The reemergence of rape accusations against Bill Cosby have divided this nation of TV-watchers. Most members of Mr. Cosby’s race and a large percentage of his fellow males have responded with a skepticism that is not entirely unjustified. It is all too common for women to “discover” through therapy or introspection that their lives have been ruined by predatory males. On the other hand, recent stories that have overtaken media stars in the US and the UK remind fans and TV-watchers of what human scum can wash up in network TV, Hollywood studios, and the recording industry.
TV-watching is a kind of mental illness that limits one’s ability to perceive any reality that is more substantial than flickering images or drug-induced hallucinations, and it is probably perilous to the mind and body even to think about what someone like Mr. Cosby either did or did not do. What is instructive, however, is the the gullibility of Americans who revered this comic for so many years as “America’s dad.”
I remember back in 1985, discussing America’s moral decline at a Rockford Institute leadership retreat—a degrading episode made almost bearable only by Chilton Williamson, whose presence I had demanded. My then colleague the then Lutheran Reverend Richard John Neuhaus quite sensibly (for a change) refused to be taken in by the neoconservative enthusiasm about the changes brought about in Reagan’s new world. He said that whenever the subject of moral degeneracy came up, the response from Midge and Norman and company was always to point to the Cosby show as a sign of hope.
Mistakenly thinking I had found some common ground with Richard, I pointed out that the TV idol was not, perhaps, all he seemed to be. For example, the title “Dr. Bill Cosby” he so exulted in was a bogus degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (ZooMass as we used to call it) school of education, which awarded graduate credits for “life experience” and in Cosby’s case counted a TV special as a dissertation. Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson had backed away from this nonsense, when it was investigated.
Then there was the question of Cosby’s moral fibre, which was just a bit flabbier than that of his character Dr. Huxtable. Even before he settled out of court for an alleged illegitimate child born when Cosby was married to another woman, there had been plenty of rumors about extramarital affairs. His long-standing friendship with Hugh Hefner and association with Playboy Inc., were hardly compatible with his image as America’s dad.
But this is America, and we Americans are easily bowled over by celebrities and even more prone to accepting any African-American's credentials as hero. After all, our only authentic national hero is a a plagiarizing adulterous Marxist, who, if my informants were accurate, so hated discrimination that he let neither age nor sex stand in the way of gratifying his urges.
People who look up to Bill Cosby as a moral leader are as bad as the members of Congress who approved Martin Luther King Day while refusing to look at the FBI’s records. Race is not the issue, but honesty and common sense. If we are willing to make a fetish of actors and athaletes, we should not be surprised by the inevitable effect, which is to set them free from any moral responsibility whatsoever and destroy whatever discretion existed in America’s ruling elite. If the cause is sentimentalism and the cult of celebrity, the political effect is to put Ted Kennedy in the Senate and to elect two times a President who invites rappers to the White House and whose wife says, if she could not be Michelle Obama, she would be Beyonce!
Now that entertainment media have taken over the political process, we might as well have Cos and Beyonce or Kim and Kanye as a presidential ticket in 2016.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.