The second half of Bill O’Reilly’s much-hyped interruption-a-thon disguised as an interview with President Obama aired Monday night. The first part, which coasted on Super Bowl traffic, mainly featured O’Reilly flinging a bunch of conspiracy theories at Obama, but the second half focused on an issue of great importance to O’Reilly personally: How black women are not conducting their sex lives in precisely the way that O’Reilly thinks they should. And he wants to know what Obama is going to do about it.
Bill O’Reilly: All right. But 72 percent of babies in the African-American community are born out of wedlock.
President Barack Obama: Yeah.
O’Reilly: Why isn’t there a campaign by you and the first lady to address that problem very explicitly?
Obama: Actually, Bill, we address it explicitly all the time. I—I’ll send you at least 10 speeches I’ve made since I’ve been president talking about the importance of men taking responsibility for their children. Talking about the importance of, uh, young people, uh, delaying gratification. Talking about the importance of, uh, when it comes to child rearing, paying child support, spending time with your kids, reading with them. So, whether it’s getting publicity or not is a whole different question.
Obama: This is something that we focus on all the time.
O’Reilly: Would you say it’s been a hallmark of your administration to make that issue, because I don’t believe it has. I know you’ve given the speeches, and I know you know—understand the problem, because you’re a community organizer from Chicago.
O’Reilly: All right? But I don’t see the pressure from the federal government to go in and say, this is wrong, this is—this is killing, um, futures of babies and children.
Obama: Well, first of all, I’ve just got to say, Bill, we talk about it all the time. We’ll continue to talk about it. We’re convening, for example, philanthropists and business people, city by city, who are interested in addressing these kinds of problems at the local level. There is an economic component to it as well, though.
Obama: Because—because what’s interesting, when you look at what’s going on right now, you’re starting to see in a lot of white working-class homes, similar problems—when men can’t find good work, when the economy is shutting ladders of opportunity off from people, whether they’re black, white, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter. Then that puts pressure as well on the home. So you’ve got an interaction between the economy that isn’t generating enough good jobs for folks who traditionally could get blue-collar jobs even if they didn’t have a higher education, and some legitimate social concerns, uh. That compound the problem and so we want to hit both. We want to make sure that we’re putting folks back to work and making sure that they’re well-paid—
Upon realizing the president was going to say the forbidden—that lack of jobs and not lack of wedding rings is the issue here—O’Reilly hastily changed the subject.
Obsessing over whether women have their paperwork in order before they choose to reproduce is what conservatives do when they don’t want to think about more realistic and effective ways to solve income inequality in this country. The theory that a marriage license is a magic shield that prevents poverty is so beloved because it weds together two conservative obsessions—micromanaging what women do in bed and blaming poor people’s supposed moral inferiorit—instead of more obvious causes—such as a lack of jobs—for their economic hardships. The problem is that many experts don’t think that marriage is a panacea and tend to cite the lack of decent economic opportunities as the real problem bedeviling poor people. Which was what Obama was getting at when O’Reilly moved on.
What really made this moment shine was O’Reilly’s certainty that the problem here is an insufficient amount of presidential scolding. The “wait until you’re married” lecture has been consistently delivered to black women for more than 50 years now, but let’s give it another 50, shall we? Maybe Obama isn’t phrasing it right? Maybe if he said, “You are bad,” as opposed to, “Men should take responsibility for their children,” everything would click? Or maybe he just needs to yell a little louder; that always makes things sound truer and more persuasive on The O’Reilly Factor. Plus it distracts from the divorced—as in, single—host’s own moral indiscretions.