If you're a regular O'Reilly watcher, you know he's had it in for Colin Powell who, for some reason, got mixed into O'Reilly's racial resentment over the election. But last night, O'Reilly hosted Powell for a spirited debate that was mostly respectful.That is, if you don't count how O'Reilly “had to ask" if Powell's support for Obama was due to anger at Republicans over the war in Iraq. I guess O'Reilly didn't “have to ask" the questions O'Reilly has previously asked him: whether Powell supported Obama because of any “racial business.”
But that doesn't mean that race wasn't a subtext throughout. And if the discussion showed nothing else, it showed just how clueless white Republicans can be about people of color. This was particularly noticeable in two areas: voting restrictions and insensitive language.
Powell said he doesn't think the Republican party “recognizes the fundamental demographic changes that are taking place in the country.” He went on to slam Republican immigration attitudes as repellant to people of color. And then he brought up voting issues.
“You can't have policies that try to make it harder for minorities to vote. I think one of the most terrible things that happened in the past election season is when we had a number of states that were going out of their way, claiming there was outright fraud when there really wasn't any fraud that would be of concern to us. But we were doing things to make it more difficult for those people to vote.”
This was not in the on-air interview but in the unedited version, Powell added, “What did that produce? It produced an outpouring of them who stood in line to vote.”
O'Reilly jumped up in his chair in indignation that anyone could object to voter ID laws.
Powell continued, “I want to see a Republican Party that, rather than trying to make it more difficult to vote and restricting the number of days and hours you can vote, a Republican Party that says, 'We want everybody to vote and we're gonna give you a reason to vote for us.'"
O'Reilly not only didn't understand, he didn't seem to want to understand: ."..I'm sorry, you should be able to prove who you are before you cast a ballot."
Powell replied, “No, you should be able to prove who you are when you register to vote.”
When O'Reilly complained about fraud, Powell said, he has not seen “any study that says fraud is a problem of such significance that these kinds of procedures were (needed).”
O'Reilly didn't offer any such evidence, either (most likely because there isn't any). Instead, he said, “Let's get to race.” And they were off to debate comments by Republicans that Powell had objected to as racially loaded, such as Romney surrogate John Sununu referring to President Obama as “lazy” and not truly American. O'Reilly suggested that Powell was playing the race card by objecting to language he knew was not from a racist. But Powell said, “You have to understand the impact this has on minorities throughout our country and if you want to appeal to these people, if you want to bring them to the Republican Party and give them a reason to vote Republican, you have to avoid this kind of language which can infuriate people and cause them to go vote.”
In other words, whether O'Reilly feels it's justified or not, the language is insulting and offensive to people of color.
But again, O'Reilly seemed more interested in pegging Powell as too racially sensitive than in re-considering his own frame of reference. He defended Sarah Palin's "shuck and jive" remarks by saying she's "a performer" who was "performing for her crew."
Powell was not persuaded. He said, “There is this vein of intolerance within the party... There are a lot of things the party has to look in the mirror at and say, 'Is this who we want to be?'”
They parted amicably, with O'Reilly talking about how much respect he has for Powell and Powell saying, “I had a good time. Invite me back, Bill!”
I hope he will.