September 7, 2002

30 Seconds of O'Reilly

I turned on the wicked tube last night in search of the Phil Donahue show with Greg Palast as a guest and as I flipped the remote looking for the right channel I came upon the sneering face of O'Reilly.

Venal as he is, I found myself compelled to stop and look, much as one is compelled to stare at a car wreck. Oh he's smooth. He pulls off his schtick masterfully. He gets his message across by innuendo, passing off his lies as self-evident truths, beyond questioning by anyone but an imbecile.

So okay, Bush is losing points in the approval ratings, O'Reilly snarls, contempt dripping off his lips. People are worried about the economy, he admits. Then he informs us -- with monumental disdain as though anyone who doesn't know this is a gibbering idiot -- that "Presidents can't control the economy. It's all just cycles. But people want the president to appear to be doing something."

Here in a few seconds he has established in the minds of his more pliant viewers that the economy just does what it does and presidents have nothing to do with it. This way he can pass off Clinton's economic triumph and downplay the Bush recessions that are like bookends around the Clinton period, all in one breath.

Clinton was certainly guilty of plenty, but he did have the guts to apply some basic economic reasoning to the malaise of the Bush years and create a stimulus plan that did presage a dramatic recovery followed by one of the most impressive periods of economic growth on record. It's a separate issue that most of the population -- from the middle class on down -- did not share in the fruits of this "economic miracle." Within the prevailing definition of economic prosperity, he presided over a turnaround followed by sustained growth. The essential principle he applied was that deficits drain the economic system by funneling off large amounts of the Gross National Product as interest payments for the loans the government takes to finance its deficit spending. (Of course Bush doesn't mind that. Those bankers are his friends.)

This principle was common knowledge by the time Clinton came around, but no Republican would dare raise taxes no matter how bad the fiscal mess was. So Clinton did it, against the resistance of the Republicans, and a recovery began.

It may be true that presidents don't "control" the economy, but it is also true that they have the power to mess it up really badly by fiscally irresponsible decisions. Bush Junior wasted no time unloading the surplus in the public treasury into the hands of his corporate buddies and plunging the country back into deficits almost immediately. It couldn't help but have the predicted effect, which it did. The economy is crippled, the walking dead.

According to O'Reilly's phony reasoning, anything a president would do to affect the economy would be nothing more than a show. "People want the president to appear to be doing something." So it follows that anything Clinton ever did, or anything anyone might propose, like not busting the federal budget, would be meaningless. And implicitly this makes Bush vastly superior because Bush is too ethical to merely put on a show as if he were doing something about the economy when presidents can't do anything anyway.

Then beyond the basics of economic management that a president can influence boldly if he has the vision and the will -- like Franklin Roosevelt did -- there are the less tangible elements, which come with labels like "consumer confidence." In the present disaster the problem is more fundamental and what we are looking at is not just consumer confidence, but confidence in anything. During the Bush term, beginning with the grand larceny of December 12, 2000, confidence in government and even in the economic system itself has plummeted. And for good reason. People remain stubbornly rational and this Bush mob is seriously bad news. Fear and anxiety is a normal reaction to the chaos that has been unleashed.

Oh that O'Reilly is evil. Is there any chance he could believe his own lies and not be totally knowing and cynical about the way he manipulates his audiences to fall like willing sheep for the snares of his rich corporate masters? No. He's smart. He has to know. He can't be deluded enough to believe he is telling the truth. He's extremely well paid, and he is worth it. He's incredibly effective.

Thirty seconds was all I could take. In that short time, he said plenty.

-- By David Cogswell

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