I don't want to write this piece. I really, really don't want to defend Ann Coulter. Especially since she really doesn't need it (she probably doesn't mind the latest round of outrage in the least). But since I don't really see anyone else saying what I'm about to say, I probably should say it.
Ann Coulter has her place in modern-day politics. She's a bomb-thrower. Bomb-throwers are the people on one extreme or another who lob their verbal grenades at the other side, pointing out what they see as the flaws, the hypocrisies, the lies, and the outright wrongness of the opposition.
The bomb-throwers are important, but also potentially dangerous. Sometimes their bombs don't quite reach the intended target, and instead they blow up early -- usually taking out those who choose to stand near them. Only rarely does a bomb-thrower take themselves out -- but when they do, it's spectacular to watch.
So, how does one handle the bomb-throwers? Short answer: very carefully.
Long answer: keep them at a distance, but every now and then throw them a bone. That they're going to keep throwing their bombs is inevitable; the best you can do is to make sure they keep tossing them away from you.
So you say vaguely nice things about them. You toss them some book contracts and speaking engagements. You help them get a column or a radio or TV show, to give their bombs a greater range and blast radius.
(Yes, I did once say that Ann Coulter would be a great Supreme Court nominee, and I stand by that. Put Ann Coulter in a Senate hearing with Ted Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden, Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin, and Patrick Leahy. Of course, I think she'd make a lousy Supreme Court JUSTICE, but damn, wouldn't those hearings be fun? We could put it on pay-per-view, and retire the federal debt on the proceeds.)
Ann Coulter's greatest schtick is to say outrageous things. She's made an art out of it. And nearly every single time, once one gets past the initial outrage, it turns out that she has a point behind it -- a very sharp rapier point concealed behind the Acme-sized sledgehammer.
About the Islamist terrorists: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Yeah, that's way, way over the top. She said it in the heat of passion on September 12, 2001, when one of her close friends -- Barbara Olson -- died in the plane that was crashed into the Pentagon. But she's repeated it a few times since then. So, why does she say it?
Perhaps because that's pretty much a mirror image of the Islamist agenda. They repeatedly say that that is what they intend to do, stripped of the lofty theological rhetoric and poetic language. By saying "we ought to do to them precisely what they say they want to do to us," she lets the rest of us show -- by our own words and deeds -- that we, indeed, do have the moral high ground in the struggle.
And then there's her statements at the last two Conservative Political Action Conferences (CPACs). In 2006, she said, on the prospect of a nuclear Iran, "I think our motto should be, post-9-11: raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences." How does one parse this one?
How about this: for decades, it seems, the United States has been the victim of a double standard in international diplomacy. We've been expected -- if not obligated -- speak softly, to turn the other cheek, to accept gross insults and challenges and threats from pretty much all sides, while the slightest hint of displeasure, of anger, of answering these things in kind has immediately triggered protests and condemnation from the rest of the world.
So, what is Coulter saying when she says "raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences?" Pretty much what I've personally said for years: the time is long past where we simply start taking our adversaries (not necessarily "enemies") at their word. If they threaten us, we should "honor the threat" and take it seriously. 9/11, indeed, did demonstrate the incredibly disproportionate power small groups can wield, if properly motivated and driven. If a nation is holding weekly rallies where they chant "death to America," perhaps we ought to actually listen to them.
Coulter's message, then, seems to be: "for too long, you've been demanding that America 'respect' you. OK, fine. We will give you a true sign of respect: from now on, we will take you at your word when you speak. We will not condescend to you, we will not say that 'you didn't really mean that' or 'that's just rhetoric and bluster' or 'that's just for show.' If you say you want to be our friend, then we will accept that at face value. But if you say 'death to America' or 'Israel should be wiped off the map' or other similar statements, we're going to take that seriously, too -- especially when you're working on acquiring nuclear weapons, or have a history of using other WMDs."
And now her most recent kerfuffle, when she spoke at this year's CPAC and said "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I - so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards."
When I first heard that she's said that, my reaction was much like many others: "Oh, Christ, Ann, why the hell did you have to say that? All you've done is give the left more ammunition that the right is a bunch of homophobic, ignorant, intolerant idiots. Why the hell do people keep giving her these chances to speak to large groups of conservatives?"
But that was my first, gut reaction. Then I gave it some more thought.
These days, "rehab" has become the new panacea, especially for those people caught saying things they really shouldn't have said in public. Look at Mel Gibson and Michael Richards. They said some very vile, hateful things and were roundly (and rightly) denounced for them.
So they hussled off to "rehab" to supposedly "cure" their hateful tendencies.
And most recently, the show "Grey's Anatomy" (which I enjoy tremendously; it's like a mirror image of "Scrubs") was wracked with controversy when it came out that one of its actors, Isaiah Washington (who plays Dr. Preston Burke) referred to another actor, T. R. Knight (who plays Dr. George O'Malley), as a "faggot."
Knight, who made no secret of his homosexuality, but also hadn't made an official "outing," didn't care for that -- and I don't blame him. But the blowup over Washington's outburst (reportedly while filming a very difficult episode, when the male leads all went on a camping trip together) was huge. There were rumors of his firing, and he ultimately said that he is "seeking help" for his issues.
So, in that context, what is Coulter trying to express? I'd say that we're losing a fundamental right here -- the right to be an asshole.
People say and do dumb things. They say and do them because we are all dumb, in some way. It's part of human nature. It's not some "disease" or "syndrome" or "condition" that needs treating. That's what they do in totalitarian states -- recall the "mental health" industry in the Soviet Union, the "re-education camps" that were (and are) the hallmark of many dictatorships. And now, maybe -- just maybe -- we're starting to head that way ourselves by insisting that every human flaw is something that must be treated and cured, until we're all nice and polite and thoughtful and tolerant and accepting, and then we can all hold hands and sing "Kumbayah" -- or maybe not, that's a Christian thing and we must be open to all faiths and beliefs, and that's too excluding.
Here's what "acceptance" means to me: we need to accept that some people have some not-nice traits. Some people -- hell, most people -- are, in some way or in some area, are -- for lack of a better word -- assholes. What we need to accept is that that is simply how they are. Simply who they are. And they may not ever change, and may not even want to change. We can try to help them change, we can try to persuade them to change, we can decide to live with it, or we can shun them.
But we can't force them to change. Especially under the guise of "rehabilitation."
So when Ann Coulter makes a joke about being afraid to call someone a "faggot," it sets off all kinds of folks. As some have noted, the correlation between those who seem the most outraged and those who most frequently call her "Man Coulter" and joke about her being a transsexual is rather entertainingly remarkable. But her point here is that we are getting to the point where simply saying crude, stupid, nasty things has become not a social stigma, but a medically-defined condition -- and "rehabilitation" is seen as a punishment. And that is NOT good.
So no, I'm still not an Ann Coulter fan. I appreciate the role she plays in politics, and I respect her in the "she pisses off people who I like seeing pissed off" sense, but I don't think she's a hatemonger. She's a bomb-thrower and a loose cannon, but I'm inclusive enough, I believe in diversity enough, that I can accept her for who and what she is and value her uniqueness and her contribution to our political world.
I just wouldn't want to EVER see her with any kind of real power.