policies. But their voices would be sealed within the echo chamber of extremism and sealed off from the majority of Americans who honestly just want our common problems solved. They would be marginalized in the same way as activists who rant about racial purity or anarchy.

Those of us at TAC, too, often break into hives at the sound of movement conservative agitprop, not to mention the sight of Sean Hannity’s hair. We know of which he speaks. But Almond is dreaming if he thinks Limbaugh and Hannity and Il Doocy can be sealed off into a mere echo chamber on the margins of national life.

In a country 20 million of whose citizens listen to Rush Limbaugh, and where 40 percent describe their political views as conservative, Almond’s liberal version of the Great American Smokeout is a pipe dream.

Almond is basically saying that liberals should go back to the way things were before liberals and progressives felt it was a dire necessity to counterattack conservative media. (Losing a couple presidential elections will do that to you.)

Good luck with that.