Another Unexpectedly Enlightening Conversation with Bill O’Reilly

[I’ll be honest with you, Dack: you didn’t exactly knock it out of the park yesterday.]

Hmm. That’s interesting: when our conversation is a smash, you claim half of the credit, but when we bring forth a dud, somehow only my fingerprints are on it.

[You were the one who wanted to talk about Bill O’Reilly and whatever he discussed with Glenn Beck, but you had nothing to say. All you did was repeat what he said without any commentary of your own.]

That’s just a bit of an exaggeration, ain’t it? I explained why and where I disagreed with O’Reilly.

[Yeah, but literally any writer could do that. You would have been better off just putting the link out there and allowing the readers, if we have any, to check it out for themselves. It just felt like a clip show or something, like you were heating up leftovers, if you can even call it that, and passing it off like it was a new special. Don’t tell me you can’t see my point.]

No, I do. I understood, even before I published the thing, that it wasn’t my greatest work. It’s odd, because I thought it was going to be a smash when I sat down to write it, and for a while there, it seemed like it was going to be good, but somewhere near the turning point of the piece, I knew I lost my way. Suddenly, I couldn’t explain to myself why O’Reilly’s commentary seemed to be so important.

[I hadn’t even thought of that particular flaw. Why should anybody care about what Bill O’Reilly says? You admitted that you enjoyed taking potshots at him when you were first starting out, when you made your first attempts at political commentary. How did you describe him? As an apologist for American imperialism?]

Something like that. He was a big proponent of the invasion of Iraq—the invasion of 2003, I should say—and he had remarkably little patience for anyone who took the Bush Administration to task on that issue. He called for the American people to accept without question, to silently submit to the neoconservative military project.

[Only in the beginning. As the war dragged on, he recognized that the military conquest couldn’t be defended on its own terms, and he called for a measured withdrawal of American soldiers, in contrast to those who said we should leave Iraq immediately.]

Yeah, but he was still dancing around the question of whether the invasion had been a mistake. He did eventually admit that we never should have been there, but not until 2012, during a debate with Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. I remember an argument he had with Phil Donahue—this was in 2007, I think—wherein he refused to criticize the Bush Administration directly. Instead, he dwelt on the haste with which some liberals—though no mainstream politicians, I might say—called for an immediate departure of American military forces from Iraq.

[In other words, he was demonizing the Left, rather than addressing the problem that only the Left was willing to identify at the time.]

Right. Obviously, we’re simplifying here; we can see, with the benefit of hindsight, that the Left was never really serious about reducing American military action, and so, the moral heroism that was tangible at the time has long since been revealed to have been a con.

[I’m not disagreeing with you, but you’re getting off-topic. O’Reilly was a warmonger. This, you have plainly proven. What I don’t understand is why you’re taking an interest in what O’Reilly says today.]

Well, before you cut me off, I was going to talk about my interest in revisiting media from the pre-Trump world. In particular, I’ve been fascinated by the coverage of Trump’s rise to power. Do you have any idea how much wisdom there is to be gleaned from this retroactive analysis? Since we all know the ending in advance, we can review the footage for indications of what was coming down the pike, for warning signs of the iceberg in the distance.

[And you find this material going as far back as 2007?]

Not necessarily. I was thinking more along the lines of this little nugget from May of 2016, shortly after the Indiana primary, at which point Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee.

[O’Reilly was debating Charles Krauthammer, who died last summer . . . seven months ago? Has it really been that long?]

Yes, it has. Now, there’s a lot to dislike about Krauthammer, although I do think he made a couple of interesting points, in other settings, about the problem of income inequality versus the stagnation of wages. In fact, his perspective made me reconsider—

[Nope, nope, nope. Commit to the track. Why are we watching this video of Krauthammer and O’Reilly discussing Trump’s effective clinching of the Republican nomination?]

Because it’s ominous and interesting—ominous for pretty obvious reasons, and interesting because I was blind to this stuff at the time of Trump’s ascent.

[Why were you blind to it?]

Because, at the time, I relied on CNN for most of my news, and I didn’t think there was a realistic chance that Trump would win the election. I thought about the possibility of him winning here and there, but I didn’t think it could actually happen, at least not until a few weeks before the election. In any case, I wasn’t plunging the depths of the media for contrary evidence—

[Yeah, Fox News is the depth of the media, is it? Such an obscure little source on the outer limits of the most neglected corner—]

—for arguments against what I happened to believe. With relatively little interest in challenging my own perspective and prejudice, I never thought to pay attention to what O’Reilly had to say. In fact, the only reason I later sought out his interview with Krauthammer is because part of it was used—and somewhat misrepresented, I might add—in one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign spots. I have been searching for it for quite some time, but finally, I found it.

[In this ad, Krauthammer says he doesn’t feel comfortable trusting Trump with the nuclear codes. This was misrepresented?]

No, it’s the labored sigh from O’Reilly afterwards. The ad implies that O’Reilly isn’t comfortable with Trump, either, but if you watch the interview in its entirety, O’Reilly suggests that most of Trump’s bluster is precisely that: bluster, theatrical expression, and ultimately misleading from his true intent.

[I see. So, this campaign ad eventually inspired you to watch the interview in full, but somehow, I don’t think this bit of dishonest editing on Clinton’s part is what you’re really interested in.]

No, it isn’t. That comment about the nuclear codes doesn’t appear until late in the interview. Let’s start at the beginning and listen to what Krauthammer says. He talks about the fragmentation of the Republican Party, about Trump’s inability to conciliate the intraparty factions and to corral all the critters. He is troubled by this, and he acknowledges that this splintering has not ended well historically, but he doesn’t say that Trump is doomed, that there is no way Trump can win.

[He does, however, seem to lean more towards the side of doubt than O’Reilly, who, I notice, goes as far as to reject “raw demographics” in favor of a perspective that is, well, favorable to Trump.]

That’s right. Krauthammer even points out that, at the time of the Indiana primary, Trump wasn’t picking up more than twenty-five percent of the female vote, and I don’t remember hearing that statistic anywhere else, even in the liberal media, which should have run with it.

[Probably because those numbers must have softened at some point between the Indiana primary and the general election. So, you like this interview because it offers nuance and balance, because it was informative in a way that most of the left-wing coverage was not.]

I would say it was more informative than anything the left-wing media reported prior to the general election.

[Well, I wouldn’t go that far—]

You wouldn’t? What did the left-wing media outlets do, from the summer of 2015 until the day of the election, except promote? Every day, CNN promoted terror in response to whatever Trump did most recently, or else it promoted mean-spirited delight as the Republican Party ostensibly broke apart at the seams. There was no nuance at all to the reaction of the liberal press.

[And “no nuance at all” is not exactly nuanced, is it?]

All right, you got me there. But listen to what I’m saying: from the beginning, the liberal press ran with the opportunity to attack the Republican Party directly. Donald Trump appeared to give them license to abandon objectivity and to respond to the man directly. This, of course, become doubly complicated when Trump commenced his attack on the press, though this did not break the barrier between the press and the writers who comprise it. Unfortunately, it was the collective decision of the writers to respond personally that delivered the catastrophic blow, thereby demolishing that so thin line between writers and their writing. The result was chaos, chaos which we still are nowhere near concluding.

[The media is a box; the writers are inside. When Trump struck the box, the writers struck back, and broke out of their prism. Now they have scattered and flooded the airwaves, multiplying and proliferating without any kind of discipline, without a semblance of control. It’s all pandemonium with no end in sight.]

Here, we must refer to Julian Assange’s description of Gaddafi-controlled Libya. He saw it as “the cork in the African bottle”, one that, once removed, would unleash unfathomable chaos. In this case, the chaos is the death of objectivity: no one has to hide his or her political prejudice anymore. There is no longer any interest in coverage; there is only an insatiable thirst for commentary, for confirmation bias.

[Is your commentary confirmation bias?]

It can be. I don’t suppose too many people would come to me for a spirited defense of the media, would they?

[Ah, nice save. So, is this discussion between O’Reilly and Krauthammer an example of something other than that partisan free-for-all?]

Yes, it is. Listen to Krauthammer as he comments on the transfiguration of the Republican Party. He witnesses the Party’s internal evolution from a foundation of conservatism to one of populism. In the aftermath of Trump, the Republican Party will no longer promote conservatism, but right-wing populism. His declaration was a little premature, it seems, as President Trump’s policies have been much less unorthodox than most of us believed, but still: Krauthammer’s contemplation of the complex ideological framework of the Republican Party was never echoed in the liberal press.

[No, because the liberal press doesn’t recognize the complexity of conservatism. The liberal press perceives it as a crucible of bile, as the manifestation of unconscious hatred. Much has been written about the psychological divide between liberals and conservatives, about how the two sides simply do not understand each other. Their ideological estrangement did not begin in 2016, but clearly, it was made conscious and apparent, at least to those who happened to be paying attention.]

And yet, there has been no real attempt to bridge that gap in the subsequent years. There is still the relentless drive to confirmation bias, still the obstinance and resistance whenever anyone attempts to make one side see from the other’s point of view.

[Okay, we’re not about to embark on a moralizing lecture. Already, we have wandered terribly far off-course: hitherto, we have counted some of the wealth of insight in this interview from March of 2016, but we have yet to prove the value of O’Reilly’s interview with Glenn Beck.]

This is true, this is very true, indeed. So, what did O’Reilly discuss with Beck, anyway?

[Let’s see what I remember . . . well, O’Reilly said that none of the progressive populists, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, would defeat Trump in a general election. In fact, he went as far as to say that none of them will be the nominee, even, although I notice he did not explicitly dismiss the chance of one of them becoming Vice-President.]

But doesn’t the latter follow the former? If the progressive populists, if the hard left, is unpalatable in a general election, why should that wing be represented on the ticket at all?

[Well, Hillary Clinton received a lot of criticism in the underground media for failing to extend an invitation to Sanders’s supporters the last time around.]

Hmm. This is true. However, that situation involved unresolved intraparty conflict, not unlike that which Krauthammer described at the beginning of his interview. Somehow, enough conservatives came together for Trump. Somehow, Hillary Clinton failed to unite the party. The question, then, is how the Democratic Party will obviate such internal turmoil this time around. I suspect that there will be more of an opportunity for the people to address and discuss their grievances, because the primaries will not be dominated by a tyrant such as Clinton—at least, I can’t imagine such a force emerging in this instance.

[In other words, the progressive populists may not need to appear on the ticket, provided that they aren’t disrespected from the beginning again?]

I would say so. O’Reilly believes that the Democrats will eventually choose a mainstream figure, one who is not a progressive populist; if he’s correct, then the trick will be determining how much of the progressive philosophy to incorporate in the final platform. Would Joe Biden actually come out in support of single-payer healthcare? Would Michelle Obama? In both cases, the nominee is, in effect, declaring Obamacare a failure—assuming, that is, that single-payer healthcare survives onto the final draft.

[You can’t really imagine an old-fashioned Democrat leading the way. The nominee has to take a step in the new progressive direction somehow, yet it seems like single-payer healthcare isn’t even all that controversial in the Democratic Party anymore. What would be the alternative? Legalized pot?]

Maybe. In our conversation after Elizabeth Warren’s rally, we discussed the faux bravery of such a proposal. I don’t think we’re far away from the embrace of marijuana by a major nominee; if we don’t see it in 2020, then we will certainly see it in 2024. However, I don’t think that is the breaking point for independent voters. It seems like a secondary issue, even if you place it in a broader package of criminal justice reform. No, I think single-payer healthcare is the way to go. I just can’t see how a headlining candidate can replace that concept with another that is equally arresting.

[Does that mean the nominee—who will be mainstream, presumably—will embrace single-payer healthcare at the convention?]

No, but it does mean that an establishment nominee who refuses to do so will probably lose in the general election.

[You’re cutting the list apart, don’t you think? On the one hand, you’re saying that a progressive populist has no chance of winning—]

No. O’Reilly said that a progressive populist has no chance of winning in the general election.

[Is he right?]

Yeah, I think so. I don’t think the heartland is ready for Ocasio-Cortez.

[Whose support, you mentioned in our last conversation, Sanders and his ilk can certainly depend on. So, does that mean a progressive populist can’t be the Vice-President, either?]

See, this is where I struggle. I don’t think just any progressive populist should be called upon to be the second-in-command, but at the same time, you can’t just present the people who made their mint in 2004 and expect to win over the American people. I’m imagining Michelle Obama as the nominee, with Sanders as her running mate. Not too shabby, huh?

[Except that the wavering conservatives who may vote for Michelle would want no part of Bernie. What if Michelle selects someone more mainstream as her running mate, but still agrees to pick up part of Sanders’s platform? What if she embraces single-payer healthcare, but none of the rest?]

That could work. Do we await the second coming of Obama-Biden?

[I don’t know. She keeps saying she doesn’t want to run. Of course, when have politicians been known to tell the truth?]

Good point. Well, I guess that will just about do it—

[Wait a minute. We barely even touched on O’Reilly’s discussion with Beck! I mean, I don’t know if there’s any particular need to go over it again, but if you’re concluding that we ought to take heed of what he said now just because he said something relevant in a single interview three years ago . . .]

Look: I don’t know what more I can tell you. I remembered the discussion with Krauthammer, so I found the conversation with Beck to be intriguing. Sorry to anyone who feels I’ve wasted time.

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