One of the violent frames pushed by right-wing pundits describes the dire consequences for the American public should Democrat be elected president. Once in office, according to this right-wing rhetoric, the new Democratic president will rework U.S. foreign policy in such a way that Americans will no longer be protected from enemy attacks. A vote for a Democratic President, in other words, is a vote to help the enemies who seek to destroy America.
This week, Bill O'Reilly invoked this violent logic to suggest that a Barack Obama presidency could have dire consequences for American citizens.
O'Reilly's 'Soros' Smear
To see the violent rhetoric in O'Reilly's latest column about Obama, it is helpful to read it in larger context of O'Reilly's megabestseller Culture Warrior.
In that book, O'Reilly lays out the violent argument that secular liberals are waging a cultural 'war' against the American people. O'Reilly describes the leadership of this supposed liberal war using language lifted from militant Islam--claiming that certain wealthy and influential liberal leaders are in fact 'armies of the night' waging 'Jihad' against American culture.
Chief amongst these so-called liberal 'Jihadis' is George Soros, whom O'Reilly refers to as a 'dangerous guy,' but then describes at length. In this quote from Cultural Warrior (p. 37-38), note how O'Reilly paints a picture of George Soros as a man with a secret agenda to undermine American efforts to protect citizens from terrorist violence:
Up until the attacks on 9/11, Soros was just another ideologue screaming for legalized drugs...euthanasia, and "progressive" taxation. But after the Al Qaeda attack, Soros became even more radicalized and more motivated. Through his Open Society Institute, which operates in at least fifty countries, he began funneling millions to groups opposed to America's war on terror and especially to those who criticized President Bush. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Soros spent $24 million trying to defeat Bush in 2004.
Note how O'Reilly uses language commonly associated with covert terrorism to describe George Soros--who has had absolutely no connection with and nothing in common with any terrorist group ever. In particular, O'Reilly claims Soros was 'funneling money' money to groups that opposed American foreign policy efforts to disrupt terrorist networks-- 'funneling money' being a phrase used almost always in descriptions of terrorism. In other words, O'Reilly does not describe Soros in Culture Warrior, so much as he frames him in terms that are eerily consistent with the logic and phrasings used to describe Al Qaeda itself.
The description continues:
But most disturbing are his statements about the terror war and his support for a convicted terrorist enabler, New York attorney Lynne Stewart, who is currently in prison...Soros write the following words in the Atlantic Monthly: "Hijacking fully fueled airliners and using them as suicide bombers was an audacious idea, and its execution could not have been more spectacular."
Yeah, so what? The billionaire followed up that observation by taking out an ad in the Wall Street Journal that stated: "The war on terror as we have aged it since 9/11 has done more harm than good."
To whom? Whom exactly is Soros pulling for? It isn't the United States."
(Culture Warrior, pp. 36-37)
Here we get to the meat of O'Reilly's matter. Soros is not just a critic, he is an 'enabler' of America's enemies, which is what makes him dangerous. He undermines American efforts and funds groups that support America's enemies, according to O'Reilly, by virtue of the fact that they speak out against American policy. (Never mind that protecting the right of political dissent is the sine qua non of American democracy.)
If we follow the actual language, in other words, we get a snapshot of how O'Reilly frames liberalism: as if it were a violent threat to American--not equal to Al Qaeda, but certainly consistent with and in support of Al Qaeda, and opposed to efforts to protect Americans from violence.
O'Reilly Links Obama to "Soros"
Having trudged through O'Reilly's Culture Warrior and his violent framing of George Soros, we can now turn to O'Reilly's most recent syndicated column, titled simply: "Fighting For America" (link).
At first glance, it appears as if the column is a tongue-in-cheek complaint against Phil Donahue's promotional work for his new documentary about the war and occupation of Iraq:
It was interesting to see my old pal Phil Donahue making the rounds this week promoting his new anti-war documentary. Shining eyes opened incredibly wide, Donahue fulminated against the Iraq war and brooked no dissent: The war is evil and that's that.
On second glance, however, we see that the real focus of O'Reilly's column is Barack Obama, and in particular, the so-called relationship between the kind of critique of U.S. foreign policy offered by Donahue and those anti-American 'armies of the night' O'Reilly describes in Culture Warrior. Keep O'Reilly's description of Soros in mind while reading this quote about Obama from O'Reilly's column:
I believe the reason Senator Obama avoids criticizing the far-left is because he needs it. Phil Donahue's strongest ally in denouncing the U.S. action in Afghanistan was MoveOn the organization that is now helping Barack Obama raise records amounts of campaign money.
MoveOn, of course, has received millions from far-left billionaire George Soros, who is a huge supporter of a "one world" foreign policy that demands the USA seek world approval before any aggressive action against another country.
It would be unfair to link Barack Obama's foreign policy vision to that of Donahue and Soros because we simply don't know what the Senator's overall world view is. His rhetoric on Iraq and other trouble spots remains rooted in the past, and he has not yet clearly defined his future strategy.
But there is a chance that, like Soros and Donahue, Senator Obama has some "one world" sympathies. If so, it would be great if the American people could know that before they go to the polls.
With Iran, al-Qaeda and other dangerous groups causing major trouble for America, it is vital to know exactly how Barack Obama sees this troubled world.
A cursory reading might lead us to conclude merely that O'Reilly is trying to trip up Obama into apologizing for some comments made by a radio personality at a campaign event. But that is not the case. In fact, O'Reilly is using this column to frame Obama in the same violent logic that he used to frame George Soros in Culture Warrior. The link seems tenuous at first. Obama does not criticize war critics, O'Reilly claims, because Obama secretly shares the same vision as the "far-left." As evidence, O'Reilly points to the fundraising of MoveOn.org on behalf of the Obama campaign. And MoveOn is a problem--according to O'Reilly--because this is one of the organizations, critical of Bush's policies, that has been on the receiving end of money funneled by--you guessed it--George Soros.
So much is left unsaid in this post, but the millions of O'Reilly readers who have read his book and who constantly listen to his show will know exactly what he is saying--they will understand the violent argument O'Reilly has used to frame Obama.
In fact, the question as to whether or not Obama really supports Soros' foreign policy vision is intentionally misleading on O'Reilly's part. In the logic of his own writings in Culture Warrior, O'Reilly's column establishes already that Obama shares the same vision as Soros--or at least the Soros of O'Reilly's imagination. Why else would Obama so readily accept the support of MoveOn.org, which O'Reilly casts as little more than a shell organization for Soros' attempt to undermine American efforts to protect American citizens from Iran and Al Qaeda?
Thus, O'Reilly reframes Obama by linking him to the violent framing he used in Culture Warrior, the violent logic used to paint a false and misleading picture of Soros. As a willing beneficiary of 'funneled' Soros money, Obama shares the same vision as the 'dangerous man,' the leader of the 'Armies of the night.' What is that vision? To undermine American efforts in the war on terror by critiquing the Bush Administration.
A vote for Obama, in other words, is a vote for Soros, for an Al Qaeda enabler, for somehow whose puts his agenda to undermine 'conservative American values,' above the need of protecting American citizens from violence.
Because this kind of violent framing of Democrats by right-wing pundits has become so common, it is tempting to ridicule them and dismiss them as insignificant, but they are a very big problem.
The more right-wing pundits use violent framing to undermine the debate, the less we are able to build the productive political discussion we need to achieve the pragmatic goals we face.