I feel sorry for Bill O’Reilly. He makes his living by exposing a mean spirited, smallness of mind; “showing his ass,” as my grandfather used to say. As the mouthpiece for FoxNews bigotry and disingenuous journalism, he has come to stand for a media brand marked by bias and mendacity. Like the administration that has buttressed his meteoric rise to fame, O’Reilly’s defining characteristic is the flaccid bellicosity of the playground bully.
More significantly, like W’s reign and the bully’s career, O’Reilly is driven by neither actual courage nor genuine conviction, just a soft-centered love of his own voice, power and reflection. He turns himself on. The problem, of course, is that as a man who knows little and simply invents convenient “facts” of American history, race relations, even God’s will, to suit his shifting and fleeting rhetorical needs, he makes it harder on the rest of us who must spend time disabusing others of falsehood after falsehood. I must explain to my students, yes, kids, lynching is wrong; no, kids, there were no WMDs; no, kids, Mr. Obama is not a terrorist. Yes, kids, Michelle Obama is entitled to her opinion.
The worst of the latest worst things O’Reilly has said involves Michelle Obama’s expression of pride over her country’s embrace of her husband’s campaign. She did suggest it had been a while since she felt much pride in her country; a sentiment which far too many of us have come to share in the wake of “Mission Accomplished”; Abu Ghraib; water boarding, etc.
Yet, in exercising her right to speak freely (something to which Mr. O’Reilly clings like a tattered baby blanket), Ms. Obama offended O’Reilly’s tender patriotism. Indeed, in the throes of outrage, he suggested the following: “I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama” (good news there, huh?) “unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how [she] really feels.” Once confronted with “evidence” he’ll have no choice apparently but to embark on a “lynching party” in the name of good conscience and patriotism.
In the face of such profound racism, and deep, deep stupidity, one wonders how to properly respond. I find myself shaking my fist at the heavens, wondering why a loving god would subject my country to this poison, this politics of hate. But if Mr. O’Reilly has taught me anything, it is that ranting at perceived slights fails to serve the greater good.
Instead, I will work against hate, practice an informed politics of hope, and dedicate myself this election year to becoming the kind of citizen of which Ms. Obama might be proud.