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A Must Read For All Interested in Public Affairs
on July 26, 2011
Nearly at the very start of `Muzzled' Juan Williams, unintentionally, makes an excellent point about why this book is an almost mandatory read for anybody interested in political discourse today. Here's his reasoning. He comments that most of us have jobs that consume much of our attention and effort. At best, this leaves a relatively short amount of time and attention for us to concentrate on political or social matters. Some folks, often described as the chattering classes of which Williams is one, do nothing but pay attention to politics. This is their job. They know the processes and the people involved. They are the political authorities. Many of us tend to think we have a comprehensive knowledge about the political process, but we can't -- given the limitations of our daily lives. Thus no matter if you agree or disagree with Williams, what he says is the distillation of more research and thought than most of us can dedicate to the process.
The first chapter of `Muzzled' is Williams' version of his firing from NPR and hiring as a commentator (rather than the occasional guest) by Fox News. Williams only devotes a single chapter to this incident probably to air his view of the event reinforced by the subsequent resignations or firings at NPR over his dismissal. He notes that while at NPR he was regularly policed as to what he was permitted to say. Over at Fox, he's always been given perfect freedom to express whatever his thoughts may be. That's a rather telling contrast between Fox and NPR.
Clearly, though, the book isn't about Williams or his time at NPR or Fox or anything to do with Williams as a person. Instead, he posits that political dialog in the United States itself is muzzled, just as he was at NPR, by what he terms `political correctness'.
Williams uses the term `political correctness' to mean enforced ideological orthodoxy. Why he extends the term political correctness beyond most people's definition of the term is something he never explains or perhaps the term means something different to him than most. He does state that he believes the term flexes its meaning depending on the speaker. Anyway, it's his contention, and he offers many examples he believes reinforces this contention, that the various sides of any hot button political debate have reached an impasse in the form of impregnable defensive fortresses neither side is willing or able to breach. The balance of the book is a dissertation from Williams about this divide, examples of how the divide continues to widen and some editorial from the author on which way the debates should trend.
It's Williams belief that both sides have, for every issue, a set of key terms to classify the listener to being either with `us' or against `us'. All or at least most commentators today will address these issues using these hot button terms because they know they are playing to their audience. For example, when talking about Obamacare, those opposed will talk about death panels and those supporting will talk about the need for universal health care. Note the difference. Is Obamacare a good in bringing about universal health care or is it a bad bringing bureaucratic faceless death to those the government deems unworthy of continued existence? Depending on which commentator you listen to; it can be only one. None will say that it's a bit of both.
Williams doesn't claim that one side is fairer than the other. He slams both left and right for doing the same things although his examples of dialog failure tend, due to his admitted left bias, tend to be left oriented.
For example, he cites the Tucson massacre as an event that should have led to a dialog on gun control. He weakens his argument by stating that the shooter used `automatic' weapons (they were not) with large capacity `clips' (they were not clips). While these details may mean little to a left winger such as Williams, the obvious ignorance of his statements disqualify him from the dialog to those who are second amendment supporters. His choice of that specific event also shows his bias. He could very well have used an incident where an 80 year old woman fended off an attack upon her person using a concealed handgun as a reason to open a dialog about the need for universal concealed carry. One can't expect a leopard to change his spots, though even if this leopard is trying his best to understand stripes. Juan Williams makes no bones about being a leftist liberal and his examples and points of view show that clearly.
Another area where Williams has, himself, quite a bit of bias is Obama. Based on some of his narrative, the reader can infer that Williams was treated as a friendly by both the Obama campaign and now administration. There are many areas of the book where Williams pleads the reader to understand and have sympathy for the current administration as some sort of spiritual team activity. He doesn't, however, give a person either from the left or right who opposes Obama any hard reason to change his position. Instead, his pleas are for the general sense of unity. We all want unity; we also want it on our own terms.
To give Williams credit, he does strain mightily to see legitimacy in conservatives' views. He may not, in the eyes of many conservatives, succeed in fully understanding their views, but at least he tries. In that, he's going much further in attempting reconciliation than many prominent on the conservative side. If you doubt this, read then compare `Muzzled' with Coulter's `Demonic' and decide for yourself.
Due to Williams' experience and insights, (even if he remains biased) his book is and important read for anybody interested in current events or politics. For those on the left who generally view themselves on the side of the Obviously Correct Way it will offer a chance at self-examination and introspection. For those on the right, who feel equally justified in their belief that they are always on the side of Right and Holy, it will demonstrate how their side is as resistant to honest dialog as they claim the left is.
It is well past the time to dial the temperature down some. Maybe this book will be the start of that dialing down.