The Spectacle Blog

Marc Lamont Hill’s O’Reilly Mistakes

By on 8.19.09 | 1:04PM

One of the regulars on Bill O'Reilly's show is Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, who will be joining Columbia University's faculty this fall.

An amiable liberal, Dr. Hill is always earnest and occasionally provocative with his take on things racial.  While his sparring with O'Reilly is frequently interesting, and Hill is doubtless a smart guy, when he makes as many factual errors in one night as he did last night discussing a Specter health care reform town meeting in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, he should be called out.

Dr. Hill apparently attended Specter's meeting (I was outside talking to the crowd, Hill was inside). In discussing this with O'Reilly he made three factual errors, using his mistakes to attribute racism to the crowd. This is wrong.

Mistake # 1: Apparently there were "birthers" in the Specter crowd, those who have this thing about questioning Obama's legitimacy to be president based on his supposed birth not in Hawaii but outside the U.S. Dr. Hill than laid this at the feet of racism, saying that such an allegation only pops up against the nation's lone black president.

This is not true. Chester Alan Arthur, the nation's 21st president, was born (so it was insisted) in Vermont. In fact his father owned a farm some fifteen miles over the border in Canada. When Arthur ran as James Garfield's running-mate in 1880, a New York lawyer named Arthur Hinman was hired by Democrats to investigate. Hinman claimed Arthur came to America from Ireland when he was fourteen, and hence was not eligible to be on a presidential ticket. When this proved to be a political non-starter, the allegation was changed to say he was born in Canada. As with Obama, the allegations were dismissed after investigation by reporters of the day. Still, they were made repeatedly. Hinman would go on to publish a book entitled, How A British Subject Became President of the United States.

So Obama is in fact not the first president to face this treatment, and Arthur was your basic portly white guy Republican. The allegations Hill says he heard in Lebanon were not unique and not racial.

Mistake #2: Hill attributed the age of the protesters -- in their 70s and 80s -- and the fact that "30 or 40 years ago" they were voting Republican as a sign of racism. This is stunningly bad history.

Lebanon is a solidly Republican area. It is that because Central Pennsylvania was a huge source of support for Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party of which he is viewed in these parts as the founding father -- and which was decidedly pro-civil rights. Indeed, during the 1960s, the two prominent Republicans in Pennsylvania -- U.S. Senator Hugh Scott and Governor William Scranton -- were huge liberal Republican supporters of civil rights and both very popular in Central Pennsylvania. To impute racism to people who would have been among their strongest supporters and who voted Republican because they self-identified with Lincoln is egregiously bad Pennsylvania history. Dr. Hill should know better.

Mistake # 3: Dr. Hill was upset because people in the Specter meeting referred to President Obama as "that guy" or "that man." Surely Hill should know that Franklin Roosevelt's critics famously referred to him derisively as "that man in the White House."

If Obama supporters want to tout the President as another FDR, it is silly to attribute precisely the same kind of criticism FDR received, right down to the derogatory nickname, as something racial. It is, in its own uniquely American fashion, extremely presidential.

Here's hoping Dr. Hill cracks the books a bit more before he says things like this on O'Reilly.

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