March 3, 2007

Mainstream Conservative Coulter

Invariably it happens that if you complain about Ann Coulter in a group of reasonable people, and some of those people count themselves as conservatives, or moderate conservatives, somebody will pipe up and say something like “Yeah, but that’s Ann Coulter.” “Ann Coulter doesn’t represent Republicans.” “You can’t attribute what Ann Coulter says to other conservatives.”

Trying to be both kind and, I thought, accurate, I myself once wrote:

Ann Coulter jumped the shark a while ago, but now nobody can take her seriously. She doesn’t speak for the Republican party — of course not. I don’t even think you can call nutfudgery like that conservative.

I’m so naïve when I’m trying to be nice.

You might have heard that Ann Coulter is gaining attention again (it’s what she does best) and this time she’s doing it by using offensive epithets to refer to John Edwards. Details at ThinkProgress: Coulter: I Would Talk About Edwards But “You Have To Go Into Rehab If You Use The Word ‘Faggot’” Including video of Coulter. And video of Mitt Romney all excited that Coulter is about to grace the audience with her wisdom.

I really don’t like to post about Ann Coulter. The criticism is too easy. It’s ready-made for liberal blogs to disseminate, and we generally eat it up. I know I’ve bitten a few times, but over the years I saw that it was just self-promotion and I didn’t want to contribute. I had convinced myself that mainstream conservatives largely ignored her, so what’s the point of repeatedly taking aim at an intentionally extremist lightningrod/attention-whore? Ever since that run in with Matt Lauer over her using the 9/11 widows to attack liberals.

It happens that the latest bout of Coulterrhea comes as I was thinking about the term “wingnut” that I have taken to using lately. I adopted the term “wingnut” (short for “right wing nut” I guess) in an attempt to more precisely frame my criticisms. Although there isn’t a precise definition, and I’m not the one who coined the term, “wingnut” may be a person who thinks of himself as a conservative, but holds a subset of views I think are kooky and perhaps out of the mainstream. Among them:

  • You can’t be a good citizen if you’re not a Christian.
  • Teachers should be allowed to be armed at school.
  • This is a Christian nation
  • Liberals are traitors. / Dissent is traitorous.
  • The 10 Commandments belong in the courtroom.
  • It is OK to produce embryonic cells for fertility purposes, but not to use those cells in research.
  • Families are based on having two people with differing genitalia, not based on a loving bond.
  • Some form of religious creationism should be taught in schools, to counterbalance science.

Generally, I’m less interested in using the term “wingnut” to refer to people than I am to use it to distinguish between more moderate conservatives and “wingnuts.” If I complained that all conservatives believed this stuff, that would be tarring conservatives unjustly. Even if I called it “extreme conservatism” that presumes that these views are legitimate conservatism taken to an extreme, and some might take issue with that. “Wingnut” is safer. It is unflattering to be described as a “nut” for your views, but I feel the slightly pejorative nature of the word heightens the distinction between wingnuts and moderates.

A parallel discussion can occur around religious terms. Some have proposed the term “Christianist” as an analogy to “Islamist.” When one group wants to be thought of as mainstream, even though they are a radical group trying to take over the majority, the need for new terms arises. It ought to be especially important for those within the larger group, but they usually welcome the attention at first, and later it is too late.

Back to Ann Coulter. She definitely has the patter of a wingnut down. Why should we care? Why have I changed my mind about Coulter?

One difference between wingnut and other conservative can be described thusly: a conservative might credibly be able to say “I don’t listen to Ann Coulter; she doesn’t represent my views.” Heck, anyone can say that, but you might be inclined to believe your friendly neighborhood Massachusetts conservative. She wasn’t elected, but she certainly has been selected. So who does she represent?

Let’s look at this recent brouhaha. Coulter spoke at CPAC 2007 - the largest conservative conference of the year. So, conservatives as a group, love them some Ann Coulter. Romney practically drooled his introduction: “I am happy to hear that after you hear from me, you will hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing. Oh yeah!” and he wasn’t drooling over her looks. He was drooling over her endorsement, which came later when she described him as probably the best candidate out there. Maybe she meant the best candidate who isn’t “the gay.” Who knows?

And the crowd cheered her and her offensive remarks. Her books are bestsellers. She is invited to speak at the largest conservative conference with people like Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani. Shes’ a darling of Fox “fair and balanced” News. Does this seem to you to be someone out on the fringe, shunned by the mainstream? It looks more to me like the popular and energizing voice of the mainstream. The right-wing echo machine that goes into apoplexy when John Edwards hires for his website a blogger who has been known to use a dirty word or two embraces Coulter whole-heartedly.

Since Coulter dropped her bomb, Romney has very lightly criticised what she said. But if everyone and his conservative uncle is telling me that Coulter is a whacko and I shouldn’t criticise conservatives based on her screeds, why didn’t people running for the highest political office in the land see this coming? What she said at CPAC 2007 isn’t even close to the more objectionable things she’s said. Nor the only time she’s said something similar. It’s like inviting Carlos Mencia to speak and not expecting to get stolen, racist jokes.

Romney, your comment that Coulter’s words wore offensive is a joke. You glowingly introduced her knowing she was offensive. That’s Ann Coulter. And, apparently, that’s the heart of today’s conservative movement. You either want her, or you don’t want her.

This pretty much ends my ability to believe that conservatives don’t like Coulter, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Malkin and others when they pull their bad boy/girl routines. There’s a reason why they’re not only popular, but given the opportunity to speak for conservatives. And if the conservative world were to shun Ann Coulter, that would only make a vacuum to be filled by some other voice of a conservative movement that agrees with her offensive statements.

Face it, “moderate conservatives.” You’re dispossessed and marginalized. Or, face it and pucker up to Coulter and today’s conservatism.

So maybe I should consider retiring the term “wingnut” and use “conservative.” And come up with a new term for those who are appalled at Coulter and don’t want to see her speaking at big conservative events or as the conservative voice on Fox.

Bonus:

In case you want to tell me that Romney is considered a marginal candidate, Fox is already sucking up to him.

Posted by James at March 3, 2007 12:23 PM
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A thought... We lefties enjoy Michael Moore, while knowing he can be a bit of a "wingnut" himself. He's entertaining, he reminds us of some of the Liberal ideals, but at the same time, we know some of his claims/statements/movies/etc. can we WIDE OPEN to legitimate criticism for such things as removing quotes from context and the like. I've been viewing AC as the conservative MM, entertaining to them while not entirely factual, and thought between MM and AC we'd hit a draw between left and right. ;)

mj

Posted by: mjfrombuffalo at March 3, 2007 6:39 PM

I've considered and rejected that comparison.

I don't think you can compare Moore's actions to Coulter's. If you were to call Coulter the conservative Michael Moore, then you're saying it's conservative to call people "faggot."

Moore has come under criticism for some of the content of his documentaries, the strongest criticism being that some of his juxtapositions were misleading in specific while in pursuit of a general point. Whatever the validity of those criticisms, as time goes by it seems that the basic premise of his criticisms are not only liberal viewpoints but are now increasingly mainstream American viewpoints (that the war in Iraq was waged for the wrong reasons, for example).

Moore is not a liberal Ann Coulter, no matter how you slice it. I don't want to go through a whole comparison to show how Coulter is basically a right-wing talking points attack dog with sensationalism thrown in for good measure. Moore doesn't confine his strongest criticism to the right. He criticized Clinton in "Bowling For Columbine," juxtaposing Clintons's announcement of the bombing of Afghanistan with questions about where the killers got the idea that killing was OK. When I saw him at UMass Dartmouth he was very critical of Democrats.

Next, you don't see a lot of Moore speaking for the liberals, being breathlessly introduced by liberals, or the like. Even though the Democrats have come around into line with many of his criticisms.

As a comparison, it falls flat.

I guess I didn't wrap my post up with a clear summary. It isn't that Coulter exists that is significant. It's that she's not the fringe anymore.

Posted by: James at March 3, 2007 7:16 PM

Ultimately, it's up to a group to choose what they're going to embrace. My "I calls-'em-likes-I-sees-'em" analysis is based on the embrace of Coulter, which is one of many broken analogies to Moore.

In short, the comparison is falsely attractive (people like the idea of balance) and too forced.

Posted by: James at March 3, 2007 7:57 PM

I think a large chunk of conservatives love Ann Coulter but wouldn't admit it. I think secretly, in the recesses of their minds, the progress of the last 50 years was anything but.

They long to return to a time when the man was the head of the household and the wife (who was a woman) kept it clean and orderly, when everyone on the block was white and went to the same church, when homosexuality was sexual deviance at best and a crime at worst, when abortion was illegal, when women raised children and men voted, when minorities knew their place, when you could *trust* your government to keep you informed about such concerns as disease, drugs, and so forth.

Coulter simply brings those viewpoints out into the open when she makes blanket statements like "women shouldn't be allowed to vote" or "women shouldn't be in the military". She's an anachronism, but a defiant one.

In fact I think that some of her appeal comes from the defiance. People who are tired of having to be "politically correct" (which AFAIC means "setting a good example for your children") love it when she uses the word faggot to describe a man with more integrity than she will ever know. They love it when she makes cruel generalizations about other cultures or creeds. The fact that she's off her effing nut doesn't seem to matter.

That quality of her -- she says what she thinks, and stands by it no matter what others think -- is the same appeal I hear conservatives espouse for Bush.

For now the only consolation I can offer is at least she is not seeking political office.

Oh and Mitt Romney is a tool. Wow. Was that ever a surprise. *yawn*

Posted by: Chuck S. at March 3, 2007 8:12 PM

Am I the only person who thinks that secretly, Ann Coulter thought she'd have Sarah Silverman's career only no one realized she was supposed to be funny and started taking her seroiusly and all of a sudden she found herself backed into a corner she couldn't get out of?

Then again, maybe that's just me thinking about this WAY too much.

Posted by: pippa at March 3, 2007 8:18 PM

What, we're not supposed to take Sarah Silverman seriously?

Posted by: James at March 3, 2007 8:20 PM

I believe that anyone who aligns himself too closely with Ann Coulter is making a grave miscalculation. Many conservatives may enjoy Coulter as an "entertainer," but that doesn't mean that they'll take her opinions seriously.

I might laugh at Carlos Mencia or nod in agreement with certain other obnoxious celebrities, but if one of those were to endorse my own favorite candidate, I would question my own judgment and reconsider my opinion.

Posted by: Julie at March 3, 2007 9:07 PM

If Carlos Mencia billed himself as serious commentary and I were hiring him to enlighten an audience of mainstream liberals, I think it would be time for me to reexamine my life.

As far as certain people evoking an occasional laugh, a popular poker phrase applies: "even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut."

Posted by: James at March 3, 2007 9:45 PM

At conservatives' conference, little love is expressed for GOP at Boston.com.

Leading conservatives yesterday attacked the Republican party as big-government, free-spending coddlers of illegal immigrants and said the country's conservatives should withhold support from the GOP's current slate of presidential nominees to force them to the right. [...]

Phyllis Schlafly, a longtime opponent of gay rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, won loud cheers yesterday when she derided programs to provide bilingual drivers' license tests and to offer low-wage jobs to immigrants instead of "our own high school dropouts."

Conservatives are happier with Coulter and Schlafly than with any of the candidates.

Posted by: James at March 3, 2007 10:35 PM

The thing about Michael Moore is that even though he's somewhat larger than life (in both girth and fame), he's not a cartoon. For the most part, he expresses thought-out concepts that may be controversial, but they have real substance to them. Some of his media work may be somewhat smart-ass and annoying in perhaps other ways, but in person he comes across as a smart guy who really cares about what he's discussing.

What people like Coulter seem to be trying to do is to repeat ridiculous things over and over, hoping that eventually people will think of "liberal" as a curse word, and "right wing wing-nut" thought will somehow become respectable. It's what Goebbels did so well some years back.

Posted by: Joe at March 5, 2007 12:20 AM

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