Tuesday, March 06, 2007
By now, you have probably heard that Ann Coulter, true to form, demonstrated her firm grasp of political principles, her quick wit, and her classiness yet again by calling John Edwards a "faggot" recently.
In and of itself, this really isn't news, and I was going to let it pass completely without comment. After all, Ann Coulter has built a reputation as something of a clown by making such comments. Sometimes, she even manages to be funny, as in her memorable thumbnail sketch of "hippie chicks", which the column linked above dutifully provides. People like Ann Coulter often contribute little to the public debate, except to remind us by exacting the toll of annoyance how precious freedom of speech really is. Serious political discussion is too important to limit in any way for the likes of her.
And that's the problem. Coulter's remarks have set off a tempest of indignation -- but in a teapot -- on the left, and a subsequent spectacle on the right of leading presidential contenders tripping over each other in a mad rush to "distance" themselves from her comments. On the one hand, there is some merit in making sure one does not grant moral sanction to mere sniping or to views with which one disagrees, but the nature of the reaction has not quite been on that level:
Several Republican presidential candidates quickly distanced themselves. As the New York Times reported, Rudy Giuliani called the remarks "completely inappropriate," a spokesman for John McCain said they were "wildly inappropriate," and an aide to Mitt Romney called the comments "offensive."Yes. These comments were offensive, but does anyone really think, in this day and age, that any of Giuliani, McCain, or Romney are paleoconservative gay-bashers? None of these men uttered the remark, and possibly each of them would have said as much had the subject come up, but their reaction amounted to saying "How high?" when Howard Dean told them to jump. And the reaction of the conservative blogosphere was disgraceful. The problem wasn't Coulter's Tourettish babbling, but the fact that there wasn't a more substantive thinker -- or even a friend of freedom (Read on.) -- at the podium in her place.
Conservative bloggers joined the fray. "Yeah, that's just what CPAC needs -- an association with homophobia. Nice work, Ann," wrote Ed Morrissey of the Captain's Quarters blog. And Michelle Malkin said Coulter had committed "the equivalent of a rhetorical fragging -- an intentionally tossed verbal grenade that exploded in her own fellow ideological soldiers' tent," and that children should not be "exposed to that garbage."
Some liberal bloggers chided the press. "It took the media a while to actually see the story as news," wrote Americablog's John Aravosis, who is gay. "Why? First, because they think Coulter is a joke, and she is. But she's a joke who was recently on the cover of Time, who gets paid tens of thousands of dollars a speech, has written several best-sellers, and was the most anticipated speaker at the biggest and most important conservative conference of the year."
And as for Dean, although he couched his demand in terms of wanting a serious public debate, it struck me as part grandstanding (given the well-known use of far worse vulgarity in the left-wing blogosphere), and part political correctness on his part. The problem is not that her words were merely offensive, but that they were a cheap shot in place of a substantive argument, which, with a light-weight such as Edwards, should have been like shooting fish in a barrel. Honestly, if I were Dean, I'd be thrilled to have someone like Coulter campaigning against my party.
What is really worthy of comment is not so much what Coulter said or whether any of the Republican candidates "distanced" themselves from it, but the fact that Coulter has said far worse and basically gotten away with it. Recall that during the Terri Shiavo debacle, Coulter said the following: "President Andrew Jackson is supposed to have said of a Supreme Court ruling he opposed: 'Well, John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.' The court's ruling was ignored. And yet, somehow, the republic survived."
This call for our Chief Executive to abandon rule of law, to take on dictatorial powers for the sake of ramming religious dictates down the throats of the American people, is far worse for America than calling John Edwards a "faggot", for it plants the idea that such behavior would be a good thing. And yet, to my knowledge, this remark evoked not a peep -- and certainly nothing of the high dudgeon the word "faggot" did. If there was a time to engage in "serious, thoughtful debate on the issues", that was it.
It one thing to point at a single hurtful word and mouth pieties about thoughtful debate during a political campaign, but it is quite another, when someone proves to be as fundamentally opposed to freedom as Coulter did during the Shiavo debacle, to rise to the occasion and make a real stand for freedom.
Hearing the occasional juvenile remark is merely a small price we have to pay for the precious freedom to speak our minds. But what good is it if we allow ourselves to let such a remark get us bent out of shape if we fail to use our right to freedom of speech to make a stand when it really counts?
Today: (1) Minor rephrasing. (2) Fixed a typo.