Under the Banner of Traditionalism

Randall Stephens

Not long ago shouting head Bill O'Reilly's Culture Warrior shot up the bestseller list with nuggets of wisdom: "So I believe we must strive to improve America, but we must also keep faith with the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian philosophy and competitive capitalism that the country was founded on. That's why I march under the banner of traditionalism." This "Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity" describes himself as the product of a strict Catholic upbringing, ready to ferret out hypocrites, moral degenerates, and all manner of truth spinners. O'Reilly's appeal among conservative evangelicals and millions of other Americans seems to rest on his skill as a no-nonsense culture warrior. He asks straight questions and demands straight answers. For years now he has targeted hip hop and rap music for lyrics that strike him as vulgar, harmful to children, and deplorable.

In a strange twist, audio clips of O'Reilly reading from his pulppy 1998 book, Those Who Trespass, have surfaced on the Village Voice's website. The banality of this material is matched only by its softcore weirdness.

With recent national discussions about the role/impact of Rush Limbuagh, I've been wondering about O'Reilly's place on the national scene. Does Limbaugh or O'Reilly deserve serious attention in our national debates concerning the direction of conservatism?


Brad Hart at: March 23, 2009 at 5:46 PM said...

"Does Limbaugh or O'Reilly deserve serious attention in our national debates concerning the direction of conservatism?"

Kieth Olbermann would say no.

deg at: March 24, 2009 at 7:58 AM said...

Hmmm...I'd agree with Keith...for now. My sense of the political stage right now is that O'Reilly et al. are interesting sideshows to the main event, which is still the drama of Obamanomics. If the President's economic plans do not meet the electorate's high expectations in the coming months and years, then O'Reilly et al's role will most likely become more prominent. Given the recent hubbub over AIG, imagine the popular furor if Geithner's bad bank plan doesn't bring an unfreezing of the financial markets over the next year and unemployment goes beyond the across-the-board 10% projections. O'Reilly et al. would love to be in the mix of resurgent conservatives - maybe embodied at the grassroots by folks like Mark Sanford - that would be hard at work casting Obamanomics as Carternomics. I don't know if this resurgent conservatism would have a "culture war" element of naming and blaming attendant "contributors" to continued economic stagnation. It wouldn't really seem necessary since conservatives could just hammer the meme of "Obamanomics/socialism didn't work" over and over, citing various forms of "government waste." But who knows. I can see such matters of dollars and cents turning into a public airing of greivances over elitism (e.g. higher education funding), work (e.g. illegal immigration), national identity (e.g. illegal immigration, again), science (e.g. environmental policy) and sexuality (e.g. funding sex ed and tax breaks for civil unions). Add an unexpected foreign crisis into the mix and...

Jon at: March 25, 2009 at 12:47 PM said...

I agree that he is a sideshow for now but that good morals, whether they are religious or not are important. Many religions back good morals and there is nothing wrong with that. Who knows what will happen with Obama yet. The whole situation will all work its way out in a couple of years.

Bland Whitley at: March 26, 2009 at 1:54 PM said...

Rather than lump Limbaugh and O'Reilly together, I prefer thinking of them as distinctive strands of conservative infotainment, with different political genealogies. Limbaugh emerged from the exhausted remnants of midwestern, Taftian Republicanism, while O'Reilly represents northern Reagan Democrats (white, Catholic, lower-middle-class). Certainly there are similarities, but there's a reason that O'Reilly thinks of himself as a "traditionalist" rather than a conservative. He's simply not as ideologically oriented as Limbaugh (one reason, I suspect, that Obama considered it a good idea to appear on his show). Not sure if any of this matters, but I'd like for their differences to become increasingly apparent, as it points to the general unraveling of the Reagan coalition. What does this mean for the future of conservatism? Hopefully, to something more thoughtful than the faux populism that both O'Reilly and Limbaugh have trafficked in.

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