I’m seeing and hearing a lot of this kind of thing, on this blog and elsewhere, as Republicans attempt to come to grips with Tuesday’s election defeat and try to seek explanations for why they lost.
For those unable to watch video, here’s what O’Reilly had to say on Election Night, as it was becoming apparent that it would be a bad night for Republicans:
“The white establishment is now the minority. And the voters, many of them, feel that the economic system is stacked against them and they want stuff. You are going to see a tremendous Hispanic vote for President Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama. And women will probably break President Obama’s way. People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?”
In one sense, you can understand why that kind of rationalization would be appealing. In effect, O’Reilly is telling his listeners that “We lost by being better than they are. It’s not our fault and there’s nothing we can or should change.” He applies the powerful salve of moral superiority to a open wound, and by doing so he makes people feel better. People like to feel better, so they’ll come back to Fox for more.
But O’Reilly’s wrong. He’s wrong as a matter of politics, he’s wrong as a matter of morality, and he’s wrong as a matter of history. His listeners are equally wrong to believe him. To the degree that they continue to do so, they are likely to experience more tough election nights in the years to come.
Think about it. While older white voters might find O’Reilly’s message reassuring, imagine that you’re black (93 percent for Obama), or Latino-American (71 percent for Obama), or Asian-American (73 percent for Obama). Imagine that you’re flipping through the news coverage on Election Night and you hear O’Reilly make those comments. How do they come across?
They come across as condescending and even racist, because they ARE condescending and racist. The comments equate the fading “white establishment” with all that is good and great in this country, while the rising minority tide is treated as “takers,” as leeches.
It’s not a complicated thing. Hearing that kind of argument, the natural reaction of almost any non-white listener will be to reject the political party from which such sentiments are emanating, regardless of what other affinities you might have with it. Because you and your parents and your cousins and your friends are being insulted.
But is O’Reilly’s formulation nonetheless accurate? Not even close.
To use his term, it was “the white establishment” that created Social Security, and it did so largely for white people, because that’s who dominated this country at the time. It was the white establishment that created Medicare, and it did so largely for white people, because again, that’s who dominated the country at that time. More recently, the white establishment, in the form of President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress, created Medicare Part D.
Who’s on Medicaid, the government-financed health care program that Romney/Ryan proposed to slash? Among the non-elderly, some 43 percent are white, 22 percent are black and 28 percent are Latino. And who’s on food stamps? According to the Census Bureau, 59 percent are white.
And if you really want to get down to it, we can do so.
When Paul Ryan campaigned in the massive Villages retirement community in central Florida this year, promising to restore the $716 billion in “free stuff” that Obama had cut from Medicare, he wasn’t pitching those remarks to retired black school-bus drivers. He was pitching them to white Americans over 65, 61 percent of whom ended up voting for the Romney/Ryan ticket.
Because let’s be blunt. No demographic group in the country gets more “free stuff” from the government than its senior citizens. In fact, seniors make up roughly half of that infamous “47 percent” who pay no federal income taxes. And a lot of them sat there Tuesday night, watching on Fox and shaking their heads in agreement with O’Reilly.
One final point:
The 2012 exit polls offer further evidence to rebut the notion that Obama’s coalition is motivated largely by the demand for “free stuff.”
– The 65 percent of Americans who believe that illegal immigrants ought to be given a chance to become U.S. citizens voted for Obama by a 24-point margin. These are people drawn to this country by the opportunity to work to make things better for themselves and their children, and the Obama coalition respects them for it.
– The 49 percent of Americans who believe that gay marriage should be legal voted for Obama by a 48-point margin. (The 46 percent who believe it should be banned voted for Romney by a similar margin.) Younger Americans in particular define that as a basic civil right, and voters in four states confirmed that belief Tuesday.
– The 59 percent of Americans who believe that abortion ought to be legal — that such an issue is up to the individual, rather than government bureaucrats — voted for Obama by a 36-point margin.
That’s not “free stuff.” That’s freedom and opportunity, even if the definitions of freedom and opportunity might differ from those of earlier generations of Americans. That’s how it ought to be. Every generation in this country has re-interpreted the American dream in its own way, and nothing is going to stop that process.
– Jay Bookman