Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Review of Bill O'Reilly's Memoir

After returning from our Christmas season trip to visit the extended family in New Jersey, my stepmom handed me a copy of Bill O'Reilly's memoir, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity.  This hand-off may or may not have been related to the moment when she asked what I was reading in the car and I flashed No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process.

The book was OK.  I'm sure my dad and stepmom enjoyed it a lot more.  First of all, it was hard for me to relate because I'm not a baby boomer.  None of his stories about growing up in Levittown, NY conjure up images of my childhood.  For me, Levittown represents the beginning of suburban sprawl, the car-centric planning that literally tore this nation apart.

O'Reilly feels a lot less threatening in written form.  Sure, he comes across as a bit of a wise ass, but that's sort of the point of the book ("Bold Fresh").  He clearly likes to think of himself as clever.  Most of the stories involve him rebelling against authority figures or manipulating the rules.  O'Reilly also wants you to believe he has a strong working-class background.  I was pretty convinced.  He also loves America, but he's not overly forward about this--I appreciated that.  His religion is mostly personal, and he's not overly keen on the establishment of the Catholic Church, although he recognizes what it did for him during his schooling.  Oh, and he also has a lot of fun, even if he's not successful with women.

The host of the Factor wants to be seen as strongly independent.  O'Reilly is what we call in political science a populist--conservative social values but also supportive of the working-class.  In America, populism does make you a sort of independent, since both parties have strong ties with the corporate powers-at-be.

The book didn't make me very angry.  The one real "WTF?" moment came when he said, "Some think an asteroid or something caused the natural order.  Wow.  Talk about blind faith!" (75).  Aside from that paragraph, I didn't have any strong emotional reactions to his words.  He clearly dislikes people like me (he calls us "secular-progressives"--accurate), but fights that battle in his other book, Culture Wars.  His portrayal of the liberal political view is a little skewed, but probably no more so than the liberal portrayal of the conservative viewpoint.

O'Reilly says that liberal thought focuses on the quest for individual gratification and self-expression at the expense of responsibility to others, and that decline of traditional marriages has led to the decline of families and subsequently enormous social problems (142).  It's true that liberals generally value the individual more than the family--that goes along with a core belief in strong individual social freedoms.   Liberals believe that a comprehensive social safety net for everyone rather than a strong, supportive family for a privileged few best benefits the whole population.  O'Reilly asserts that traditionalists should point to the poverty of single-parent families in order to crush liberal arguments against the traditional family unit.  He's right that we don't want families to be poor, but there are two solutions to the problem.

First, strong social welfare: make sure that the single mother has an individual or group to support her and teach her how to care for her baby.  Also, provide her with subsidized or free childcare so that she can still work and be a productive member of society.  Make sure that the child has a good school to attend and all the health care services he or she needs.  Second, make abortions safe and available, and subsidize them or provide them for free.  If the mother knows that she will be unable to take care of a child, or she's unwilling to care for a child, give her the choice.

There were two cases where O'Reilly impressed me.  I did not know that he had visited over 70 countries.  He decided America was the best.  While I disagree, at least he's seen some of the alternatives.  It angers me when an American defends his or her nation unconditionally and insists on its exceptionalism but has never visited another country.  The other case was the section where he described his two years as a high school teacher.  It sounds like he actually did a substantial amount of good for some at-risk teens in Miami.  Perhaps he's a decent person after all, even with his huge ego.

Anyway, now I get to read something more interesting and soothing to my little liberal heart: Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a utopian novel by Edward Bellamy of Chicopee Falls, Western Mass.

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