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Monday, June 19, 2006

 

Coulter Makes Me Cringe

I like to think of myself as a pretty reasonable guy. I try not to make snap judgments or let my anger get the better of me. I try to think things through and draw conclusions based on the facts as I see them. I'm always willing to admit I could be wrong about the facts, that I might have made a logical error, or that I let my prejudices blind me to the truth. I'm also willing to say "I don't know" when I don't have all the facts and haven't done enough research on a subject to come to a conclusion. But, once in a while, something really gets under my skin, and I just have to respond. Few things can set me off, but Ann Coulter just makes me see red.

Never have in my life have I encountered such a combination of disregard for facts and truth coupled with towering arrogance and self-righteousness, with a dollup of extreme hate-mongering thrown in for good measure. But this isn't what really rankles me. There are lots of odious people spewing lots of lies, distortions, and hateful rhetoric all over the place. And they have the right to do so. Freedom of speech is a concept I wholeheartedly endorse. Even when the speaker is Ann Coulter, or Rush Limbaugh, or even the execrable Fred Phelps (the link goes to his Wikipedia entry; I can't bring myself to actually link to his hate-filled website).

The problem with Ann Coulter, and what personally frustrates me, is that she is treated with kid gloves by the "liberal media" and regarded as a mainstream pundit, when her views and rhetoric put her to the far right of Pat Robertson. Coulter's rhetoric should be marginalized, ignored, and dismissed by the media and the public in the same fashion that hate groups like the KKK and neo-nazis are ignored. Her writing is just as offensive and filled with untruths, but no one calls her on it. And any righteous indignation directed at her just adds fuel to her fire. Which is why I'm conflicted about writing this post. I guess I can take comfort in the fact that very few people read my blog anyway, so I can safely vent in relative obscurity.

Well, looking back at what I've written so far, I guess it's not really Ann Coulter than makes me so mad. It's the state of rational public discourse in America. We've become so polarized that people will support a horrible demagogue regardless of whatever outrageous lies they tell, as long as that demagogue can convince them that he or she is on "their" side. The fact that Ann Coulter's latest book is a bestseller is a symptom of the disease afflicting American politics.

Journalist David Neiwert has insightfully identified Coulter as one of several right-wing "transmitters;" someone who can take the outrageous views of the extreme far right, package them up and put a nice pretty bow on them, and present them to the mainstream as normal, reasonable "conservative" views. This has the effect of radicalizing the right more and more, since "mainstream" conservatism becomes increasingly extreme. This also creates a polarizing effect which contributes to radicalizing the left as well, as Coulter surely generates as much, if not more, contempt as she does admiration.

The net effect is that we're left with an untenable catch-22 situation. Sure, I can ignore Coulter and dismiss her rhetoric, but a significant portion of the population is swallowing her crap like it's filet mignon, and the media is giving her national TV coverage. If no one speaks out against her propaganda, she stands completely unchallenged to reach as many people as she can with her "arguments." On the other hand, if we refute her work and call it the hate-mongering BS that it is, we're feeding into her notoriety and will be marginalized simply as "Coulter-haters." Is there any way out of this?

Well, maybe, just maybe, if we can refute her work with the facts alone, calmly, rationally, even dispassionately, that may convince enough people that she's not worth listening to. Stick to all the errors, distortions, and half-truths she spins, and refrain from name calling or speculation about her gender traits and/or sexuality, and these rebuttals might just be able to get through to some people. I know, I'm dreaming right?

Currently, all the press is reporting on her vicious statements about the 9/11 widows. While this is another lovely bit of hateful rhetoric from Ms. Coulter, her critics' indignation is still just feeding her fire. I can't believe some New Jersey lawmakers didn't realize how much they played right into her hands with that talk of banning her book in New Jersey. Now she can claim she's a "victim" of liberal censorship!

A better avenue of attack may be what the folks at the Panda's Thumb are doing; they're shredding the third of her book she's devoted to "debunking" evolution. I have little direct familiarity with Coulter's work, but my observation of her past attacks is that she's limited herself to political targets. Thus, she may distort the truth and misrepresent people's views and political agendas, but she doesn't directly challenge objective reality and call it a "liberal myth." Well, it seems now that's exactly what she's doing with her screed on evolution. And the evolution guys aren't calling her names or getting pissed off; they're calmly, rationally, and dispassionately dissecting her statements one by one and exposing the crapload of errors and distortions to the light of day. In the wake of the Dover decision outlawing the teaching of intelligent design in public school science classes, this has to put at least a little bit of a dent into her credibility with her fans, right? I know, I know, I'm still dreaming. But go read the rebuttals to her writing on evolution. They're very informative with links to several resources on the science of evolution.

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