O’Reilly Raises an Interesting Point Re: “Socialist” Obama

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Tonight on the Factor, Bill O’Reilly put forward an interesting, sobering argument regarding the classification of President Obama as a socialist by some conservatives.

“When you have a country starting to define a sitting President as a socialist, is that working? Remember how the far left defined President Bush, as a ‘liar,’ he ‘lied’ about Iraq, as a ‘dummy.'” O’Reilly said in an interchange with Fox anchor Brit Hume. “That [the classification of President Obama as a socialist] is gaining traction and that’s going to be a hard moniker for the President to get off him.”

Hume and O’Reilly proceeded with a debate about the definition of socialism, with O’Reilly arguing the definition is that the citizens have no right to private property, which can be usurped at the whim of an autocratic leader (and that therefore Obama is not a socialist), and Hume arguing that the way the term is generally used, it can refer to Western-European style combination economies in which private property exists alongside huge social welfare programs and heavy government regulation in many areas of life. By that definition, Hume maintained, Obama critics like Glen Beck and Newt Gingrich are correct to characterize the President as a socialist.

I tend to agree with O’Reilly that President Obama, no matter what his core beliefs, is not fundamentally trying to turn the country socialist (he came close, though). For one thing, I believe the President has a pragmatic, success-oriented personality and it’s increasingly clear he couldn’t turn the country socialist if he wanted to (tea, anyone?), at least not if he wants a chance at re-election. It’s still a center (slightly) right country overall, and the health care fiasco (which arguably would have brought us closer to becoming a socialist economy, over time) has demonstrated that the President can’t impose an extremely leftist agenda on the country against the wishes of the majority. Knowing President Obama as I believe we are coming to, he will continue to push for reform, but will tack slightly more to the center on it. I think O’Reilly is correct that, whether the President holds socialist views or not, he is not enough of a true socialist to sacrifice his ambition to them (in other words, like many armchair socialists who have any chance at personal success, when it comes to his own advancement, he’s a capitalist).

What was striking to me in O’Reilly’s back-and-forth with Hume was what I felt Bill was inching toward without coming out and saying directly: much as vigorous criticism of the President may be in order, conservatives might keep in mind the way the deluge of vitriol and attempts to de-legitimize President Bush affected the morale of the country and, possibly, the perception of the U.S. to allies and enemies alike. Although O’Reilly characterized it as coming from the “hard left” (perhaps he was thinking of his viewers, many of whom are Democrats), the reality is, as his Presidency wore on, bashing President Bush became a mindless blood sport and a favorite pastime of many Americans, not just hard leftists. In reality, this mass characterization of President Bush as a “dummy” was intensely, and hypocritically, anti-intellectual (most critics who flattered themselves they were qualified to disparage the President’s intelligence knew precious little about the details of his polices, about geopolitics, about world history, and had not taken the time or exercised the personal discipline to examine the complex issues our country faced in an intellectually honest way). Bashing him became an extremely easy way to appear – and feel–intelligent, and in the end actually worked against intelligent examination of complex issues, because people who knew relatively little became complacent in the fantasy that they knew much. Ironically, the down side of our complete freedom is freedom to be closed-minded, which is what many of the President’s most vicious, name-calling critics actually were. Look no farther than the fact that President Obama has kept in place many of President Bush’s security policies, from so-called “warantless wiretapping” to the housing of enemy combatants at Guantanamo, to the maintenance of troops to keep the peace and help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan build democracy. If those policies were the evil work of an atrocious moron, as most leftists relentlessly characterized President Bush, why has President Obama kept these policies in place?

One of the points O’Reilly made in his broadcast tonight was that the relentless groupthink characterizing President Bush as a “liar” and a “dummy,” “hurt the President.” Although he was not more specific, I think O’Reilly is suggesting that it may have weakened President Bush’s abilities to effectively negotiate and leverage American power in the world, because it possibly added to America’s enemies’ — and allies’ — perception that he lacked power at home. This erosion of basic respect for the President probably reduced respect for him, and for the U.S., among our allies, and reduced fear of him on the part of our enemies.

I think O’Reilly is cautioning the right against engaging in the kind of un-nuanced personal attack against President Obama that leftists made commonplace during the Bush years. The point, I suspect, is not so much that conservatives must wear the white hat to be morally superior, but that disparaging and attempting to de-legitimize a sitting President could, if it becomes the norm, have negative real world consequences.

This entry was written by and posted on February 23, 2010 at 4:02 am and filed under Blog.