The High Spark of the Low Heels, Boys

Politics is a contemptible business. Public service, that’s something else. Government? That’s not what politics is. Politics is a sewer. It leads those who participate in it, especially in any regular form, to employ every low human behavior except, generally, murder, though accusations even of it are not now unheard of. And because the politicians – and I include in that designation for my purpose here anyone who engages in the political rough and tumble, not just the office seekers – because the politicians, putatively, have the noble ends of that “public service” and “government” to justify themselves, they feel raised up above the thieves and thugs of the street who seek without the pretense to gut you or relive you of your value.

Juan Williams’s genuine offense was that he allowed himself to be used by Fox News. That is the real reason those Liberals (and some others) who are pissing on him now have lowered their zippers. I’m not immune to the displeasure. It has to take some sweet dollars and the very seductive smile of the camera to commit yourself to the role of a Commedia dell’arte liberal scripted to suffer under the adjacent, unctuous smile of Bill Kristol and the sneering drip of contempt from Brit Hume. Or, for that matter, to throw up fungoes for Bill O’Reilly to smack into his own bleachers. And it is for that offense that the liberal shock troops now dispatch him with the same mindless pleasure to excommunicate as the Tea Partiers have used on any Republican who might have thought that Democrats are Americans who disagree with them and not enemies of the republic.

But about Williams’s supposed offense of the moment I have already had my say here and a little bit here. Of the broader view, particularly of the Right’s consequent desire to leverage this affair into the demise of a true news organization, NPR, to the favor of a propaganda organ, Fox, Jim Fallows has offered the best. Right on, we used to say.

With one exception. Fallows thinks Andrew Sullivan

very astute in pointing out the difference between the complex way Williams wrote about racial stereotypes and racial differences early in his career (including in The Atlantic) and the blunt way he now talks about them on Fox News.

As it happens, I think Andrew Sullivan notably astute in very little these days, a remarkable failing for a public voice so renowned. He is no more so in his – he thinks devastating – critique of Williams, which he titles “Busted.” Now, I am not focused on Williams’ tenure at Fox News. I hardly know all he said. But no one else, including Sullivan, really is either. It is the remarkable mountain of bigotry that Sullivan and others have made out of Williams’s rather measly – and actually, surprisingly, ingenuous – expression of fear that is everyone’s focus. “Look, Bill, I’m not a bigot,” Williams prefaced himself, with reference to his civil rights resume, so he knew well enough, of course, what the willing might make of his remarks. Yet he expressed it – a fear, a very human fear, and we see what you get for that in the public square. Because those who condemn him have no fears, no unbecoming thoughts, no weaknesses or inconsistencies of private self in relation to the public party line that make them the less righteous enough to reduce a man to bigotry because of a not entirely unfounded fear. These are, too, you know, the very people, in attempting to morally upbraid their inferiors in political consciousness, who will insist that we all harbor some degree of prejudice – don’t try to deny it. Just don’t, you know, publicly acknowledge it – not even the prejudice, forget that, but a fear – because what you will get for that is not any understanding but the unzipped zipper.

Sullivan’s entire analysis aimed at charging Williams with bigotry is pointless because it circularly presumes him to have expressed bigotry to begin. He quotes Williams at length from a New Republic colloquium on bias. For instance,

Unless I am a racist, race and age cannot be the sole deciding factors in calculating whom I will and will not let into my store. [Sullivan’s emphasis]

If you read the entire transcript of Williams’s remarks on O’Reilly’s show, it demonstrates him repeatedly warning (ineffectively, as will be the case on O’Reilly’s show) against acting in any kind of prejudicial manner on the basis of such fears, and against generalizing as a matter of expressed opinion from extremists to the larger Muslim population. Contrary, then, to Sullivan’s emphatic italicizing above, Williams did not speak of any decision making in the expression of his fear. We can see again, in a longer excerpt of Sullivan’s quotation of Williams, that what Williams was speaking of in this consideration was behavior.

As a cabdriver I would apply the same considerations. Discrimination can be used judiciously. I would certainly exclude one class of people: those who struck me as dangerous. Nervous-looking people with bulges under their jackets would not be picked up; nor would those who looked obviously drunk or stoned. It all comes down to a subjective judgment of what dangerous people look like. This does not necessarily entail a racial judgment. Cabdrivers who don’t pick up young black men as a rule are making a poorly informed decision. Racism is a lazy man’s substitute for using good judgment.

The elevator question is disingenuous. I suspect you are suggesting that I am a white woman getting into an apartment building elevator with a strange black man. Of course, black women have just as much to fear as white women. Nevertheless, black women living in black neighborhoods ride elevators with black men frequently, and do so without being raped. In this situation and all others, common sense is my constant guard. Common sense becomes racism when skin color becomes a formula for figuring out who is a danger to me. [Sullivan’s emphasis]

Note that at the start Williams uses “discrimination” in a dual sense, beginning with its original meaning of to make distinctions – distinctions that lead to actions, to behaviors, in these hypothetical scenarios. Sullivan’s emphasis at the end, fueling his pompous peroration (“how dare he use his own record in defending civil rights for African-Americans to justify his bigoted prejudice against devout Muslims?”) ignores, as Sullivan, and all of Williams’s critics have, that unlike in these considerations at the colloquium, Williams never once advocated any behaviors based upon his fears. Indeed, he advocated against any.

One might think that a man who has so irrationally defended – as a faith, not a fear – his Catholic beliefs for so long, and especially his position as a gay Catholic, would have some deeper understanding of the less reasoned activities of the mind, that he would not intone so highly and mightily. “How dare he,” indeed.

I’ll let Williams speak a little more for himself, in a manner more well-reasoned and truthful than any of his critics. This is what Williams reports of his phone conversation with Ellen Weiss of NPR:

Wednesday afternoon I got a message on my cell phone from Ellen Weiss who’s the head of news at NPR asking me to call. When I called back, she said, “What did you say? What did you mean to say?” and I said, “I said what I meant to say which is that it’s an honest experience that when I’m in an airport and I see people who are in Muslim garb who identify themselves forth and foremost as Muslims, I do a double take. I have a moment of anxiety or fear given what happened on 9/11. That’s just the reality. And, she went on to say that crosses the line and I said what line is that? And she went on to somehow suggest that I had made a bigoted statement. I said that’s not a bigoted statement.

And it’s not.


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2 thoughts on “The High Spark of the Low Heels, Boys

  1. Thank you for defending Juan Williams. I don’t agree with him on politics a lot of the time, but I think it’s high time everyone quit castigating their political opponents for being human.

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