I just watched the 15 minute interview that Bill O’Reilly did with President Obama for Super Bowl Sunday. In my view, the President handled the interview with a lot of class, and O’Reilly acted like an ass. He was arrogant, rude, and disrespectful. If he ever did let Obama talk for more than 30 seconds, he would either finish Obama’s sentences or interrupt him with a rebuttal.
After watching that 15 minute interview, I was more convinced than ever that Obama knows how complicated decisions are at his level, he believes that he is making the best decisions, and he wants America to continue to be a great country. Whether you or I agree with all of his decisions cannot change that.
Fox News and Bill O’Reilly assume that Obama is trying to swindle us into something. But just like Fox News does for Democrats, CNN assumes that all Republicans are power-hungry and heartless. Then, just as I am feeling self-righteous about evil the news media outlets are, I will assume that the co-worker who disagrees with me about what we should do next is making a power play.
The thing that bothers me the most about public political discourse is the same thing that I find myself guilty of in my interpersonal relationships: We assume the “other guy” has bad motives. It’s difficult to assume the best, especially when they see the world differently. The easy way out is to vilify them so that we feel better about our own position. “If the other person is evil, then they certainly can’t be correct on this issue, right?”
The more difficult way, and the way that leads more quickly to mutual understanding, is to assume that the person who disagrees with you is just as interested in finding the truth as you are.
The hardest part of living this stuff out is that sometimes you meet someone who really is a pompous son of a bitch who needs to learn how to treat other people. How do you assume the best about him? Perhaps it would help to assume that he was raised in a home that encouraged the kind of behavior that comes off as self-important. Perhaps he is trying to prove something to a father who never really accepted him or encouraged him. Perhaps he is having just as bad of a day as you had a week ago.
Suddenly he is human again. And so am I.
Here’s the full-length interview, if you’d like to see it. It’s about 15 minutes:
4 thoughts on “It’s Easier to Disagree With A Villian”
Thanks for writing this. I’ve been struggling with similar issues lately… namely, getting spooled up over trivial things (that I will not enumerate here), only to construct militant air-castles complete with a whole fledgling army of insults and retaliations… then, right before shouting “Attack!” coming to my senses and realizing that nothing I’ve constructed is actually rooted in reality, it’s just pomp and circumstance inside my angry little head. That’s not to say that others never have poor motives, ill-conceived plans or fail to execute as they should nor that we shouldn’t hold folks accountable when needed, but it seems I spend an awful lot of my time deconstructing everyone else’s faults, when really I should spend more time deconstructing my own motives and agendas. I keep myself far less accountable than the expectations I set for other people… it’s like I tend to set others up for failure, while excusing my own. My heart, I find at last, is still a devious, deceitful and sometimes deadly enemy to me – and very much in need of and at odds with a Savior. Perhaps, to chime in on your last line above, this revelation is when I suddenly wake up and start to become more human. Again, thanks for the good medicine, Doc.
Dude. Good confession. Good word.
“it seems I spend an awful lot of my time deconstructing everyone else’s faults, when really I should spend more time deconstructing my own motives and agendas. I keep myself far less accountable than the expectations I set for other people…”
Therein lies the rub.
To the extent your post is critical of ad hominem arguments, be they in personal or political context, I couldn’t agree more; and people like O’Reilly, Hannity ( and Chris Matthews, Keith Olberman) frequently utilize that unfair weapon in political speech. But it’s typically ineffective because it’s so obvious, and obviously invalid.
For me, the much more serious problem is the point you touched on in saying ” . . . especially when they see the world differently.” When Obama and O’Reilly look at the world, they see two different planets. When they look at this country, and the proper role for the Federal Government, I believe they see vastly different things; and that difference is not only vast, it is of fundamental significance when answering the question “What should we do?” Unfortunately, many people don’t want to explore those fundamental differences. . . too philosophical, too abstract, too time consuming. So, in the absence of discussion, we’re left with our assumptions. And our political conversations
are a mile wide and an inch deep.
You describe yourself as “more convinced than ever” that Pres. Obama wants America to be “a great country”. Do you have the same level of conviction you understand what he MEANS by that phrase? I don’t. And my concern is he and I don’t mean the same thing at all. But that doesn’t make him evil, anymore than it makes me a saint. Similarly, it doesn’t make me a racist, bigoted, war-mongering, homophobe anymore than it makes him a wise, compassionate, fair-minded leader. In Politics, as in Theology, clarifying assumptions is always a good way to begin any discussion that hopes to be more than peevish argument.
O’Reilly didn’t do that. Shame on him.
First of all, “peevish” is such a good word to describe what goes on in many political conversations I have observed (or participated in). There is an abundance of shallow jargon along the entire political spectrum. Frankly, I’m often confused by the complexities surrounding the issues like the role of the federal government, states’ rights, racism, health care, and such. But I don’t want my confusion to cause me to “check out” of the conversation. Instead, I’d rather dive in head first in an attempt to get beyond slogans and bumper sticker catch-phrases.
You describe yourself as “more convinced than ever” that Pres. Obama wants America to be “a great country”. Do you have the same level of conviction you understand what he MEANS by that phrase?
I think I have a general idea of what he means, and I recognize that my definition would also differ at certain points. As you pointed out, I want to engage those topics without creating a caricature of him first. Like you said, that’s a good starting point.