Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ann Coulter's conservative bigotry

Last week, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Ann Coulter, whom we already know is a dangerous idiot, called Muslims "ragheads" -- see Max Blumenthal at The Raw Story. Even Michelle Malkin, ever-so-sensitive defender of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, called Coulter's remarks "spectacularly ill-chosen and ill-timed" (more on Malkin below).

Was Coulter's slur "ill-chosen" and "ill-timed"? Sure. But how about bigoted? Isn't that what it really was? Simply: bigotry. If a fellow conservative like Malkin wants to distance herself and her ideology from such bigotry, then why not call Coulter out on this? Why don't other conservatives, influential or otherwise, put Coulter in her rightful place among the extremists of American society?

Take Wizbang, for example, a prominent (and hugely popular) conservative blog. In a recent post, one of Wizbang's bloggers, Jeff Harrell, sought to isolate Coulter from the conservative movement. Harrell describes Coulter as a "controversial conservative columnist and author" -- which, of course, is something of a euphemism (Coulter's not a bigot, just controversial; Osama's not a genocidal terrorist, just passionate and determined).

But at least Harrell has the decency and good sense to call Coulter out in a way that Malkin does not: "Coulter sailed right past the bounds of good taste, past her usual tactlessness, past the furthest extent of what could be considered socially acceptable discourse."

And, indeed, Harrell does say that he wishes Coulter would "just shut up".

And: "But seriously, do we really want to include people who think that the best way to address geopolitical tensions is to throw the word 'raghead' around? Are these the people we really want to invite to our party?"

Well, it's their party and they can invite whomever they want. And Coulter has been a regular guest at their party, a celebrated participant in the conservative movement, a prominent mouthpiece for the conservative cause. Where were her fellow conservatives when she was gleefully equating liberalism with treason, liberals with terrorists? Or when she was on the cover of Time -- just last year? Surely conservatives were applauding her extremist rhetoric -- to them, it was hardly extreme; it was, and still is, their mainstream. She was their blonde bombshell, and she could get away with it.

Which is not to say that Harrell isn't sincere, nor that other conservatives -- the principled, serious ones -- aren't repelled by Coulter's ways. It's hard to imagine that, say, John McCain or George Will thinks fondly of her. Or that the principled, serious conservative bloggers do (bloggers like Ed Morrissey, Sister Toldjah, John Cole, Alexandra von Maltzan, Stephen Bainbridge, Eugene Volokh, James Joyner, John Bambenek, and Steven Taylor).

But do we believe this from Harrell: "Yes, conservatism is the big tent. Yes, ours is the political philosophy of pluralism and tolerance. Yes, we advocate a marketplace of ideas, where any reasonable position deserves to be heard and included."

Is it? But then how do you explain Coulter, among others? It's nice to say that conservatism embraces pluralism and tolerance and the marketplace of ideas -- as a Straussian and former conservative, back when I was growing up in the late-'80s and when I was an undergraduate at Tufts in the early-'90s (even though I supported Clinton in '92) -- but isn't that just wishful thinking, delusional rhetoric?

After all, there's a reason Coulter is regularly held up as "an icon of the entire conservative movement," as a conservative "rock star". Liberals didn't do that. Her fellow conservatives did. And there's a reason why "[s]he gets thunderous applause from the members of her audience" -- from her conservative audience. She's a bigot, and her bigotry appeals to many of her fellow conservatives -- if not so much to the big-time pundits and bloggers, then at least to many in the grassroots.

Her popularity isn't an accident.

But Harrell isn't alone. Malkin says it, too: "The Left side of the blogosphere is working itself up into a lather, calling on conservatives to condemn Ann's remarks. But as I have noted many times, the Right is far more self-critical than the sanctimonious liberals who never say a peep about the routine hatred and poisonous ethnic / racial / religious identity politics exhibited by their own. We don't need your prodding."

Sanctimonious liberals? Is it sanctimonious to reject bigotry? And since when is the right "self-critical"? These days, and most days, conservatives are ideologues, partisans, apologists for their own. And what is this "routine hatred" coming from liberals? Sure, I detest much of what passes for identity politics, too -- hence my conservatism at places like Tufts. But I reject identity politics on liberal grounds and, like many other liberals, I seek to rise above the prejudice of division and divisiveness. Many conservatives also reject identity politics on liberal grounds (even if they call them conservative), but some of them, as Coulter and her applauders show over and over again, promote a far more noxious form of bigotry -- not the soft bigotry of division, the reduction of individuals to artificial categories, but the hard bigotry of hate, of "us" and "them".

Coulter is a member of the conservative establishment, a mainstream conservative, like it or not. Who in the liberal establishment, what mainstream liberal, spews such hate?

Yes, there is bigotry on both sides of the spectrum. I do not deny that. And where there is liberal bigotry, I condemn it. Malkin may indeed receive some nasty e-mails from hateful readers, but her vituperative e-mailers aren't Ann Coulter.

They may not like it, but she's one of them. And her popularity and ongoing celebrity speak volumes about the current state of American conservatism.

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