MOYERS ON DEMOCRACY, by Bill Moyers, Doubleday, 404 pages, $26.95

Bill Moyers, a Texan by birth, seems to have been born with unusual wisdom.

He began his career in journalism but soon went into politics as press secretary and White House assistant to President Lyndon Johnson in the '60s. Afterward he became a prolific television journalist, doing analysis for CBS News and acting as producer, writer and narrator for numerous series and award-winning documentaries on public television.

Three of his most popular books are "Listening to America," "The Power of Myth" and "The Language of Life" — and there are seven others.

"Moyers on Democracy," published in May, is a collection of speeches that focus on both the advantages and shortcomings of democracy, and it seems especially relevant in this election year.

In a speech, given to the U.S. Military Academy Nov. 15, 2006, he said, "If you rise in the ranks to important positions — or even if you don't — speak the truth as you see it, even if the questioner is a higher authority with a clear preference for one and only one answer. It may not be the way to promote your career; it can in fact harm it. ... It is not easy to be honest — and fair — in a bureaucratic system. But it is what free men and women have to do. ... If doing so exposes the ignorance and arrogance of power, you may be doing more to save the nation than exploits in combat can achieve."

In a speech to the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1987, Moyers said, "Not a disaster happens in the world that we do not instantly hear of it. But rarely is there context for the endless procession of problems, crimes, accusations and contradictions. We seem to know everything about the last twenty-four 24 hours but very little of the last sixty 60 years or the last sixty 60 centuries."

He quoted poet Czeslaw Milosc accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, saying, "Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember."

Speaking to a convention of environmental journalists in 2005, Moyers suggested that too many people were in denial of the problem of global warming. He spoke of his oldest son being "addicted to alcohol and drugs," although he had been clean for 10 years.

"But we almost lost him more than once because he was in denial and so were we. For a decade prior to his crash he would not admit to himself what was happening, and he was able to hide it from us; he was, after all, a rising star in journalism, married, a homeowner, and a faithful churchgoer. Naturally we believed the best about him. A drug addict, slowly poisoning himself to death? Not our son!

"The day before he crashed, I was concerned about his behavior and asked him to lunch. 'Are you in trouble?' 'No, Dad, not at all. Just a few problems at home.' 'Well,' I said, placing my hand on his, 'I'm really glad to hear that.' And I switched the subject. The next day he was gone. We searched for days before his mother and a friend tracked him down and coaxed him from a crack house to the hospital. Denial almost cost us our son."

Moyers is one of the great speakers in America because he feels deeply, he knows language well and he tells true stories that stun the listener.


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