I was willing to give Bill O'Reilly the benefit of the doubt. I was willing to believe that perhaps he just wasn't aware that his guest, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, was affiliated with the hate group VDARE, which uses its website to publish "white nationalists" and push pseudo-scientific racism.
It seems I was wrong to give O'Reilly that kind of credit. Because there he was Tuesday night, talking about "lefty zealots" at the New York Times who believe that "the white Christians who hold power must be swept out by a new multicultural tie, a rainbow coalition, if you will. This can only happen if demographics change in America.
"An open border policy and the legalization of millions of Hispanic illegal aliens would deeply affect the political landscape in America."
Changing demographics in America? Why, that sounds like someone else on Fox -- O'Reilly's colleague, John Gibson, who warned last week of the demographic trends in the United States: "Twenty-five years and the majority population is Hispanic," he said. His solution? "The rest of you: Get busy. Make babies."
Unsurprisingly, Gibson's comments provoked a wave of condemnation. On Tuesday, he had a response to that condemnation: we had all misunderstood what he said, egged on by people lying because of "personal and vicious motives." Poor, victimized John -- all he was saying was,
"[S]imply that I didn't want America to become Europe, where the birthrate is so low the continent is quickly being populated by immigrants -- mainly from Muslim countries -- whose birthrate is very high. That fact was coupled with a news item that said half of all babies in America under five are minorities and the majority of those were Hispanic. I said fine, but it was also a good idea if people other than Hispanics also got busy and had more babies."
Come on, John -- we know what you mean.
You can't come right out and say that Mexicans are inferior anymore, at least not if you want to keep your job as an anchor on the most popular cable news network. As I previously noted, O'Reilly himself has said that no one would take a member of the John Birch society or the KKK seriously these days. But dress that Bircher or Kluxer up in a suit, come up with a new name for their organization, slap a Ph.D on them, pretty up their language and they and their ideals are suddenly all over Fox News.
Gibson's words, to be sure, are filled with the echoes of a dark past -- specifically, echoes of Madison Grant's landmark racist screed The Passing of the Great Race, once used to justify eugenics, and the use of quotas in setting American immigration policy. Grant, too, was concerned about immigrants doing more than their part to populate the country:
"[L]arge families among the newly arrived population are still the rule," Grant wrote back in 1916, "...The lowering of the birth rate among the most valuable classes, while the birth rate of the lower classes remains unaffected, is a frequent phenomenon of prosperity. Such a change becomes extremely injurious to the race if unchecked."
And this isn't the first time that Gibson has warned his viewers about the Hispanic birth rate. Mainly, though, he does it in the context of "reconquista," a theory, spread almost entirely by white supremacist groups and based almost entirely in myth, that Mexicans have a secret plan to take over parts of the southwestern U.S.
"There has been much discussion about the so-called reconquista," Gibson said early last month, "which is the retaking of old Mexican territories which are now part of the United States by pure birth rate. We hear people saying we're going to take it back, and that will eventually color the immigration debate in a way that Mexican-Americans and Hispanic immigrants will not want." (By the way, notice how Gibson never specifies who those "people saying we're going to take it back" are? That's because they don't exist -- as I've said before, reconquista is a fantasy that exists in the minds of white supremacists, not mainstream Mexicans, who show no signs of having any such designs.)
Are Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson racists? Do they hate Mexicans? I don't know, and, though I may regret it later, I'm still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But here's what I do know: what they've been doing lately is feeding on the worst of the racist and xenophobic tendencies in this country, passing on coded, closeted racism, and granting legitimacy to white supremacist affiliates like Malkin.
I've spent the past couple weeks arguing with a friend of mine who, despite the fact that his father is Hispanic, and an immigrant, swallows and passes along the racist message passed along by O'Reilly, Gibson, Malkin and their ilk. And though he acknowledged that my previous column had proved Malkin's white supremacist ties, he's still accusing me of doing what all us crazy liberals are apparently guilty of -- playing the old race card. That's where this country is in our discussion on race today: we assume that if someone isn't wearing a hood and burning a cross, they and their rhetoric can't possibly be racist. But that's what today's cuter, cuddlier racists are counting on. Dress up the racism, make it sound nice and friendly, drop racist cartoons of dirty brown people huddling under sombreros in favor of a nice, complimentary message that the Hispanics simply are doing more than their fair share and we should lift a little of the burden, and you can put it on Fox News. Hide a hateful white supremacist inside an attractive Filipina, and she can be the country's most popular conservative blogger.
The racist message hasn't changed. It's just a little prettier, a little more hidden. But make no mistake -- it's still there, and for some reason, the country's most watched cable news network thinks that's acceptable. It's not.