Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy

Never has a blog title spoken quicker to the absolute truth than "Spiraling Toward Irrelevancy" ...


"Ann Coulter is Right"

Before we get to the essay:

Here is the email address where you can register your complaints: brianswise@yahoo.com

Here is the short bio that went at the end of the essay as it was posted at my old flagship affiliate, IntellectualConservative.com: "Brian S. Wise, former lead columnist at IC, is now semi-retired from writing and is currently researching a book about Abraham Lincoln."

Links to sources used can be found at the end of the essay. If, for some reason, the sources become unavailable from the links provided below, drop me an email; all resources are kept "on file" here.

"Ann Coulter is Right"
In Dissent; Number Two Hundred and Twenty-one
Friday, 23 June 2006
2,383 words

If it weren’t for outrage, conservatives and liberals would have nothing connecting them. Here’s how it works: Liberal A releases a high profile screed against the Right and conservatives spend weeks falling all over themselves to denounce the liberal’s shoddy, selective research and dimwitted thinking. A few months later, Conservative A releases a high profile screed against the Left and the process repeats itself, but in the other direction, until all of cable news descends into a loud, quivering, over-talking mess.

We find ourselves in the latest Ann Coulter phase of The Outrage Game – and what a phase! Godless will debut at number one on the New York Times list dated 25 June, which brings even moderate Democrats to their knobby, Bette Davis knees. Other than President Bush, no one divides American debate quite like Coulter, evident in the fact that everywhere she goes to promote Godless, some degree of chaos ensues. This began with Matt Lauer and the near slapfight on Today and has continued about a hundred miles an hour ever since.

Coulter is everywhere – popping up across all of television and even crossing over to The Tonight Show, where she sat next to bitter burnout / comedian George Carlin and was asked whether she’s ever had sex with a liberal. (The proper answer is: Liberals are fine to have sex with, you just don’t want to marry them. How Mary Matalin hasn’t wound up in a bell tower with a high-powered rifle picking off pedestrians is one of humanity’s great mysteries.) There was never a middle ground with Coulter, and everyone kind of liked it that way. But now that she has taken swipes at four 9/11 widows, pundits (real and imagined) have drawn careful battle lines and have begun engaging in the ideological fistfight of the summer.

Here is the exchange giving so much offense, from Godless, page 103.

After 9/11, four housewives from New Jersey whose husbands died in the attack on the World Trade Center became media heroes for blaming their husbands’ death on George Bush and demanding a commission to investigate why Bush didn’t stop the attacks. Led by all-purpose scold Kristen Breitweiser, the four widows came to be known as “the Jersey Girls.” … The Jersey Girls weren’t interested in national honor, they were interested in a lawsuit. They first came together to complain that the $1.6 million average settlement to be paid to 9/11 victims’ families by the government was not large enough.

After getting their payments jacked up, the weeping widows took to the airwaves to denounce George Bush, apparently for not beaming himself through space from Florida to New York and throwing himself in front of the second building at the World Trade Center. These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them. The whole nation was wounded, all of our lives reduced. But they believed the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was an important part of their closure process. These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I’ve never seen people enjoy their husbands’ death so much.

Coulter spent about twenty-four hours defending the phrase “church of liberalism” before someone actually read past the front cover, noticed “I’ve never seen people enjoy their husbands’ death so much” and decided it was the worst affront to American discussion since “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?” (Which, come to find out, wasn’t such an unreasonable question, given the fact McCarthy era Hollywood was positively crawling with Communists. I mean, not as many as today, but still.) Enter the media, Old and New, on their beaten down white horses, to defend the honor of the poor Jersey Girls!

Opposition comes from all directions, generally in three forms. The first also happens to be the funniest, where a television or radio host states that neither Coulter nor her ideas are worth discussing, and takes several minutes (or segments) to say so. If you missed The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch Monday night (and numerically speaking, you did), you missed Deutsch going on about Coulter and her book. Deutsch was glad Tim Russert’s new book would be knocking Coulter off the top of the bestsellers list; Deutsch thinks Coulter is contemptible; Deutsch thinks Coulter is afraid to come on his show, et cetera.

And here, the humor! Ann Coulter is afraid of Donny Deutsch (and his pink shirts). More likely she learned through osmosis the lesson Bernard Goldberg learned firsthand: If you’re an outspoken conservative, you cannot appear on Deutsch’s show, because it’s taped live and edited before broadcast, to the conservative’s detriment. And not to be indelicate about it, but it would be easier to believe Coulter is ducking Deutsch if he actually hosted a show of consequence. By Detusch’s rationale, Coulter is also scared of Nickelodeon’s Friday lineup, Bob Vila’s home improvement show and Sesame Street. “Ann Coulter is too scared to come on The Big Idea” is the rough equivalent of “Ann Coulter is too scared to come on The Wiggles.” When he stops hosting a kid’s show, Coulter may show up – and I might, too.

The second comes disguised as pleas for civility, or advice about civility, in hopes of appealing to Coulter’s more level disposition (presumably between manic phases). For an example of this we click over to Bill O’Reilly’s column “Message to Ann,” where the man who announced he would instruct his staff to trace the numbers of people who made undesirable calls to his radio show says Coulter takes too much delight in crossing the line between civil dissent and outright bomb throwing.

Ann Coulter should listen to me. But she doesn’t listen to anyone, so that’s not going to happen. [Looking for the list of people to whom O’Reilly pays rapt attention? Keep looking.] In the past, I’ve told Ms. Coulter that using personal attacks to make ideological points in short-term gain but not long-term pain. You can make money doing that, but respect in the mass market elude you. …

However, bad behavior does not justify other bad behavior, and if conservatives support the personal attacks that Ann Coulter trades in, then they must accept them from the “Bush lied” crew.

This presupposes conservatives reject statements from “the Bush lied crew” because they believe administration critics have no right to free speech, and not because so many of their statements are demonstrably false, beginning with the simple intellectual calculation about the difference between lying and being wrong. In how many ways will Iraq have to be different from Vietnam before the comparison stops coming? How much closer to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino will Guantanamo Bay have to become until cries of “Gulag!” stop coming from unqualified nitwits?

Moreover, it becomes harder and harder to argue Coulter cannot gain or maintain respect in the mass market when she signs multi-million dollar book deals, rattles off one mammoth bestseller after another, continues a string of extraordinarily profitable speaking appearances and has yet to be fired by either Human Events or Universal Press Syndicate. Sure, I used to worry about Coulter’s viability in the marketplace (“Defying Ann Coulter”), but that was before she became Coulter, Inc. Coulter is a swiftly moving commercial force; not untouchable, but extremely hard to catch.

Incidentally, if you approached Bill O’Reilly on the street and told him his “in your face” style will end costing him ratings and mass market respect, he would kindly dismiss your concerns while lighting a passerby’s cigar with a hundred dollar bill he’d just lighted for warmth.

But back to Ann. Having spoken with her a number of times, I can tell you a few things. She likes the attention. She is a true believer; that is, her disdain for the left is not an act. She is rigid in her scorched-earth approach, believing that just about any tactic is legitimate when it comes to marginalizing liberals. In other words, she is Howard Dean extreme and just as wild as he is.

However, unlike Dean, Coulter is smart.

But unlike Governor Dean, Ms. Coulter can only sing to her soul mates. Most Americans are not ideological and respond to logic, not politically-driven emotion. Whether you agree with the liberal politics of the Jersey Girls or not, few people want to see these women harmed in any way. Thus, many unaligned people will now never be persuaded by Ann Coulter about anything because they think she’s mean.

“Unaligned people” is code for “fence sitters” and “uninterested citizens.” Politicians may care about them (once every two years), but opinion writers are under no such obligation. An opinionist (or, as Mark Steyn recently called Coulter, a commentatrix) has a responsibility to honestly and forthrightly present their view; if they respect their audience, they don’t write down to them (i.e., go out of their way to appeal to “unaligned people”). If they don’t respect their audience, well, they speak to them as though they were five-year-olds, or rubes.

Which brings us to the third method, where the objector tries to out-Coulter Ann Coulter. Better examples of this are worth the hunt – people who aren’t naturally biting and cutting have no business pretending they are, and no one has better displayed this than Leonard Pitts, the truly awful columnist inexplicably syndicated by Tribune Media Services (presumably under its affirmative action program). Pitts’ struggle came in a piece called “Ann Coulter: She’s Tall, She’s Blonde … She’s Nasty,” dated 12 June:

Coulter’s tirade has drawn bipartisan condemnation – New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton called it “vicious,” while the state’s Republican governor, George Pitaki, declared Coulter “far worse than insensitive” – but c’mon. This is all part of the shtick for this chick. I mean, we’re talking about the woman who said Timothy McVeigh’s only mistake was in not blowing up the New York Times building and that we should invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders and convert the people to Christianity.

Frankly, it’s easy to do what Coulter does. Just say the most outrageous thins in the most inflammatory way. Just give moral and mental cover to that small-minded, anti-intellectual strain of the electorate that recoils like Superman in the face of Kryptonite from complexity and incertitude. [He means you, dummy.] And when people call you on it, just wrap yourself in the flag and declare yourself a straight shootin’ conservative under siege by that mean ol’ liberal media.

It plays like gangbusters in Peoria. And never mind that it’s a brazen lie.

This will come as some surprise to the 51.89 percent of Peoria residents (totaling 24, 686 votes) who voted for John Kerry in 2004 (not to forget the 252 who votes for Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik. Source: The city of Peoria, Illinois’ official website; see the link at the conclusion of this essay.)

While we grant that every political party and movement has its pockets of elitism, this sort is widespread only throughout the Left. “Well, the hicks will eat this up, but real, intelligent people won’t be fooled.” Pitts would do well to remember his audience consists almost entirely of people who live in cities just like Peoria, Illinois and save himself the trouble of dinner party superiority. When the rubes buy the papers that pay your salary, it’s unwise to bite them.

۩ ۩ ۩ ۩ ۩

So, is Coulter right? In Godless she explains that one of the Left’s preeminent debate techniques is to present figures so sympathetic debate simply cannot exist. The idea is that if those in opposition start openly debating a tragic figure, they will appear so heartless and cruel that they lose the debate by default. On this there is no reasonable doubt; O’Reilly agrees with the point in “Message to Ann” and cites his own experience on the Lettermen show as an example. (You’ll recall Letterman informed O’Reilly his opinions on Cindy Sheehan were irrelevant because she’d lost a son in Iraq, and therefore O’Reilly had no real right to criticize Sheehan.)

We are supposed to believe the tragedies that befell 9/11 families make them untouchable in common debate, but it doesn’t, and shouldn’t. I’ll agree the line about the widows’ enjoying their losses is offsides, but I cannot disagree at all with the overall tone of the exchange. Kristin Breitweiser was for a while putting roots down in Chris Matthews’ guest chair, and occasionally muttering some pretty dimwitted things with no substantive challenge coming from the other side of the desk. You cannot call it debate when one side of a question is allowed to carry on without opposition – you can call it a campaign commercial, which is exactly what the Jersey Girls’ movements throughout 2004 became.

When asked about the 9/11 widow who made a campaign commercial for President Bush in 2004, Coulter has basically said that Bush was running for re-election, and things are different for sitting presidents. Meaning, I think, that the president had a prerogative Senator Kerry didn’t have. I also disagree with Coulter on this point. In the run-up to the 2004 election, I’d have preferred 9/11 relatives keep their thoughts to the voting booth and off Fox News / MSNBC / CNN. Their awful losses may make them authorities in some things, but none of those involve national security or Iraqi war policy.

There has been some talk about Coulter’s profiting from the widows’ tragedy, but I would defy anyone making this argument to prove Coulter will make more from this book’s royalties than each of the four widows made from their 9/11 settlements. Various commentators have carried on at various lengths about the idea’s tone, saying that it’s simply too rude to think, but none have quite gotten around to explaining why it’s wrong, other than to fall back on the emotionalism generated on that awful day nearly five years ago. Haven’t the Jersey Girls been lionized? Haven’t they had innumerable TV pieces produced and magazine articles written about them? Haven’t we been coddled into reveling in their celebrity by a media (some legitimate, some not) obsessed with other people’s grief?

Haven’t we?

Bill O’Reilly: “Message to Ann”
Leonard Pitts: “Ann Coulter: She’s Tall, She’s Blonde … She’s Nasty”
Peoria, Illinois November 2, 2004 general election vote totals


Update / Q and A

Question: So, what have you doing since you kind of retired from writing?
Answer: A tremendous amount of reading. Stumbled across a deal where the first four weeks of a subscription to The Wall Street Journal were free, and keeping up with a daily paper has turned out to be more of a task for me than I thought it would, due mostly to the fact I’m not always in the mood to read a paper. Aside from that, I’m practically camping out at a few different libraries and ripping through a few books a week. Here and there, I have continued researching Mr. Lincoln.

Question: What books have you read lately?
Answer: Currently reading: “Misinformation” by Richard Minter.
Awaiting my attention: “You Got Screwed!” and “Real Money: Sane Investing in An Insane World” by Jim Cramer.
Have requested from library (via inter-library loan): “On the Other Hand” by Fay Wray.
Have recently read: “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis.
“Game of Shadows” by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
Some book about the history of “King Kong,” by an author whose name I cannot recall.
“The Greater Generation” by Leonard Steinhorn.
“Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dunbar.
And others.

Question: Do you miss writing?
Answer: No.

Question: What has been the reaction to your not writing?
Answer: The general consensus is that I’m not serious about it, nicely summed up by my former editor, who called and said I’d be writing again soon because it’s what I was meant to do. This line of thought ignores the fact I have promised to complete the Lincoln book, which will involve a tremendous amount of writing, unless I’ve forgotten the process.

Question: How goes the Lincoln book?
Answer: Well, when I stopped writing columns I laid off researching for a bit, but I’m slowly working my way back into it now. Research is an exhausting process for me.

Question: Any luck finding a literary agent or publisher?
Answer: I haven’t attempted either, yet.

Question: What happened to all your websites?
Answer: Per my original statement, I closed the “Lincoln’s Tomb” website and the blog that accompanied it. As for BrianWise.com, well, I forgot to renew the hosting and will get around to it sometime soon.

Question: But what if I wanted a copy of your book, The Unabrian Manifesto?
Answer: You’d have one by now if you wanted one. But if you want one, email me at brianswise@yahoo.com and I’ll send you one.

Question: How’s it going with the ladies?
Answer: I’m not speaking to any females right now.