Wednesday, June 09, 2004

O'Reilly Loses It Fox News Talking Head Bill O'Reilly was in rare form yesterday. He's outraged that the “far left” is taking the opportunity of Reagan's death to remind people that he was something other than the Second Coming. In his Talking Points Memo on Tuesday's show he chose three examples of far left viciousness to excoriate:

Fearing that President Bush will capitalize on the emotional outpouring of respect for President Reagan, some left wing ideologues are venting long and loud. Some examples: our buddy [columnist] Robert Scheer in The Los Angeles Times says, “Reagan allowed AIDS to spread for the same reason he pointedly savaged programs to help the poor.”

Allowed AIDS to spread? Is this guy kidding? No human being could have stopped that epidemic. And during the Reagan administration, $6 billion was spent fighting AIDS. Some of that money led to the discovery of anti-viral drugs. Once again, Scheer is ridiculous.

But it gets worse. An editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer says, “The moralizing poet of family values had been divorced and was estranged from several of his children.”

Is that nasty or what? Is that necessary during the time the nation is mourning a patriotic man?

And writing in The New York Times, Clyde Haberman puts forth, “(Reagan) administration's policies on public housing, job training, welfare, mass transit, AIDS treatment-nearly all dealt severe blows not only to New York but also to cities across the country.”

This outpouring of liberal anger is predictable, but not appropriate during the week of Mr. Reagan's burial. The left is desperate to again regain power in America and impose a secular entitlement culture on the country.

Let's take them in order. Here's a link to Scheer's column. It begins as follows:

I liked Ronald Reagan, despite the huge divide between us politically. Reagan was a charming old pro who gave me hours of his time in a series of interviews beginning in 1966 when he was running for governor, simply because he enjoyed the give and take. In fact, I often found myself defending the Gipper whenever I was confronted with an East Coast pundit determined to denigrate anyone, particularly actors, from my adopted state. Yet, looking back at his record, I am appalled that I warmed to the man as much as I did.

The quote O'Reilly used comes here:

And his legendary ability to effectively project an upbeat, confident worldview managed to obscure many of the negative consequences of his policies. For example, he made the terrible mistake of willfully ignoring the burgeoning AIDS epidemic at a time when action could have saved millions. Unlike many conservatives, however, he was not driven by homophobia. Instead, Reagan allowed AIDS to spread for the same reason he pointedly savaged programs to help the poor: He was genuinely convinced that government programs exacerbated problems -- unless they catered to the needs of the businessmen he had come to revere.

Scheer's point is clear and correct. Reagan did indeed ignore the AIDS epidemic, when public education campagns and medical research could have mitigated things considerably. The six billion dollars Reagan eventually spent on AIDS research came only after it became politically untenable for him to ignore it any longer. Of course he couldn't have stopped the disease, that's just O'Reilly's ridiculous caricature of Scheer's point.

Scheer can perhaps be faulted for dismissing homophobia as an explanation for Reagan's do-nothingism on AIDS. As conservative blogger (and Reagan booster) Andrew Sullivan notes:

For the record: Reagan didn't give me HIV. Another gay man did, with my unwitting consent. I did practise safer sex, but it obviously failed. That is my responsibility and bad luck - no one else's. But it is equally true that Reagan's silence for so long was inexcusable. He was silent because he and Bill Bennett and Gary Bauer believed that gay lives were not worth as much as straight ones. There is no other explanation. If an epidemic had broken out affecting, say, elderly women, is it conceivable Reagan would have said nothing for four and a half years? Nope. In my practical defense of the Reagan administration, I do not mean to provide a moral defense. As even Jesse Helms came to realize, there is none.

The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial is available here (you might need to register). I quote it at length, with O'Reilly's rather selective quotation in boldface:

Ronald Reagan died yesterday.

Yet today, Americans still live inside the myth of America's promise and mission that he wove so masterfully.

Anyone who inhabited the presidency of the United States as fully, as forcefully, as Ronald Reagan did for eight years would leave a mark, a roster of deeds great and dubious. But Reagan's legacy goes well beyond the sum of his policies.

Reagan did something that only one other president of the 20th century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had done.

He changed the American political conversation utterly.

He redirected it so powerfully that, ever since, it has navigated according to the fixed stars of his philosophy:

Government is not the solution; it's the problem.

It is always better to cut taxes than to raise them.

Free markets and free men will always find the right path.

America is the shining city on the hill, the world's beacon of freedom and justice. It should pursue its destiny without apology or shirking.

Many Americans, to be sure, dispute some or all of those tenets. But anyone with eyes to see knows that Reagan's vision is the orthodoxy any challenger must confront. Today, for most people under 35, Reagan's suspicion of government is the baseline of political consciousness.

The Reagan myth still rules.

Please do not take myth to mean “falsehood.” A myth is a story that expresses emotional truths that a people hold dear. Ronald Reagan was a master storyteller. He embodied the American penchant for optimism, for reinvention, for renewable innocence.

So, most Americans loved him. And many who disagreed with his policies couldn't bring themselves to hate him.

Here is one paradox of the Reagan enterprise. He admired FDR and emulated him as a leader, but set as a central task of his presidency the dismantling of FDR's New Deal programs, philosophy and coalition.

Reagan was a bundle of paradoxes.

The moralizing poet of family values had been divorced and was estranged from several of his children.

The apostle of small government and balanced budgets let non-defense spending grow 16 percent in constant dollars during his tenure, and allowed historic deficits to mushroom.

The tax-cutter who put “supply-side” economics into the nation's vocabulary approved what was, in 1982, the largest peacetime tax increase ever.

The man who gave voice and vigor to the conservative vision governed mostly as a pragmatist who recognized the limits of how far he could advance his social agenda with a Democratic Congress.

The man who proclaimed that America must be stalwart in the face of terrorism skulked out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks blew up, and traded arms to Iran in a deal to release American hostages.

The editorial concludes with the statement:

The trick now will be to give this memorable president his balanced due. Let us avoid the overeager hagiography that already plasters his name on buildings and airports. But let us also refuse to smear Ronald Reagan's legacy, particularly out of displaced scorn for the poor imitator who now occupies the White House.

Hardly the left-wing hatchet job O'Reilly describes.

And here is the link for the Haberman piece. O'Reilly, content to argue at the level of platitudes and invective, does not mention that Haberman also provided some specifics to back up his charges:

Some numbers speak for themselves. On Mr. Reagan's watch, federal spending for subsidized housing programs was sliced by about 75 percent, to $8 billion in 1988 from $33 billion in 1981.

Reductions in all kinds of assistance, especially early on, "were felt pretty sharply in New York," said Charles Brecher, research director of the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-supported policy group in the city. From 1981 to 1983, federal aid to New York City fell by $560 million, or 21 percent. More than 1.1 million New Yorkers had food stamp benefits reduced or eliminated. Rent increases affected 450,000 people living in public housing.

On the other hand, Mr. Brecher noted, New Yorkers' federal tax bill in the same two-year period declined by $699 million. Then as now, the main beneficiaries were the wealthy.

The fact that everything Haberman said about Reagan was true means nothing to O'Reilly.

Things got really surreal during O'Reilly's first interview of the night, with columnist Clarence Page. I could not find an online transcript of this interview, so I will be doing this from memory.

Most of the interview focussed on Scheer's column. Scheer is a frequent target of O'Reilly's vitriol. Several times O'Reilly paraphrased Scheer as having said that Reagan spread AIDS, and then defied Page to defend something so ludicrous. This came up in the opening salvo of the interview, moments after having completed his Talking Points Memo. Page responded that he didn't think Scheer had said that Reagan personally spread AIDS, but rather that he was slow to react to the AIDS epidemic. Neither of them got the quote right, but Page was obviously much closer to Scheer's point. O'Reilly, apparently having forgotten what he had read moment's earlier, started shuffling through his notes muttering something like “No, no. Let's find the quote.” When he subsequently found the quote and discovered that Page was much closer than he was, he quickly moved on to something else.

But he did come back to it later, repeating the charge that Scheer said that Reagan spread AIDS. Page, unsurprisingly, repeated that Scheer actually said merely that Reagan allowed AIDS to spread.

In reply, O'Reilly accused Page of “Parsing”

Page acquitted himself tolerably well during the interview, but he is too nice a guy to take on O'Reilly in full dudgeon.

O'Reilly did manage to mention that some conservatives have not behaved appropriately:

While it is certainly true that some conservative commentators have canonized Ronald Reagan and are using his legacy to justify right wing positions, there's no excuse for inappropriate overreaction.

Surely the attempt by right-wing columnists to score political points via Reagan's death constitutes inappropriate overreaction. Somehow that doesn't seem to bother O'Reilly so much.


At 11:47 PM, Anonymous Tom Cotrel said...

I just came upon this posting while hunting down the Scheer column on Reagan's passing. I was provoked to do this by the L.A. Times anencephalic decision to cancel both Robert Scheer's column and Michael Ramirez' cartoons.

I am a conservative who considers Ronald Reagan to be a lifetime hero. I won't bore you with my reasons, which you are probably intimately familiar with.

Mr. Scheer's column struck me because he made a point out of separating The Great Liberator's politics from his character. Essentially, he was saying that President Reagan was wrong, not evil. I actually took comfort from his commentary.

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