Bill Moyers: Equivocations Extraordinaire


What must it be like to be so political that you can’t sleep at night?  Liberal extraordinaire Bill Moyers answered this in his February 10, 2015 Salon column.  Those of us that heard about the horrific burning of a Jordanian air force pilot, by the terrorist group known as ISIS, couldn’t help but think that it may have been one of the most horrific events we have ever heard about.  Some of us were so horrified that it even kept us up at night, as we thought about the unnecessary pain the terrorists in ISIS inflicted on the young pilot’s family, the effect it must’ve had on Jordanians as a whole, and the subsequent effects the terrorist incident could have on geopolitics.  The barbaric incident did keep the former PBS personality up at night, but his insomnia was apparently not related to such altruistic concerns.

The column does contain the requisite condemnations of this act committed by ISIS, but after getting those out of the way, Moyers focuses on the concern that his readers, and Americans in general, might think that such incidents only happen in other places, or under the name of another religion.  This concern, say some, has been the driving force for much of Bill Moyers’ broadcast career.

My mind kept roaming the past trying to retrieve a vaguely remembered photograph that I had seen long ago,” he wrote.  “Suddenly, around two in the morning, the image materialized in my head.”

Moyers and Coates

Moyers and Coates

This painstaking search through his memory produced, for all readers of Bill Moyers’ column, a photo –a photo nearly 100 years old— that depicted a slave being hung.  Moyers also includes the horrific details of the story behind this photo, the type of horror that does match the horror that the Jordanian pilot must have experienced at the hands of ISIS.  This photo, and the accompanying story, suggests that Americans, and religious people, shouldn’t get on their high horse when they learn of this incident involving the Jordanian pilot, because “Home grown insiders, Godly (people), our neighbors, friends, and kin, (and) people like us” have committed similar atrocities throughout the course of human history.

I understand that Bill Moyers former profession involved political commentary, and that a majority of his career was spent providing political commentary that attempted to tie horrific world events to those that have occurred in U.S. history.  I understand that it is apparently Moyers’ driving force in life that Americans not fall prey to the conceit that theirs is the most “awesomest” country in the world, and that their particular religion is the most “awesomest”, but how many narrow-minded, political partisans could witness an event as horrific as a man being burned alive in a cage and believe that it could be used to politically persuade people to your way of thinking?  How many people are so political that when they learn of such an honorific incident, they immediately begin searching their memory for an equivocation that confirms their contention that America is not exceptional in this manner?  How many people would endure such a seemingly futile pursuit to the point that they stayed up until two A.M. chasing it, before they finally, finally, come up with a photo that is nearly 100 years old to validate their mission in life?

Other equivocators —after presumably spending their own sleepless night trying to come up with one— had to go further back than 100 years, to The Civil War, to find a leader of the South declaring that the positions the South held on slavery –positions they knew would lead to war— were justified based on his interpretations of The Bible.

The point, writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his Atlantic column, is that equivocating what “Americans have done, on their own soil, in the name of their own God, something similar to what ISIS is doing now does not make ISIS any less barbaric, or any more correct. That is unless you view the entire discussion as a kind of religious one-upmanship, in which the goal is to prove that Christianity is “the awesomest.” The point, he writes, interpreting the president’s words at the National Prayer Breakfast, is that we should all seek “faith leavened by some doubt”.

Mr. Moyers, and Mr Coates, would most assuredly inform you that if all you took from their columns were equivocations, you probably didn’t read them right.  You can be assured that they would also tell you that their columns are about so much more, but the timing of these painful stretches suggests that they were written in support of President Barack Obama’s equivocation, at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which the president was forced to go back nearly 1,000 years, to The Crusades and The Inquisition, for some of his equivocations to find some human rights violations on par with those committed by ISIS, for those on high horses.

What’s the point of making an equivocation in this case, some non-political people might ask.  What difference does it make to anyone?  Why do these politicians and commentators even feel it’s necessary to do?  Non-political, and non-partisan, people may know that this is just how some politicians and commentators think, and that they’re simply giving voice to their worldview, but non-political, and non-partisan, people probably still won’t understand why anyone would find it necessary to equate one violent act to another, especially when that other act occurred nearly 1,000 years ago.  These people might fear that politicians and commentators equivocating such horrific acts could lead to those acts being minimized to some degree, and that the perpetrators may never come to any form justice as a result.  Get off your high horse for one second, these equivocators might reply, and examine why your sole focus is retribution when it could be said, through painstaking research, that there are moments throughout the course of human history in which other, horrific acts of violence have occurred, and that some of those acts could have some sort of loose association to you.  It’s far more conducive to your mental health to take a step back and examine, through the intellectual exercise of equivocation, how easy it would be for you to be tempted to burn someone alive in a cage, or behead another person, when given the right cause.  They’re not saying it would be easy, and you may have to stay awake until two in the morning trying to do it, bursting some capillaries in your eyes in the process, but once you do, you’ll find that “faith leavened by some doubt”, and you’ll recognize that these are just random acts of violence no different than any of those committed by home grown insiders, Godly (people), our neighbors, friends, and kin, (and) people like us.

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