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The O’Reilly Factor, Great Barrington conservatives, & “bridging” social capital

Great Barrington got national press in December 2007 when the conservative television program “The O’Reilly Factor,” which provides the inspiration for Steven Colbert’s wacky parody “The Colbert Report,” came to town. I wrote about it here on the Berkshire Blog and made the assumption that local conservative George Beebe had been recruited ahead of time for the program. But George called me this morning, over two years after I wrote the post, to correct the historical record (as I see his son John has done in a comment – George doesn’t use email but he has web-savvy kids, who found my post and showed it to him). George said that he and his wife had just happened to be in town that day. He saw the news crew and went over to see what was going on. The rest is history – sheer serendipity (or fate or an answer to prayer, depending on your religious or philosophical persuasion) that O’Reilly got the ideal spokesperson for what in Great Barrington is the minority point of view.

I’m an environmentalist and a liberal, but in this case I suspect I might have been closer to George than to others in town if I had been asked about the Main Street Christmas lights. The selectboard, rarely a model of high good sense, was particularly absurd when it came to this issue.

There’s another bit of serendipity in this. I was writing this morning, just before George called, about the difference between “bonding” and “bridging” social capital. Bridging is more important, and more rare: it is the connections that develop between people and groups that do not share the same views or values. And just yesterday I was telling someone that I have connections with some of the conservatives in town, unlike most newcomers from the city (yes, after 15 years, I’m still a newcomer). I don’t always side with the so-called progressives, and I’ve tried to see things from the point of view of people who grew up here. One of George Beebe’s ancestors is mentioned in W.E.B. Du Bois’s autobiography, as the man who came down from the hills to rant about the school budget at annual Town Meeting. George has carried on the family tradition, a fiscal conservative, and I’m delighted that he called me and that we can talk, though I adamantly disagree with most of what he had to say. I restrained myself from asking what his views are on China-United States relations!

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