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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At Last Public Debates Turn Toward Sanity
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   03/16/2009)

Thanks to those who noticed I haven't been writing much political commentary of late.

Here's why:

For over ten years I wondered whether public debate would ever be conducted on sane ground again, so that the rational among us wouldn't waste so much time and energy in anxiety, reality checks, worrying over collective national guilt and desperately shouting truths from rooftops to try and penetrate veils of partisanship that rained down daily.

Lo and behold that day has come.

Yes, partisan lies still rain down, but they're in the minority now, isolated and lacking in conviction. Mostly the debate has returned to sane ground. Not being a policy wonk, I find myself taking weeks off from sending out overtly political opinion. It was the underlying truths that interested me most.

Yes, times are tough and dramatic, and we still hear from those frenetic twins, Hype and Spin, especially on Fox News and shows like Rush Limbaugh, but they're no longer emceeing the debate.

Saner voices—particularly Obama's—are leading our discussions back to terra firma.

So that we're no longer missing the point by discussing, for instance, whether unused embryos have souls, but rather, how best to save lives with them before they're flushed down fertility clinic drains, the fate of most, regardless of stem cell applications.

We're no longer debating whether to invade another country but rather just who it is we should be talking with in order to prevent the next war.

Talk's no longer about whether climate change is real, but whether to cap & trade, what plants to turn into fuel, how to reconfigure the grid, and which Green initiatives to include in a national jobs program. These are issues rational people might debate.

Talk's no long about whether to turn Social Security over to Wall Street, but whether to throw Wall Street enough lifelines to keep it from pulling us all under.

It's not about whether financial regulation is good or bad, but how, where and how quickly to implement sane regulatory measures about sub-prime mortgages and how to deconstruct too-big-to-fail entities such as AIG which, serving as its own traffic cop, still runs amok.

It's not about whether keeping so-called terrorists locked up at Guantanamo is good for America but how quickly we might dismantle the prison.

Not whether water-boarding and other such tortures are necessary, but how to make sure we don't use them.

Not whether kidnapping and black box prisons and other violations of habeas corpus occurred, but whether to prosecute those who dragged our good name through the slime of such practices.

Not whether universal healthcare is "socialized medicine," but rather what mix of public and private resources can be cobbled together to cover the uninsured.

Not whether coal and oil are clean, but how to smother them in green.

Not whether abortion is right or wrong but which policies are more effective in curbing the practice and providing pre- and post-natal care to mother and child.

I could go on. Everywhere you turn, the debate has changed, no thanks to the media by and large.

Looking over the past decade, I must say media made a mess of public debate.

The delay in stem cell research is a perfect example. Even when reporting Obama's initiative last week to permit more stem cell research, few in mainstream media took time to point out that most embryos get flushed in any event. This simple point should've been de rigueur when reporting on the issue.

Similarly, one of the truths I used to shout from the rooftop was contained in the name Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He was living proof that torture is not only cruel and ineffective, but is toxic to truth and policy debates. It was largely al-Libi's lies (later recanted) that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell and others repeated again and again to justify our biggest foreign policy and spending mistake of all time. Al-Libi's name should've been the end of any debate on torture. Every journalist should've felt compelled to report his story when the subject of torture came up, yet media seldom mentioned him.

Or take global warming. How often were we treated to "fair and balanced" debates on this subject that obscured the central truth that virtually every objective peer-reviewed study by scientists has concluded global warming is real and that humans increase it. This should've been addressed in every story.

And wouldn't it have been worth asking George W. Bush, just once, whether he was helping to bring on the End Times and other so-called Biblical prophecies? It might've cost him a million votes no matter how he answered, and the question could be crucial.

Think how much better off we'd all be today had journalists asked him this and other tough questions in 2000 or 2004.

Think how much shouting from rooftops the world would've been spared.

The rational and well-meaning no longer have to shout to be heard. Bask in it while it lasts.