Lamenting how "the lack of respect [is] epidemic in America," Fox News' Bill O'Reilly offered a Talking Points commentary last week on what he saw as a social deterioration underway. "Disrespect is everywhere," he complained. "On the net, troubled people say the most horrendous things hiding behind their machines. On television, reality program off the chart irresponsible."
O'Reilly was sure what was to blame for the epidemic. It's "mainly because of the public school system," he told viewers.
The host's commentary didn't target politics, but O'Reilly's teeth gnashing over incivility certainly applies to that forum today. And of course, the right-wing's decision to unleash four years worth of contempt for "crybaby" President Obama couldn't help but affect the larger culture that O'Reilly suddenly finds so distasteful. It's been a blanket of disrespect that the right-wing media, often led by Fox News, has cheered at every turn.
Remember when Rep. Joe Wilson (S-SC) interrupted Obama with shouts of "You lie" while the president addressed a joint session of Congress:
When Democrats moved to censure Wilson for his shocking breach of decorum, Fox News rushed to his defense, claiming the Democratic move was a "stunt," a "distraction," and a waste of taxpayer money.
Thirteen months ago, Arizona's Republican Gov. Jan Brewer berated Obama during an encounter on an airport runway:
Gateway Pundit was among the right-wing bloggers who cheered the finger-wagging confrontation, posting the headline, "TAKEDOWN ON THE TARMAC!..."
Last year a reporter for Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller heckled Obama during a Rose Garden ceremony, repeatedly interrupting him with shouted questions:
In response, Sean Hannity bemoaned how the "mainstream Obama-mania media" had criticized Munro's behavior. (Although in this case, that included some Fox News employees, like O'Reilly.) And rather than apologize for its reporter's boorish behavior, the Daily Caller lauded his heckling via a series of incoherent explanations.
And then there were Tea party protesters who depicted Obama as a witch doctor:
In truth, the conservative media spent years downplaying and erasing bigoted statements from the Tea Party movement and its rallies.
The coarseness of our political culture, once a topic of great concern, actually seems to be remarked upon less often these days, even as that rudeness sinks to new depths.
I suppose that's how conservatives prefer it. They don't want commentators to think twice when partisans assign almost murderous motivations to Obama's action, the way conservatives have with done Benghazi. They don't want people to think it's unusual to heckle the president, to try to shout him down and humiliate him in public. They want that to be okay, to seem normal, to treat the President of the United States, and the office of the presidency, without an ounce of respect.
That way columnists at the Wall Street Journal, for instance, feel free to denounce Obama, a former Harvard Law Review editor, as "stupid," and to dismiss him as a "boring" "loser" and a "walking headache" who ought to just "shut up."
It's fitting though, that when Fox News talkers like O'Reilly become appalled by the disrespect that they say defines our culture, they're forced to pretend they haven't played a defining role in that social disintegration.