Those of you both of you who read Combat! blog regularly know that we grapple with a perennial question around here: do demagogues like Michele Bachmann or Bill O’Reilly actually believe what they say? It’s an unanswerable question, like the exact velocity and location of an electron. To know whether a Bill O’Reilly’s insane falsehoods are delusions or lies is, first, to know whether they are actually false, or if we are the ones who are deluded. Even if we mustered the certainty for that, we would have to further parse whether his audience believes him, or if they view the O’Reilly Factor as an ideologically thrilling romp along the lines of Taken—and if we think we’ve pinned that down, we incur the sub-question of whether O’Reilly is participating in the joke or trying to deceive them. Uncertainty of uncertainties—all is uncertainty. Then I saw this.
On Halloween, political analyst and former Clinton adviser Dick Morris besmirched the good name of The O’Reilly Factor by predicting that Mitt Romney would win in a landslide. He had sailed that claim majestically around the mediasphere for weeks, despite the fact that it was, you know, insane. Romney did not win in a landslide. No actual data suggested he would, but Morris—an ostensibly unbiased analyst—had, in his own words, “worked very hard for Romney.” Was he deluding himself? Kind of. Was he deluding others? Also yes, kind of, as he explained to Sean Hannity in a thicket of prevarication that is the subject of today’s close reading. Props to Ben al-Fowlkes for the link. Bad faith after the jump.
Deductive reasoning isn’t just a tool for curing polio and making accurate models of the solar system; it’s also a great way to alienate yourself from like half the population. One can only imagine the joy of the first caveman who combined two truthful propositions to synthesize a third, and the disappointment/rock impact he felt when he tried to explain it to somebody else. The problem with logic is that it works best on those people who are most likely to arrive at valid conclusions themselves. Its effectiveness diminishes as you deal with unprincipled or prejudiced people—sorry, “common sense” people—and drops to near zero when you get to people who prefer standing outside and yelling stuff. Basically, logic convinces least where you need it most, like if Raid killed bugs in direct proportion to their intelligence. This week’s link roundup starts out with some sweet victories for logic, then watches logic return to its role as depressingly aging gatekeeper. It’s also got Glenn Beck telling us which major religion the Antichrist will probably belong to so, you know, look out for that.
Corpse eating crackers Brit Hume appeared on Fox News this Sunday to pass judgment on Tiger Woods’s extramarital affairs, opine that his children might never be able to love him, and demand that he change religions. I direct your props to Ben Fowkles for the link, and your attention to William Kristol at the :40 mark. You know you’re talking crazy when you discombobulate Bill Kristol—the man was chief of staff to Dan Quayle, for crissake. After offering the generous assessment, “It’s not clear to me that he’ll be able to have a relationship with his children,” Hume goes on to speculate that Woods’s professed Buddhism does not offer “the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.” Okay, but will it make me a sanctimonious asshole? Because that’s the last piece of my asshole puzzle.
Brit Hume is not completely oblivious to how he comes off on TV, and he’s aware that certain segments of the Fox News viewing audience—specifically the 40% that watches solely to capture video and criticize it on the internet—took exception to his remarks. That’s why he went on Bill O’Reilly to address the heart of the issue: the way that people in this society immediately freak out if you so much as mention that you’re a Christian. Behold:
For my money, the best part of this interview is when O’Reilly, after showing Brit Hume a videotape of himself saying that they only way Tiger Woods can ever recover is if accepts the love of Jesus Christ, asks, “Was that proselytizing?” and Brit Hume says no, he doesn’t think so. Does Brit Hume not know what that word means? After reiterating his suspicion that Tiger’s family doesn’t love him anymore, Hume opines that what made Woods so notable is not his skill as a golfer, but “the content of his character.” See, I don’t follow golf, so I thought that it was because he was the best player in the history of the sport, but actually it’s because he was such a good guy. But in fact, Hume points out, he wasn’t a good guy at all! In addition to seeing you when you’re golfing and knowing when you’re awake, it turns out that Britt Hume also knows if you’ve been bad or good, so convert for goodness’s sake.
Hume seems unaware that calling on a man to change religions after you’ve gone on national TV to speculate on the state of his marriage might be seen as a little presumptuous. Instead, he ascribes any indignation over his remarks to the taboo on mentions of Christian faith in our national dialogue. “It has always been a puzzling thing to me,” Hume says. “The Bible even speaks of it. You speak the name of Jesus Christ, and I don’t mean to make a pun here, but all hell breaks loose.” I think we can all agree that the worst thing a public figure can do in this country is speak the name of Jesus Christ. That’s why the religious faiths of both candidates for President in 2008 remain unknown, and why evangelical Christians wield absolutely no power in American politics. In a country where 83% of the population identifies as Christian, mentioning Jesus is just too risky.
If a mode of rhetoric has defined American culture since 1967, presenting the majority position as if it were a rebellious minority is it. Consider the quote-unquote rogue who is America’s second-most admired woman, or the vast, decrepit sales team that calls itself rock ‘n roll. Americans like to think of themselves as bold nonconformists, especially when they’re safely in the majority. It’s no surprise, then, that Christians in a position of power should trot out this argument when they need to excuse crass behavior. What is surprising is that people still buy into it. A marketing strategy that has come to be derided as a means of selling Mountain Dew or Jeeps still works as a means of selling bad behavior—maybe because 83% of the country has a vested interest in believing it’s true. Thank goodness for the internet, which gives us access to the Cypress Times outside of Houston, and their response to the flap: “Mr. Hume may have been speaking metaphorically, but his words were literal and they were the perfect explanation as to why he is now being vilified.” I’m not sure what the actual words in that sentence could possibly mean—although, being words, they are probably literal—but the implication is that the country is somehow persecuting its Christian majority.
I say a majority cannot be persecuted. Like those frat boys in Borat who lament the inordinate advantages enjoyed by black people and homosexuals, people who claim majority-group persecution are usually trying to cover up personal failings. In the case of Britt Hume, he didn’t fail by saying the J-word on national television; he failed by being a dick. He treated another man’s vulnerability as an opportunity to take charge of his soul. Personally, I’m an atheist. If I saw a man crying in the bar because he lost his job, and I went over there and said that the thing he needs to do to get his life in order again is to abandon his misguided belief in the existence of gods, I would rightly be regarded as the biggest asshole who ever lived. We don’t do that kind of thing here. This is America, where we shut up about religion—not because we’re embarrassed or because people persecute us or because we’re not sure about it, but because it’s decent.