Let’s take a walk through the theater of the absurd. Thanks to deranged folks at Fox News like Bill O’Reilly, it’s not a very long or arduous walk.
We’ll start last summer, when President Obama, citing the repeated failure of Congress to pass something like the very reasonable and patriotic DREAM Act, instituted a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Under DACA, children of people who came to the US without documentation can avoid the threat of deportation as long as they meet certain requirements such as staying in school, staying out of trouble with the law, etc. Conservatives cried “foul,” and claimed that Obama was “pandering” to Latinos for political purposes, apparently hoping that nobody in their audience would notice that pandering to anti-immigrant white people looks equally undignified.
Fast forward. The DACA program is a (limited) success, the sky didn’t fall, and Obama wins the November election. Enter O’Reilly, who grabbed headlines on election night lamenting that “it’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things.” (Read Jesse Hagopian's wonderful take on this, please!) It doesn’t take a Poly Sci major – though it might take some elementary level of self-awareness – to recognize that people in O’Rielly’s “traditional” America (read: straight, white, middle-class English-speaking Americans) want stuff too. Stuff like tax cuts, less spending on social programs, big defense contracts, property rights (to protect property they own at least in part because of their historical status,) and lots of tough-on-crime kinda stuff so they can feel oh-so-secure in their suburban enclaves. Mostly, perhaps, they want to feel like the stuff they want is somehow more legitimate than the stuff other people want – stuff like a government that protects them from excessive exploitation in the labor market, and guarantees some basic necessities for living in a country that “enjoys” the widest gap in wealth and income disparities in the developed world. That kind of “stuff” is – in their minds – illegitimate, and they can only get it by getting powerful politicians to pander to their needs.
So far, I’m not sure this fits the definition of absurd – just the painful ironies of our incredibly immature political dialog. But what strikes me as truly absurd was the reminder I saw yesterday about what Bill O’Rielly’s preferred candidate in this election said at the Republican National Convention only two months before. Mitt Romney told the delegates – and the TV cameras, to be sure – “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet…” He said to jeers. “My promise… is to help you and your family.” How, Mr. O’Reilly, is a Presidential candidate promising to “help you and your family” different from people wanting “stuff?”
The absurdity of this is the expanse of the hypocrisy; but I’m wondering – again – if it’s not something more. I’m wondering again about this Jungian meme: do conservatives really hate liberals so much simply because they (liberals) remind them (conservatives) of themselves? Even when they have to go to the extent to re-invent liberals in order to provide a straw man for them to hate? Mr. Romney’s own admission is that liberals care about things other than themselves, things like oceans and planetary health; and his remarks also make it clear that conservatives are actually proud to not care about such things. (At least in the “privacy” of their own conventions.) By this logic, we can understand Mr. O’Reilly’s outrage as probably actually directed at his own allies: Mr. Romney and the many other Republicans who lost this election promising to deliver “things” to all those hard-working, middle-class (read: white) Americans.
And so now we’re hearing that Republicans, praise the Lord, are “softening” their hard-line stance on immigration reform. That’s a huge bet – that they can actually convince the very people they’ve been so dismissive of all these years that Republicans can give them stuff, too.
Let’s call it liberal envy. And don’t worry, Bill O’Reilly, I’m sure there’s a therapist that can help you.