Review of Kirsten Powers' The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech (Part 1)

Unlike many in Left Blogsylvania, the Rude Pundit respects Kirsten Powers, a self-proclaimed liberal (and she is, on many issues not related to abortion) and columnist who appears regularly on Fox "news," often as the designated liberal who is not Juan Williams. She is willing to go toe-to-toe with O'Reilly and Hannity, so, yeah, a measure of respect is due.

We once got into an email back and forth a few years back over his mocking of Michelle Malkin and other conservatives for a terrible web show they did with Powers, a mock the Rude Pundit stands by to this day. But Powers was a passionate advocate for her side of an argument about the treatment of conservative women by the left. Unlike many in this punditry ballgame, Powers is sincere, and the Rude Pundit has found himself agreeing with her on several occasions. Hell, she used to write for the American Prospect.

When he saw that Powers had published a new book, titled The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech, he very much wanted to read it and reached out to Powers to get a copy. See, this here blog supports free speech in all its forms, whether it be rude, crude, vicious, or mundane. He despises when people are excoriated or, worse, lose their jobs because the left wants to scream them into, yes, silence. He defended Juan Williams when the commentator was fired from NPR. He has supported the free speech of truly appalling people and Don Imus. He's stood up for Ward Churchill and other liberal radicals who have been attacked for what they've spoken or written. And if he hasn't been pure about it, he has at least always recognized that free speech is an issue (and, yes, he realizes the First Amendment is about the government censoring speech, not businesses).

So he was all ready to sink his teeth into The Silencing, even ignoring that the book was blurbed by Brit Hume, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will because Powers works at Fox. Of course, she has right-wing pals. And Powers starts promisingly enough, talking about a ridiculous incident where feminist (and decidedly liberal) writer Wendy Kaminer pissed off people at a Smith College alumnae gathering in New York City by using the word "nigger" to talk about how absurd the phrase "n-word" is when talking about Huckleberry Finn.

Because the college president was there, student groups attacked her for "blithely sitting on a panel that turned into an 'explicit act of racial violence' and complained that Kaminer was allowed to speak 'uncensored.'" It's utter bullshit, of course. It's students, especially students whose voices have traditionally been silenced, learning all kinds of stuff about race and gender in their classes and anxious to try this shit out in the world. That's not meant as something reductive or demeaning; it's an appreciation for how you learn and grow while studying at college, how you find your voice that you'll use out in the world. Of course there are excesses.

But the problem with Powers' book starts here, too. Because, see, no one was actually silenced. No one had their authority taken away, no one was banned, no one was fired. Free speech met free speech and then everyone went on with their lives. Indeed, Kaminer wrote a great Washington Post editorial on the whole issue. Smith's president apologized that people were upset by it. And we're done.

Much of The Silencing is frustrating in this way. In the notes the Rude Pundit made on the side, time and again, he asked, "Who is being silenced?"

For instance, Powers includes many incidents of conservatives being attacked by liberals. Black conservatives are called "Uncle Tom" or race traitor. (The Rude Pundit has done this - and he'd do it again.) Again, here, no one was silenced. Sure, people were being jerks to black conservatives; they were using impolite speech. Condoleezza Rica is mentioned as having been called "Aunt Jemima," which doesn't really make sense, but, still, no one can accuse anyone of having shut down Rice's ability to speak or work. And you'd think that Powers would make at least reference to right-wing attacks on black liberals, which are far more concerted, far more cruel, and far more demeaning.

Then there's this: "Audience members at a 2002 gubernatorial debate threw Oreos at then-Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, he told me." Steele, if you don't remember, is an African American who was once chaired the RNC. The problem is that the incident didn't happen. At best, one poorly timed snack cookie spilled from someone's bag and rolled towards Steele. Just because someone tells you something doesn't mean it happened that way.

Well, hell. This has gone on longer than the Rude Pundit intended. He'll continue tomorrow with the good, the bad, and the ugly, and then he will show how the book could have been written.