Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News's "The O'Reilly Factor," is threatening to flee the country if Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- the self-described democratic socialist who is running for the Democratic Party nomination -- is elected president.
As quoted in the Huffington Post, O'Reilly said: "If Bernie Sanders gets elected president, I'm fleeing I'm going to Ireland. And they already know it. I shouldn't say it publicly because that will get Sanders more votes," he said. "But I'm not going to pay 90 percent of my income to that guy. I'm sorry. I'm not doing it."
O'Reilly is proud of his Irish ancestry (as a recent emigrant from Ireland and current U.S. citizen, I heartily approve of these sentiments). But he probably doesn't know very much about what Ireland is like these days. From the perspective of its Western European neighbors, Ireland is a small, market-friendly, right-of-center country. But from the perspective of American conservatism, Ireland looks like a hellhole of socialism.
Can O'Reilly easily flee to Ireland?
It may be tougher than he thinks. It would seem that O'Reilly's nearest Irish ancestor was his great-grandfather. This means that he misses the cut-off for automatic Irish citizenship by one generation. If you have one Irish grandparent, you qualify for Irish citizenship -- but unless O'Reilly's grandparent or parent formally applied, he's out of luck. He does have a second possibility though: paying to become a citizen. Ireland, like many other countries, provides citizenship to individuals willing to invest or donate a large sum of money to the benefit of the Irish economy.
Ireland is not a conservative paradise. Look at the taxes.
What would O'Reilly get in return for his money? First off, a tax system that is not all that different from the U.S. tax system for top earners, and arguably a little less favorable. The effective top Irish income tax rate is a little over half of income.
In the rather unlikely event that Sanders was elected president in a landslide of socialist enthusiasm, turning the Senate and the House socialist, and introducing punitive taxes to impoverish rich Fox News opinionators, O'Reilly would still be in trouble. Even if he lived in Ireland, he would have difficulty avoiding U.S. taxes unless he renounced his U.S. citizenship. The United States continues to regard U.S. expatriates as taxpayers no matter where they reside. Ireland and the United States have a double taxation treaty, to prevent people being taxed twice for the same income - this might provide some loopholes for royalties and the like, but probably not enough to make an enormous difference. O'Reilly would likely find himself paying to support Sanders's socialist American utopia from overseas.
Ireland has gun control. Serious gun control.
Bill O'Reilly has strong views on his right to own guns to defend himself under the Second Amendment.
"I have a right to protect myself, because there are crazed animals like the guy in Oregon There are people like that who will come after innocent people for no reason. And you are going to deny me protection? If I live out in a rural Oregon where the nearest cop is 40 miles away? I can't have a gun to protect my family?"
The Irish attitude to guns will be a serious culture shock. First, he'll be far worse off than he would be in rural Oregon. While there will surely be cops closer than 40 miles away, those cops will almost certainly be unarmed. In Ireland, police carry arms only under special circumstances; most don't even have firearms training.
Gun ownership is highly restricted. People must apply for a license to own a gun, and are likely to be refused under many circumstances. Furthermore, there are heavy restrictions on kinds of guns that they are allowed to own -- roughly speaking, guns for sport and hunting (sports pistols; shotguns; some kinds of rifles) are OK, but handguns of the kind that O'Reilly could use for "self-defense" are not, let alone automatic weapons. Gun rights are not a topic of political debate in Ireland; the most conservative party, now the majority party in the government, just introduced new restrictions with no significant public opposition.
Ireland has socialized medicine.
O'Reilly denounces Obamacare as "socialism" because it uses taxpayers' money to subsidize the poor. The Irish health-care system does the same thing on a much larger scale, with a hospital system that is directly run by the government. In Ireland, hospital doctors are government employees (although many senior doctors earn substantial incomes on the side from private practice). Everyone in Ireland is entitled to free basic health care in hospitals, and low-income people get medical cards entitling them to free doctors' visits and many other services.
This system is far from perfect, which means that many middle-class and upper-middle-class people supplement it with private health insurance (so that, for example, that they do not have to wait long times for some surgical procedures). Even so, it's socialized medicine on a scale that would be politically unthinkable in America. Ireland also has welfare benefits for the unemployed that are not notably generous by European standards, but are wildly permissive in comparison to their U.S. equivalents.
There are other ways in which Ireland is more congenial to conservatives like O'Reilly. Most obviously, abortion is far more heavily curtailed in Ireland than the United States (although the conservative party leading government has promised to liberalize Ireland's abortion laws this year).
Even though Ireland is a conservative country by West European standards, it's far, far to the left of U.S. conservative preferences on many key issues.
If O'Reilly really thinks that Ireland is a good alternative to a Sanders-led America, it's probably because he's unfamiliar with what Ireland is really like as a country. If a putative Sanders administration were somehow able successfully to introduce Irish-style health care, an Irish-style welfare state and Irish-style gun control, it would be viewed by conservatives as a socialist revolution.
Henry Farrell, associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, wrote this for the Washington Post.