For some unknown reason my browser ended up pointed at Right Reason earlier, and I saw a post by Dan Bonevac on Ann Coulter. Well, I thought to myself, if there are going to be any sensible conservatives in blogtropolis, Bonevac, who is a pretty fine philosopher, should be among them. If someone is going to be able to show what is valuable in contemporary conservatism by distinguishing it from what Ann Coulter does, it should be him. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
Here’s Bonevac’s description of Coulter.
The Daily Texan describes Coulter as “an extreme right-wing pundit,” accosted by “hecklers.” But who is really “extreme”? Coulter speaks as an unapologetic conservative, but I could discern nothing particularly extreme in her views. She differs from most conservative speakers only in being exceptionally quick-witted, funny, and good-looking. She takes delight in insulting prominent liberals, calling former President Clinton “a philanderer,” Senator Boxer “learning disabled,” and Senator Kennedy “a human dirigible” who “has trouble keeping to the middle of the road.” But she engages in nothing resembling hate speech. Her rhetoric seems positively mild compared to the invective routinely appearing at Democratic Underground and the Daily Kos.
Nothing resembling hate speech? Let’s go to the tape, via Media Matters.
[Coulter] claimed that the Democratic Party “supports killing, lying, adultery, thievery, envy“; who said of the idea that the American military were targeting journalists, “Would that it were so!“; who said President Clinton “was a very good rapist“; who insisted that “
[l]iberalslove America like O.J. loved Nicole“; who said that “I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days” to talk to liberals; who said it was lucky for former senator Max Cleland’s political career that he lost an arm and two legs in Vietnam; who has said her “only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building“; and who wrote that the only real question about Bill Clinton was “whether to impeach or assassinate.”
If that’s not hate speech, the term has lost pretty much all its meaning. And we haven’t yet got to the killer quote.
When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that [American Taliban supporter] John Walker [Lindh] is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors.
Bonevac has some speculations about why liberals don’t like Coulter. Here’s my explanation. I have somewhat strong con-attitudes towards people who want to kill me. This could be because I’m a namby-pamby pacificist. Or it could be a perfectly sensible reaction.
Bonevac goes on to praise Coulter for saying, “[Democrats] oppose Priscilla Owen because she ruled that a Texas law requiring parental notification for 14-year-olds to have abortions meant that parental notification was required for 14-year-olds to have abortions.” Of course the very decision that Coulter and Bonevac are talking about here was a dissent by Owen that was described by that well known leftie, Alberto Gonzales, as an unconscionable act of judicial activism that adopted an interpretation nowhere to be found in the said statute or its legislative history. Of course, assuming that Coulter is telling the truth about anything is a fool’s option, so Bonevac really should know better.
There are often calls in the blogworld for academics on one side or another to denounce vicious person X who is in some indeterminate sense on ‘their side’. Unless X is in a position of real political power, e.g. a Senate Committee Chair, these calls seem thoroughly misguided to me. Conservative academics are under no more obligation to denounce vile commentators like Coulter than social democrat academics are to denounce the extremists on their flanks, the Ward Churchills of the world and the like. Frankly there is too little time in the day to be spent trying to find out if some Labor voter from the University of Woolloomooloo said something false that I should be distancing myself from. But I don’t go around actively aligning myself with the very worst my side has to offer. Bonevac can’t say the same thing, and he should feel ashamed of that.
Coulter commits the worst political sin you can commit in a democracy – she doesn’t allow that there might be such a thing as a loyal opposition. In Coulter’s world there is only support for the government or opposition by any means possible. This way lies perpetual revolution, and I can’t imagine why anyone, let alone a conservative, would want to be along for the ride.
For the record, I should note that I don’t condone the disruptive behaviour of the Marxists at the meeting Bonevac describes. If rightwingers want to have a little bit of groupthink in the privacy of their own auditoriums, that should be allowed in a free society. Given Coulter’s history you might want a police officer or two on hand to make sure she stays on the safe side of the line between free speech and criminal incitement, but as long as she does they should be left to talk amongst themselves.