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April 27, 2005

What I think about Ann Coulter: A reflection

Cindy got circumspect on me when I said I was canceling our subscription to TIME and, while that's fair, I still haven't had time to read the whole profile and prepare a defense of my wish to cancel that is based upon that reading.

I went ahead and climbed on the Daily Howler's bandwagon this past week because I think Bob Somerby's tireless excavation points out the indefensibility of Coulter as either a "public intellectual" or as a "naughty wag," regardless of how she chooses to present at a given time.

Because she tries to have it both ways, she deserves to have it neither way. Occasionally one of her blasts of invective will be so scathing that it's obviously absurd--as absurd as the vicious broadsides Hunter S. Thompson delivered, to my delight. I have wondered, briefly, if on that basis I might have a difficult time condemning her without impugning him.

But Thompson had the courage of his convictions, and one never doubted whether he was leveling a serious charge, or indulging in a ridiculous ad hominem attack because, y'know, it's funny. Ann Coulter strives mightily to be a moving target, responsible neither to comedy nor serious discourse. Her inconsistency blurs the line, intentionally and in bad faith, between "humorist" and "pundit," so that when she fails as one, she can claim to be the other.

I might, one day, read one of her books, but I won't pretend I have or will read all of them. So I could be wrong, but I believe the example dissected at length by the Howler is representative of her craft. It fails in either of the categories to which she may be said to aspire because it is amateurish and it is misleading. It is dishonest. Whether or not it's funny is something I can afford not to address, although it isn't, and presumably isn't intended to be, unless spraypainting "F#CK" in a public place is funny.

Read the examples. These are attacks supposedly based upon, and supposedly proving, an ideological position. Except they're frequently lies. And so they serve no one and nothing except Ann Coulter's career, whatever it may be called.

The best that can be said of her, since she is not a serious writer striving in good faith to accurately inform her readers, is that maybe she gets off a zinger now and then. I'll grant her a certain George-Costanza tenacity, because it can't be easy to find and patch together strings of examples and accusations, even clumsily, in such a way as to mislead casual or unknowing readers.

I'll also grant that she's unflappable and quick in public, in the way attractive children of privilege often are. Her claims that she identifies with the people and mores of the heartland are something I can afford not to address, although she doesn't. In fact, the misleading nature of her "work" constantly and implicitly insults them; doubly so if they think that upon reading her books they are informed and armed for the political fray; and triply so if part of her schtick is that she's getting away with something naughty rather than standing up for something proper. It's all a game, you see. Can't you take a joke?

Ann Coulter is a political hair-metal act, valued only for being loud, vulgar, and shameless. Granted, hair-metal was once quite popular, but the popularity of horseshit is no argument for its worth or even a reason to discuss it--as Time's editors would no doubt condescendingly explain if you ever asked why they never put Poison on the cover. In the case of Ann Coulter, though, they pause to wonder, "Wut's wrong with being secksy?"

As an intellectual, she's a dilettante, and as a humorist, she's a sitcom actress. If she can be said to be "smart," that only makes her less sympathetically useless than Anna Nicole Smith. She's used her curious combo of reactionary gall and feminine attributes to be a goon and a bully and make herself some money. Good for her. She contributes nothing constructive to entertainment, politics, or the culture at large. She deserves to flame out in a public nadir of her own creation.

(Tinkered with on 4/29.)

Posted by pk at 3:31 PM

April 26, 2005

Conservative conscience

However, on religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of "conservatism."

--Barry Goldwater, September 16, 1981 (Emphasis pk's.)

Via Andrew Sullivan: "I wonder if Goldwater could even exist within today's Republican establishment."

I've certainly had enough vengeful, Old Testament religion, but to be quite honest, I would welcome a little Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity (link added 4/29). Instead, while they jamhandle Senate rules to defend "people of faith," the bankruptcy bill is how the pious President Bush and Capitol Hill Republicans (and some Democrats) attend to good neighbors like our daycare provider, who Cindy wrote me about this morning:

I almost made myself late today talking with M__. I knew she was moving, but it turns out they're moving because her husband's company has been downsizing for a long time (they make glass for GM SUVs, and business is drying up). He's gone from making $60K a year to $28K. Three years ago he fell and broke his ankle, and then a blood clot traveled from his ankle up his leg and he missed work, and they got behind on their house payments. She's lived in that house for 31 years, but they ultimately had to claim bankruptcy between being behind and him losing half his income, and they've lost their house. (She said either 40 or 60 percent of the people at his company have lost their houses.) I've been thinking about her all day. As sunny and fun as she is when I drop off Tommy, I had no idea she was dealing with this kind of adversity.

She's the kind of person the credit card companies are now going to punish.

Yes, if, on top of everything else, they're unlucky enough to make too much money.

It's encouraging, though, that strategic panders to the superstitions and prejudices of a bellicose minority is earning Republicans poll results like this.

Perhaps some people in M__'s situation still fret about gay marriage, Terri Schiavo, the estates of America's wealthiest 2% being taxed, or a handful of GOP loyalists being denied judgeships, but the numbers obviously dip.

Posted by pk at 10:55 AM

April 20, 2005

Flyover country

So two Fridays ago I taped the National Press Club panel with Ana Marie Cox, Guckert/Gannon, Matt Yglesias, and others. Of course the elephant in the room was only hinted at, which, shameful or not, was the only reason I saw to tune in.

Jim Guckert as Jeff Gannon was teflonic as ever. Watching him, it's very difficult to accept him as a person rather than an elaborate construct--only part of the reason being that so much of him is apparently constructed. He is a remarkable if not an amazing piece of work. Either his 15 minutes are up--everyone absorbed the initial hit of his existence, and he survived--or he is setting out a template for others to follow. "Admit nothing" is the new black. Ana Marie took a couple stabs at treating him with the appropriate disdain and mockery, and some audience members at the very end had clearly been awaiting their chance to lob some barbed questions, but by then "Gannon" was ensconced and merely took the 5th.

Tags would occasionally appear as a panelist talked, and Cindy said, "He's just Jeff Gannon of JeffGannon-dot-com? So anybody could be on there?" and I said, "Yeah, well, that's kinda the whole point of this." Except it wasn't, really: The issue was never, "Are bloggers journalists?" (You might as well ask, "Are golfers dentists?") The issue is whether White House officials can allow a partisan activist--even a very naughty one--to use blogging to beard his limited journalism credentials and gain White House access at the exclusion of persons with more legitimate claims to be objectively serving a broader group of citizens.

But the issue of him has been folded into the larger, bogus one of "blogging v. journalism," I guess so "real" journalists can avoid the political accusations, the icky tabloid stuff, and the rare exacta of being tagged a liberal and a homophobe. The implication is that he is not worth the consideration of serious people; I think the reality is that he was just too much to unpack.

But how about him, anyway? What in the hell is his deal? There are naked pictures of him on the Internet illegally peddling his tail (OK, I'll link it again), and after getting fingered in the White House he's on a panel (OK, a B-list panel, but still) at the National Press Club?! And we're just supposed to behave like little ladies and gentlemen? What manner of farce is this? Yet there he is, pretending to seriousness, answering only to his pretend name, declaring implicitly and without shame that it be no farce, that your eyes have deceived you, that he will not discuss the other him. And somehow, even in this scandal-addled culture, decorum dictates that everyone bite their tongues.

Which is how They have been getting away with it all along. Witch-hunt moralists in high collars and high dudgeon can rain down judgments and Old Testament fury, but anyone who calls a liar by her name is a dreadful transgressor on the public discourse--not to mention an old stick in the mud. Lies, torture, graft, corruption, deficits, robber-barony: Admit nothing. Dare them to press the attack. They won't! Liberals hate to be impolite, and relativists hate to seem self-righteous.

And now they're pressing beyond the frontier. There's Tom DeLay, first using the Schiavo thing to avoid ethics questions, then sticking with subsequent attacks on judges so far beyond its political advisability that he, Sen. John Cornyn, and Bill Frist are clearly tacking into a whole new latitude of inverse political strategery. The polling arguing against each action appears to only fuel hotter attacks on the judiciary and more open alliance with religious extremists. They are tilting at windmills and hoping everyone notices: They don't care how "unpopular" it is, they will do this for their Values. It is a Sacrifice they're willing to make, because it is Right.

This makes sense given their penchant for playing heroic martyrs and victims, and it's the only thing that makes sense politically. ("They want to lose these battles, and they need to lose them.") Their base will fan themselves in ecstasy, and those not totally alienated will begrudgingly respect their "commitment to their beliefs"--as well as waver on the whole "err on the side of righteousness" thing, because, really, who knows what awaits us in the Hereafter? Sure would hate to guess wrong and burn for eternity.

Polarization is working for them. They don't give half a damn about the half of the country who won't ever vote for them. They don't care about empowering America, only themselves. (The world, of course, can go fuck itself yesterday.) They are in a constant End Times endgame, and in this media phase, there appears to be almost nothing the Democrats can do except wait for the country to come down to earth--which it will, and we can only hope it's with a thud and not a crash.

Obstructionism isn't a platform, but sometimes it's the only practical response: It would be better to do nothing than the new bad things Republicans keep coming up with. How can we react when the reactionaries are running away with the agenda? Measured warnings about the future from careful stewards of the public interest? Pah! We want reckless action and holy self-immolation!

I'm sure I've wronged heartland folks in one rant or another. Their sturdy resistance to seeing Republican morality for the shuck that it is is a source of endless frustration, but calling them stupid won't help. Neither, apparently, do Democratic efforts to pander to them. Ironically, it appears as though Democrats are going to have to wait a bit for the middle-working classes to feel pinched enough to vote in their own self-interest: unlike those of corporate and inherited wealth, the flatlanders do vote Republican as a selfless expression of their ideals. Except for the ones who get off on all the macho horseshit, it is to the credit, I suppose, of the rest of what used to be the classic Democratic coalition of working people that they are simply not in the mood to feel disenfranchised or self-pitying. To them, there's a war on, and it's proven very difficult to tell them otherwise: that this war isn't quite what they think.

I take some comfort in the fact that I believe Bush merely heads a cult of personality with a sizable swath of voters, and he has no ideological heirs who will present as attractively as he has. He may be impatient or hot-tempered, but he doesn't seem mean. He pretends to righteousness, but everybody knows he's got a bad-boy streak. He may be maladroit and ill-spoken, but that only takes the shine off his life of elite privilege--which is what gives him the balls to blithely do whatever the fuck he wants. He's been a perfect vessel for this political moment, able to contain whatever his bundle of coalitions needed--and even he only won once, and barely. I can't think of anyone who'll take the baton as effectively. Bill Frist? Come on. Rick Santorum? Please.

It's possible the damage done in the next three-four years will be enough to guarantee something like a revolution--or maybe just a slow fade into the second tier, like England. Wouldn't that be nice? But I don't see that happening here. And with this new boogerman of reaching the oil peak, all bets would be off, anyway. Although these years of Bush II will have been wasted, it will hardly matter in the face of that reality.

Posted by pk at 10:25 AM