Posted by: mutantpoodle | August 23, 2009

Juan Williams is an Embarrassment to NPR

Public OptionIt is my sense, from those I know at NPR, that many there don’t think much of Juan Williams. I think of him as generally useless – Cokie Roberts-like in his wasting of oxygen – but sometimes he brings Fox News to NPR, and it’s worse than that.

On Saturday’s Weekend Edition, host Scott Simon asked Williams about the prospect of Democrats shoving the GOP aside and passing elements of health care reform through the reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes and cannot be filibustered.  Here is the exchange:

SIMON: Well, it raises this question: a number of prominent voices, supporters of the administration, columnists, and even some politicians, have said forget the Republicans, we can’t talk to them. Let’s pass this with our own votes. Is that possible, or what are the effects of that?

WILLIAMS: It’s possible, but it’s literally what would be called a nuclear option in terms of reconciliation. You’re talking not only about losing Republicans but losing some conservative Democrats, forcing it through, let’s say, with 50 votes, 51 votes, and it would feel, I think, to most Americans like, you know what, this was just being shoved the American people’s throats. And it would lose the notion of widespread support, the moral argument that we need health care reform. And so you see that that’s slipping away from the president. It would damage – I think it would be damaging.

Ah, where to begin.

First, reconciliation is not “The Nuclear Option.”  That’s the term Fox News is pushing to describe the reconciliation process, but if you recall, the term nuclear option has a specific history: it was the term Republicans gave their threat to change Senate rules with 51 votes to prevent the Democrats from filibustering judicial nominees.

Reconciliation is 35 years old; it limits floor debate and prevents a filibuster.  The threat of reconciliation has always been out there – it was mentioned in the spring – as an inducement to Republicans to negotiate on health care reform in good faith.

Which actually makes Scott Simon’s question on point: Senator Grassley has said he’ll vote against the health care bill that he negotiated if other Republicans don’t vote for it, too.  Senator Orrin Hatch says a “bipartisan” bill doesn’t mean 2-3 Republicans, it means 20-30 others. At some point, you have to stop banging your head into a wall and move on, and if ever a party has deserved to be tossed aside that way, it’s this year’s GOP.

Back to Williams, whose abject hackery has now jumped the shark.  I think Fox News likes the prestige of having an NPR contributor on their air – and one they can represent as being from the left.  I hope NPR is having second thoughts about bringing someone on their air who carries with them all the journalistic failings of Fox News while posing as an unbiased analyst.

(As an aside, the second part of Williams’ answer doesn’t make sense.  How is the “moral argument that we need health care reform” affected by the distribution of “aye” votes by party?  Was the case for civil rights diminished by the block opposition of southern Democrats?  Or were those opposed to civil rights clinging desperately to a way of life that was slowly dying, and which had no moral standing?  If there’s a moral case for health care reform (and I’d argue strenuously there is) make it.  Just because the GOP disagrees en masse doesn’t mean you’re wrong.  Quite the contrary, in many cases.)

Williams, by using “nuclear option” as he did, revealed his ignorance or his mendacity, and embarrassed the news network that is supposed to serve the public first. Can someone at NPR please send him back to Fox for good?

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