Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Much needed points very well made
Cons: One chapter seems to be off topic; the fact that we need this book to be written at all
The Bottom Line:
Calling out her side
For illiberal behavior
Free speech disappears
Sobering Look at Our Vanishing Free Speech
For the last 15 years, I have been a Fox News watcher. Over the time, I have come to respect Kirsten Powers because she always brings well thought out arguments when she appears on the network. Since she is a liberal and I am a conservative, it’s rare that I agree with her, but it’s not rare that she makes me think, which I appreciate. The other reason I respect her is that she has no issue calling out her fellow liberals when they cross a line, and that is just what she has done in The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. For anyone who cares about the direction of our country, it is a sobering look at the tactics of many on the left today.
Over the course of this book, Kirsten Powers looks at the tactics the illiberal left (as she dubs them) uses to cower anyone they disagree with into shutting up. The tactics are sadly very simple – instead of discussing what is said, they accuse them of being racists, sexist, and any other “ist” they can think of and/or then demonize them. She then shows exactly how the illiberal left does this over and over again in any way and place they can.
She starts with how intolerant they are against those they view as intolerant. There are then two chapters on colleges, including speech codes, trigger warnings, and how speakers and Christian clubs are treated on campuses. She then moves on to the war on Fox News, both from the Obama administration but the illiberals in general, including the discussions of the ladies of Fox News as the Fox Bimbos. She also talks about attacks on liberals who aren’t liberal enough, like the attacks Bill Maher received for saying the Muslims aren’t that tolerant, a charge he has made against Christians many times with no blow back at all. Finally, she goes up against Feminists who decry sexism all the time, starting with the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case (and the facts vs. the spin) and ending with blow back people receive when they question the current college rape statistics.
The majority of the stories Ms. Powers tells come from the last 3 to 5 years, and sadly, they are nothing new to those of us who follow politics in the USA at all. Whether or not we know the details of a particular story, the themes are all too familiar. This book does an amazing job of connecting those threads and stories in one place so anyone with an open mind can see how wide spread the trend is and just how scary the illiberal left can be.
Ms. Powers doesn’t spend much time editorializing in the book. She doesn’t need to. The words of the many people in the illiberal left she quotes speak for themselves. They are filled with such hatred that it is frankly rather scary. Instead, she presents the action or words spoken and the reaction from the illiberal left side by side. And, if relevant, she shares statistics and facts that actually back up the person being attacked by the illiberal left. When she disagrees with someone, she states so, but doesn’t get into that argument. Her focus is on how the illiberal left is treating those they disagree with.
And for anyone who has automatically tuned me out after my first sentence, the chapter on the War on Fox is absolutely required reading. Now, I freely admit that it has a conservative bias in the opinion shows (and actually, I can’t stand to watch the opinion shows), but the chapter shows how the straight news shows actually are fairer than their rivals on CNN and MSNBC. Don’t believe me? Read the book. This is the kind of thing I’m talking about.
I did feel the book went a little off topic in the chapter she spent on the Obama administration and its lack of transparency in general. While I certainly agree this is a serious issue, I didn’t feel it completely applied here since this chapter, is more about the government trying to crack down on the press doing its job and violating the related freedom of the press clause of the first amendment than truly being about stifling free speech. It’s a strong chapter, just maybe not right for this book.
While Ms. Powers does make occasional mention of these same tactics on the right, she only gives a very, very few brief examples. While some might argue that it would make the book stronger to be more fair and balanced (to borrow a phrase), the premise of the book is how the left is killing free speech, so focusing on that end of the political spectrum is the correct way to go. Besides, as she points out early in the book, if your best argument is “The conservatives do it, too,” then you’ve already lost the argument. (And I’d like to call out my fellow conservatives on this point as well. I’ve actually had conversations where my friends have said similar things to me. It’s a cliché, but it’s true, two wrongs don’t make a right.)
The book focuses on the illiberal left in politics, the media, and on college campuses. This is because it is the easiest to document. Anyone who has tried to engage in debate has probably had these tactics used on them at some point. Heck, while I was reading this book, I saw so many examples from other sources, including friends on Facebook, it wasn’t funny. No, really, it wasn’t. It’s downright scary.
And that’s why this book is so important. While few of the myriad of examples she gives in this book (tax payer funded college campuses being a prime exception) involve the government killing free speech and therefore violating the first amendment, it speaks to a mentality that is building in our country. The stats she shares on those who think the first amendment goes too far are chilling. And that’s the mentality that she speaks to here.
Earlier, I said that even when I disagree with Ms. Powers, she makes me think. There was very little of anything I disagreed with over the course of this book. Most of the time, I was nodding my head in agreement at the points she was making and making so much more eloquently than I am in this review. However, she still made me think about a few things in a different way.
This book is focused almost entirely on facts and stories, and only the last few pages are spent on trying to counter the problem. There is basically only one piece of advice given, go out and make some friends who can introduce you to the other side of issues. It’s obviously not the only thing that can help fight this problem, but it is certainly a good step in that direction.
I actually listened to the audio book version. I was a bit surprised when I saw that Kirsten Powers herself wasn’t doing the narration. I know that authors reading their own books isn’t always a good thing, but being familiar with her TV presence, I was confident that Ms. Powers could have done a great job. Instead, the book is narrated by Kristin Watson Heintz. She does a wonderful job with the text, keeping us engaged the entire way through. I was a bit concerned whether I would enjoy a non-fiction audio book, but I didn’t find that to be a problem at all.
Of course, I’m sure the subject of this particular book helped. With plenty of stories to back up her points, Kirsten Powers makes a solid case that things need to change in our country. The Silencing is a sobering book that anyone who cares about the political climate in America should read and think about.