Bill O’Reilly and the Mythical Independent

Bill O'ReillyDigby highlighted a very interesting segment with Bernie Goldberg and Bill O’Reilly on The Factor recently. Goldberg was providing what passes for the “reasonable” Republican position that the the Democrats and Republicans are pretty much the same when it comes to media coverage, “Liberal news organizations are going to play down liberal screw-ups, but Fox News is gonna play down conservative screw-ups.” O’Reilly was having none of it. He countered that his show featured people of all political orientations. That’s a laugh, but entirely typical.

I once had a conservative on this site trolling around. He would find some liberal opinion I made and say, “Aha! Liberal bias!” I was flattered that he was mistaking me for the “mainstream media,” but it was ridiculous. One of the biggest differences between partisans on the two sides is that conservatives live is bizarro world where they are somehow the center. I’m well aware that my opinions are far to the left in the context of this country. Maybe it is because the conservative media system is so cut off that it is easier for them to only see other conservative media. Regardless, it sets up a system where extreme conservatives like Goldberg are “reasonable” just because they are vaguely aware that they are conservative.

Digby observed something that I know only too well from my own experiences:

I personally know some older white men who do not see themselves as the right wing hacks they are and insist they are “independent thinkers” who “see the world more clearly” that others. They watch O’Reilly religiously. They believe he too is somehow “independent” and doesn’t follow the party line.

Exactly! This is where we get so many “independent” voters who are actually people who consider the Republican Party too liberal. They don’t consider themselves Republicans because they are disappointed with the Republican Party — it doesn’t always do what they want. In other words, they are just spoiled brats who aren’t willing to affiliate with any party unless it is perfectly aligned with their beliefs. Yet they still reliably vote Republican, although they may occasionally vote for the Constitution Party or, very tellingly, the American Independent Party.

It’s a funny kind of conceit. But I think it is more often just pure delusion. There is a reason why conservatism is so associated with rural areas. These people don’t get out much. All they see are people like themselves. And that makes it very easy to vilify people who are not like them, and deny other people their humanity. It also allows them to live in a bubble where all the things they get from the government are earned and all the things “those people” get are just giveaways.

There is a related issue with regard to this that I read about in Michelle Alexander’s excellent book, The New Jim Crow. People in high crime areas are less vengeful than people in low crime areas. So the people least likely to suffer from crime are the ones who think that people who commit the most minor offense should be given very long sentences. This is largely how we ended up with these horrible mandatory minimum sentences — especially for drug “crimes.” But I think it is primarily about lack of empathy. And that, above all else, is what defines Bill O’Reilly and his followers.

This makes these “independent” minds the hardest to deal with. They live in a world where they are convinced that they see the world without bias. And shockingly, they view the world this way even while being more conservative than I am liberal. How does one deal with such people who think that they define the very definition of “center”? In the land of Bill O’Reilly, a liberal is someone like Juan Williams who is an old fashioned conservative. In the context of modern American politics, he is just slightly center right. But to O’Reilly, he’s a liberal. And then people who are just slightly center left, like Dana Milbank, are “far left kooks.” I think such people are hopeless. And they are the basis of one of the main political parties in the United States, even while they won’t admit it.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Bill O’Reilly and the Mythical Independent

  1. Lack of empathy is the key. You don’t have to like others to empathize with them. I pretty much fear and loathe all strangers, co-workers, family members, and Internet contacts. (No offense meant!) However, since I hate being sick or mistreated even more than I hate other humans, it pisses me off when other humans get sick or are mistreated. Suffering just plain sucks, and I have zero tolerance for it.

    It’s a weird thing, how totalitarianism exists. I’m not sure I entirely get it. After all, nobody would stand on a sidewalk and cheer on somebody kicking a screaming wounded puppy. Not many would, at least. Yet many rejoice when other humans are hurt. Our diseased culture is full of “reality” shows where people turd on each other for spectators. The march on Selma happened fifty years ago, it made even racists recoil at the inhumanity displayed by officials, and if it happened today, Fox News would egg it on.

    It has to do, I think, with the fantasy of self-reliance, a potent American myth if ever there was one, or if ever there was any other one. Strong profound individuals don’t ask for help. Bollocks and nonsense. As much as I loathe and fear strangers, family members, and Internet contacts, I ask them for help all the time and give help when I can; this is only common courtesy, without which humans would still be apes. (And apes would be a lot better off had humans not learned the whole get-together-to-do-things trick; it takes human ingenuity to destroy forest habitats for profit. Clever us.)

    Where did this self-reliant myth come from? “Beowulf?” It’s not in Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or the Bible, or Dante or Cervantes or the great 19th-century novelists. It’s not even in Tolkein! Hell, I dunno.

    • I think it is critical to remember that the self-reliance myth is relatively new. From its founding, Americans were a rather tight people. But we’ve also always seen ourselves as self-reliant inside that context. Things got really bad over the last 60 years because of the perversion of that idea by Ayn Rand. And hers is basically a fascistic ideology. Too many people whose well being in life is dependent upon others have been seduced into thinking that they are Romantic heroes and everything wrong in their lives is due to other people expecting things from them.

      Of course, when it comes to Bill O’Reilly’s fans, I think it is mostly racism.

      • The brilliant film directors of memorable Westerns deserve some blame. Funny, because the iconic “hero stands alone” images they created always came with vast baggage. John Wayne’s character in “The Searchers” was a lunatic; Jean-Luc Godard mentioned hating the politics of that Ford film and crying at the end. Peckinpah’s loners are always doomed. Leone clearly used Eastwood as an inexpressive loner because Eastwood couldn’t act.

        My favorite Western loner film probably isn’t a Western, technically; “Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.” It has natives and horses, but not the right sort of natives and horses for a proper Western. In it, a guy who starts off by trusting in others goes progressively batshit, and the more he thinks others are out to get him, the worse his decisions become. (Bogart completely undoes the Bogart stoic-heroic persona; it’s a great performance by a great actor.)

        • I was about to pick up Treasure because of just seeing Huston in The Devil and Daniel Webster. But I have to admit, Bogart does crazy well, but it is always perhaps a bit too disturbing. My favorite western is probably The Ox-Bow Incident, but it too isn’t classic genre. It is, however, pretty honest. As a genre, the western started as a simple move of the aristocrat from England to the old west. And that aspect never really changed. It is mostly terrible stuff. I’m not much of a fan of Ford, although visually I like him.

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