One of Bill O’Reilly’s favorite new attack themes is something that he calls the “Grievance Industry.” Apparently it is any person or group who registers a complaint against something that O’Reilly likes. For instance, racial discrimination or tax policies that favor the rich. It’s curious, though, that he would invent a disparaging way of looking at something that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution: “…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” And the larger irony is that no one is more of a complainer than O’Reilly himself.
Take his latest Talking Points Memo segment wherein he makes a case for voter suppression via voter ID laws that do not address any actual problem. He begins with his boilerplate whining about how “the grievance industry believes that requiring an ID to vote is a right-wing plot to deny some Americans their voting rights.” He asserts that the push for voter ID is because of voter fraud, but like everyone else on the right who has beaten this path, he provides no evidence of the fraud that he alleges.
In an effort to belittle his opponents, O’Reilly says that the left denies that there is any voter fraud. That’s a lie. In fact the left acknowledges that there is voter fraud, but that it is on such a small scale as to be insignificant. And it doesn’t come close to justifying the imposition of obstacles to voting for millions of legitimate citizens.
Attempting to introduce some substance, O’Reilly cites an “investigation” into voter fraud in the state of North Carolina. The only problem with that is that it has produced precisely zero examples of any unlawful activity. The project was so flawed that when Dick Morris made the same reference to it as O’Reilly, PolitiFact slapped him down with a rating of “False.” They further pointed out that the data used was previously shown to be utterly unreliable. In Kansas they bragged that they had uncovered 185,000 potential cases of voter fraud. But all that came of it was fourteen referrals for prosecution and zero convictions.
O’Reilly then specifically made an allegation, which he portrayed as a fact, that “at least 81 North Carolinians voted in 2013 after they died.” But there is no evidence to support that claim either. In previous similar incidents there was always a simple explanation such as that the voters had cast absentee ballots and then died prior to election day.
O’Reilly then endorses a plan to put photos on Social Security cards and use those as voter identification. Critics of this proposal note that it would introduce serious privacy risks, a complaint that O’Reilly casually dismisses. However, Social Security cards have a unique purpose in our society and the prospect of making them a universal form of identification does expose people to a greater risk of identity fraud. Your Social Security number was never intended to a form of identification.
Perhaps the most outlandish assertion in O’Reilly’s rant was that “There are about 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. who could vote without proper ID in place.” Oh my. That’s twice the margin by which President Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012. So where all of these illegal aliens plotting to corrupt the American electoral system? There certainly isn’t any evidence of them having voted. And they’ve been around for many election cycles. It doesn’t even make any sense that people who are here without documentation would risk jail and deportation in order to cast a ballot for candidates who will not represent them.
The only reason that O’Reilly would even raise this phony issue is to fan the flames of bigotry that are already burning in the souls of his audience and much of the extremist right-wing that he represents. It is a reprehensible and irresponsible appeal to people who are predisposed to hate anyone different from themselves. And sadly, it is an appeal that will find agreement by viewers of Fox News despite the irrationality of the argument.
O’Reilly invented the “grievance industry” concept so that he could dismissively waive off any allegation of prejudice as something unwarranted, trivial, and/or fabricated. It’s his way of belittling those who make observations about the racism that still infects our society. But he is the best example that bigotry, in all its hateful glory, continues to be a problem that the goodhearted American people need to redouble their efforts to eradicate. And we could start with Bill O’Reilly.