News & Politics

The Inconvenient Truth About Bill O'Reilly's 'Well-Fed' Slaves Comment

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Like most people, I brought face to palm when first reading how Bill O’Reilly responded to Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. In an effort to emphasize social progress made since the nation’s founding, the first lady reminded us that the White House, now occupied by a black man, was built by slaves. For some inconceivable reason, O’Reilly thought it worthwhile to note that “slaves that worked there were well-fed and had decent lodgings.” Naturally, the whole world piled on the Fox News commentator.

Here’s the thing though. The left at large, and the Democrat Party in particular, has no business condemning O’Reilly on this point. Their entire platform calls for slavery justified by provision. They would make well-fed slaves of us all. It’s the height of hypocrisy for Democrats and their supporters to stand aghast at O’Reilly’s impolitic comment while they otherwise advocate for 21st century slavery.

The fact that a slave is well-fed or enjoys decent housing does not absolve the sin of his owner. That’s the premise which informs the outrage here. What O’Reilly said was distasteful, we all seem to understand, because it implies that being well cared for somehow negates or justifies slavery.

Yet Democrats have made precisely that argument on every policy question from healthcare to retirement planning. Democrats consistently say that it is okay to force people to work (which seizing the fruit of their labor through taxation effectively does), so long as each resident is sufficiently provided for. So what’s their problem here? They should applaud O’Reilly and shout, “Amen!”

The response to O’Reilly reveals immense hypocrisy. One way or the other, Democrats are lying about what they believe. Either they believe provision justifies slavery, or they don’t. Either way, their rhetoric and prescriptions remain out of sync. If Democrats believe that provision justifies slavery, then they should uphold the White House example as a model for their modern agenda. If they don’t believe that provision justifies slavery, then they need to completely rewrite their entire platform and abandon its underlying ideology.

How many times have we heard from the likes of Elizabeth Warren about the immense value we get from our tax dollars? Recall this infamous statement:

You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory…

Substitute Warren for a plantation owner addressing slaves. It would go like this. “You haul your cotton in wheelbarrows which I provide. You eat from bowls which I paid for, in buildings I had constructed. You don’t have to worry about marauding bands or hostile wildlife, because my men and I stand watch to protect you.” Fundamentally, it’s the same argument.

The missing component in either case is consent. A slave works under compulsion, not by choice. Therefore, any provision made by the slave owner cannot be regarded as trade. You would not be made whole if I stole your car and left you a boat. Yes, the boat has value. But you did not consent to the trade. The exchange may have seemed worthwhile to me. But it didn’t seem worthwhile to you. For it to be a legitimate trade, we must each agree.

From this, we come to understand that nothing government provides constitutes trade, because nothing government provides emerges from consent. Everything government does, from the most benign role of policing the law to the most egregious form of welfare-state nannyism, it does through coercion at the point of a gun. The Founders understood this, which is why they sought the least amount of government necessary to maintain ordered liberty. Indeed, it was the dissonance between their limited government conviction and the institution of chattel slavery which led to the abolition of the latter.

The next time a lefty talks about how wonderful government provision is, remind them of O’Reilly. Remind them of those well-fed slaves and their decent housing. Point them to the pyramids, and ask whether such splendor sanctifies the whips under which those monuments were constructed.