What is going on in the world?
Conservative Republicans used to pride themselves on their ability to avoid conflict. Ronald Reagan himself used to famously invoke what he called the 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Well, there’s a lot of ill speaking going on these days in conservative circles. And it’s not just everyone in a panic over Donald Trump, who himself has shown contempt for most of the folks who run the party he wants to lead.
Not long ago, two titans of the conservative pundit world, Bill O’Reilly and George Will, were turning red-faced screaming at each other. The source of the conflict was O’Reilly’s latest “killing” book, "Killing Reagan," which closely analyzes the 1981 assassination attempt which nearly robbed us of The Gipper’s presidency.
O’Reilly (along with co-author Martin Dugard) actually argues that the shooting did harm Reagan, so much so that he was, at times, incapable of fulfilling his presidential duties.
That’s what angers Will so much.
“O’Reilly ‘reports’ that the trauma of the assassination attempt was somehow causally related to the ‘fact’ that Reagan was frequently so mentally incompetent that senior aides contemplated using the Constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove him from office,” Will wrote in a stinging column recently.
“But neither O’Reilly nor Dugard spoke with any of those aides – not with Ed Meese, Jim Baker, George Shultz or any of the scores of others who could, and would, have demolished O’Reilly’s theory. O’Reilly now airily dismisses them because they ‘have skin in the game.’ His is an interesting approach to writing history: Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.”
Meanwhile, Will may have missed a more important point about O’Reilly’s book. At least one prominent critic believes the Long Island native is overly obsessed with any and all things Irish.
“Killing Reagan has a more complicated attitude toward Nancy Reagan, whom it at once respects for her total devotion to her husband’s career, which in (the authors’) telling could not have been successful without her intensely detailed participation,” New Yorker staff writer and Columbia University professor Nicholas Lemann wrote in a recent article for The New York Review of Books.
Lemann adds that O’Reilly and Dugard “resent” Nancy Reagan “for her meddling and over-protectiveness.”
He adds, “O’Reilly and Dugard seldom introduce a character without taking note of that person’s weight, hair-styling strategy and whether or not he or she is Irish American.”
For the record, based on both Google and Amazon searches, there are only 11 references to “Irish” in O’Reilly’s book. And, in this columnist’s humble opinion, it is indeed worth noting (as O’Reilly and Dugard do) that all four of John Hinckley’s victims on March 30, 1981, were Irish American: Reagan, Washington D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service officer Timothy McCarthy, and White House Press Secretary James Brady.
Nevertheless, Lemann can’t resist getting snarky.
“The moment when Nancy Reagan seems to lose (O’Reilly and Dugard) is when she arranges the firings, in rapid succession, of Donald Regan, Raymond Donovan, Margaret Heckler, Patrick Buchanan and William Casey.”
Left unsaid is the implication that O’Reilly’s apparently clannish ties to the Irish are what sours him towards Nancy Reagan.
Lemann might have noted that this apparently didn’t extend to the Irish Republican Army. O’Reilly, in his book, smacks down Hollywood legend Gene Kelly for leaving the Catholic Church, yet also donating money to the Provos.
Either way, it’s a dark time indeed when the likes of Ronald Reagan can’t get a pass from a fellow conservative. Probably because he’s Irish, right?
* Contact Sidewalks@tdeignan.blogspot.com.