O'Reilly turns on himself

The Fox News host is confused about the public option

Published September 23, 2009 2:30PM (EDT)

If you've ever watched his show, you've probably come away with the impression that Bill O'Reilly is a truly eloquent rhetorician who likes to engage in reasoned, good-natured debates with his guests.

Or maybe not.

But regardless of your take on the Fox News host, it appears O'Reilly has finally found the perfect person to argue with: himself.

Lately, O'Reilly has made some decidedly confused comments about the public option being debated as part of the healthcare reform plans circulating in Washington. And it seems he's none too happy with himself -- or the liberal media -- about it.

The public option would in essence provide a government-backed insurance option for Americans in an effort to put pressure on private insurers to lower their costs and provide better coverage to consumers. Given O'Reilly's ideological bent, it'd be safe to assume he'd be against government involvement in healthcare. Yet, on his show on September 16, O'Reilly seemed to support the idea of a public option. On that show, he had this exchange with Nina Owcharenko, the deputy director of health policy studies for the conservative Heritage Foundation (video is below):

OWCHARENKO: Well, it has massive new federal regulation. So you don't necessarily need a public option if the federal government is going to control and regulate the type of health insurance that Americans can buy.

O'REILLY: I want that. I want that. I want, not personally for me, but for working Americans to have an option that, if they don't like their health insurance, if it's too expensive, they can't afford it, if the government can cobble together a cheaper insurance policy that gives the same benefits, I see that as a plus for the folks.

As O'Reilly had previously called healthcare reform efforts "socialism," his comment about the public option led many liberal blogs to claim that O'Reilly was suddenly in favor of the public option.

However, this interpretation is a bit of a reach. If you listen to O'Reilly's entire interview with Owcharenko, it seems like he really doesn't understand what a public option is. He said earlier in the conversation, "The public option now is done. We've discussed this. It's not going to happen. But you say that this little marketplace that they're going to set up, whereby the federal government would subsidize some insurance for Americans, that is, in your opinion, a public option?"

O'Reilly seems to have conflated the public option with an insurance exchange. The latter is a proposal put forward by Democrats in which a market would be set up so that small businesses and individuals could work as a collective to bargain for better insurance rates. However, this exchange would not necessarily involve a government-run insurance option and wouldn't directly subsidize insurance for Americans.

But O'Reilly's never been one one to suffer criticism in silence. So on Monday he attacked liberals who he said had taken his statement on the public option out of context. Calling the Internet a "safe-haven for liars," O'Reilly sought to clarify that he was in no way in favor of a public option. Yet, his guest, staunch right-winger Bernard Goldberg pointed out that O'Reilly had sounded as if was backing government-run insurance last week.

GOLDBERG: Bill, Bill, don’t shoot the messenger. Right? I’m your friend. I’m telling you this as a friend. You also said, "If the government can cobble together a cheaper insurance policy that gives the same benefits, I see that as a plus for the folks." Now, I know what you meant by that.

O’REILLY: But I clarified it: private hands.

GOLDBERG: You did. You absolute — you absolutely did. But you’re a big prize for the left. But they can get... What I’m saying is when — when you say — when you say if the government can cobble...

O’REILLY: I clarified. I know what you’re saying, but it’s just drives me crazy that you can’t have an honest dialogue in this country anymore.

The moral of the story here appears to be that O'Reilly is less a liberal when it comes to healthcare reform than he is just mixed-up about the issue in general. And while liberal blogs have exaggerated the meaning of his comment on the public option, O'Reilly's clear lack of understanding of healthcare reform is at the root of the controversy. He apparently wants a public option that is in "private hands." As a public option would be a government-run program, such a position makes no sense.

From the September 16th show:

From the September 21st show:

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

MORE FROM Vincent Rossmeier

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