Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Senator Frist--the incredible shrinking man
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   05/27/2005)

Bill Frist has become the incredible shrinking man. If his stature keeps dropping, by 2008 he'll be, oh… about the size of your average puppet.

Diminished is the Tennessee medical senator of myth, famous for helping gunfire victims in the Capitol Building, for using vacation time to tend the health needs of indigent Africans, for stopping on the Interstate to aid and comfort crash victims, and a number of other heroic deeds.

Remember that Bill Frist? The true Tennessee Volunteer? Selfless, individualistic, true to a code of honor? Back when such episodes were what most of us knew of him, Frist could claim the admiration of idealists like me. Then came rumors of his fraudulently adopting cats from Boston animal shelters and killing them during medical experiments, as a student. Reports that the family fortune was built in part on corrupt business practices in the hospital industry. Records showing that Frist, a surgeon well acquainted with the ravages of smoking--had accepted quite a lot of money from the tobacco lobby. There was more.

Many of us weren't much bothered by such business as usual. We'd never thought of Frist as presidential timber in the first place. Neither did we see him as the incredible shrinking man, however, it's true, at least metaphorically. His moral stature has declined in an inverse relationship to his political rise.

Since becoming Senate Majority Leader, Frist has embarrassed himself repeatedly by kowtowing to the so-called Christian Right and the Neo-conservatives. Witness how he pretended on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” last December, not to know whether one could catch AIDS by touching the teardrops of a victim. How do you explain his willingness to let such a lie linger in the public mind, if not from cynical capitulation to the Christian Right? Surely political calculation was in play. Frist will need far-right power brokers in 2008.

Also witness how Frist joined forces with the likes of Tom Delay in the dismal Terri Schiavo debacle a few weeks back, when the Senate took part in a failed effort to put the federal government in charge of deathbed decisions usually reserved for next-of-kin. The move backfired badly. Polls revealed that about three-quarters of the public thought the feds over-reached in trying to keep Shiavo alive in her vegetative state, against the wishes of her former husband. Most of us saw the move as deathbed politics.

Lately Frist has threatened to end a senator's right to filibuster. And to what purpose would he undo a 170-year-old tradition that has prevented much harm? Apparently it's in a bid to have George W. Bush become the only modern president to have all of his judicial appointees confirmed. Frist has become a master at cutting off debate and holding the quick-vote, a procedure that has resulted in truly detestable legislation as well as placing wolves in charge of sheep time and again when it comes to environmental, military, diplomatic and law enforcement appointees. Can Tennessee's senior senator claim a thimble full of integrity at this point? Is there any cause for which he won't carry water on behalf of the so-called Christian Right and the Neo-conservatives who exploit their growing clout?

Admittedly, the baseline is low when it comes to judging federal officials. The public doesn't expect much. Resigning on principle, like investigative journalism, has gone out of fashion. Rather, one looks for reasons to believe in public officials who stay and serve in the face of outrageous lies and corruption by their president.

Rep. John Duncan, for instance, earned my admiration by voting against invading Iraq despite tremendous pressure to vote otherwise. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia is a giant of integrity in a roomful of puppets. Time and again Byrd has taken to the floor of the Senate to decry the worst abuses against our republic. Such exemplars of courage and principle are rare, however, and the name Frist is notably absent among them. Neither is he to be found in the common run of office-holders. Rather, he's served as a leader of the lemmings who run to do the president's bidding on issue after issue. His compromises are in service to a transparent pursuit of the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, something he has about as much chance of winning as Pinocchio, of whom he somehow reminds. Maybe it has something to do with all the strings. Or maybe it's the nose.