Bill O'Reilly

Fox News entertainer Bill O’Reilly told his audience that he fancies himself a history teacher. In that role, he took it upon himself to break the hard news that First Lady Michelle Obama wasn’t lying in her convention speech when she said that the White House was constructed by slaves. Yet, he knew that his history lesson would not go down easy since it sullies cherished notions of purity and national virtue, so he softened things on the edges.

For example, while he found evidence of “about 400 payments made to slave masters between 1795 and 1801” for contract work on the new Executive Mansion, he assured people that “free blacks, whites, and immigrants also worked on the massive building.” You see, the White House isn’t forever soiled if some of the nails were hammered by non-slaves, including some whites. As for the distinction between slaves, whites and immigrants, he explained that, too.

There were no illegal immigrants at that time. If you could make it here, you could stay here.

He did not explain how the nonimmigrant whites got here or if the Chinese built the railroads before or after the dinosaurs were raptured. Apparently, those lessons are only appropriate for Sunday School.

What he mainly wanted to impress upon people, though, was that things are not so dire as they might seem.

Slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government, which stopped hiring slave labor in 1802. However, the feds did not forbid subcontractors from using slave labor. So, Michelle Obama is essentially correct in citing slaves as builders of the White House, but there were others working as well. Got it all? There will be a quiz.

By saying that Michelle Obama was “essentially” correct, he was saying that she wasn’t correct at all, so when she walks around the White House grounds with her black daughters and thinks how amazing it is for them to live there when their ancestors were forced at musketpoint to build the place, well, she still hates America.

That the First Lady said something true but discomforting sure did require a lengthy response, didn’t it?

And we’re supposed to give O’Reilly credit for acknowledging this and even noting that Michelle was “referring to the evolution of America in a positive way.”

I’m sorry, but giving O’Reilly credit here would be giving in to the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at