Saturday, February 11, 2006

CPAC Report, Part II (Coulter)

OK, let's start with this: I love Ann Coulter. Every Wednesday evening, I log onto WorldNetDaily to see her columns, for three basic reasons: (a) she's smart, (b) she's original, and (c) most of all, she's FUNNY.

Part (c) is the key thing and Ann, in my mind, is just like Rush Limbaugh in this respect: She understands that the communications business is about entertainment, and nothing is so entertaining as humor. (Except maybe sex and, well, to have a "Caddyshack" moment here, she's got that going for her, too.) I've occasionally tried to write humor, and it's very difficult. To get three or four good laughs out of a 700-word column is a rare thing. Even Dave Barry rarely gets more than five or six solid laughs into a single column. And except for the brilliant Mark Steyn, Ann is just about the only conservative columnist who consistently meets or exceeds the 3-laughs-per-column standard. There are lots of great conservative columnists -- Thomas Sowell, Michelle Malkin, Robert Novak, Don Lambro, etc. -- but great funny conservative columnists are a precious commodity, though not nearly as rare as funny liberal columnists, who seem to be a dying breed. (Not that liberals aren't funny, but that's usually by accident.)




PHOTO BY SAVE THE GOP
(Hope you don't mind I stole your photo rather than borrow your bandwidth)

My dear wife doesn't like Ann Coulter. Maybe it's the blonde thing. My wife is a brunette, and perhaps other brunette ladies can explain why your default setting toward blondes is "hate." (Or am I the only one who's noticed this?) Also, my wife, a good Reagan-loving Ohio Republican girl, thinks people should be nice. Don't know if you've noticed, but sometimes Ann isn't exactly "nice." She's got a very sarcastic sense of humor (gee, I don't know anybody else like that), and that rubs people the wrong way sometimes.

Ann's public and private personae, however, are quite different. It happens that Monique, the young lady who introduced Ann at CPAC Friday, is a friend of mine. And it was Monique's job to shepherd Ann around CPAC for about 3 hours. Monique reports that Ann is very easygoing and gracious. Because of stalkers, etc., Ann always travels with bodyguards whose job it is to fend off the well-meaning people who want to talk to Ann. However, Monique told me Friday night, that if it were up to Ann, she'd spend all her time talking to the nice strangers she meets. Ann's "handlers" are always having to interrupt her conversations: "Uh, Ann, we're running late, we need to go now."

Like all other classy people, in other words, Ann is very nice to "the little people" she deals with. People who knew Ronald Reagan will tell you the exact same thing about him: Reagan was very down-to-earth and got along well with ordinary folks. You can contrast this to lots of Washington big shots (a couple of senators' names come to mind here) who are arrogant, high-handed, and are notorious for screaming at their staffers and subordinates. So before we get started on Ann's remarks Friday at CPAC, I wanted to establish this important point: The private Ann is, I am told by people whose opinions I trust, a kind and gracious person.

THE NOTORIOUS REMARKS

The Regency Ballroom at the Omni Shoreham was absolutely jam-packed for Ann's speech Friday. Especially all the college Republicans were eager to see Coulter, a one-woman wrecking crew against campus liberalism, touring colleges for speeches that routinely make headlines. To young Republicans -- and some who are not so young -- she's like Elvis (without the rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuits). A conservative superstar.

Having an audience of devoted true believers, however, has its drawbacks. During the first part of her speech, there were occasional bursts of applause, but little laughter. Why? Because most of the first 5 minutes consisted mainly of things Ann had written in recent columns, so the punchlines didn't have quite as much "kick" with a crowd for whom Coulter's columns are a weekly ritual.

Then Ann started in on the issue of the Danish cartoons. On Blogger Row at CPAC, Matthew Vadum had his tape recorder rolling and provides a transcription of how Coulter began riffing on the idea that, because of the terms of the NATO treaty and the Syrian regime's support for mob attacks on the Danish embassy, all our European "allies" were now solemnly obligated to join the U.S. in a war against Syria:

By the terms of the NATO treaty we have an obligation along with most of European nations to attack Syria right now. Or is NATO, like conventions of civilized society, inapplicable when Muslims are involved? They complain about unilateral action. Well, according to the terms of the NATO treaty, written by Dean Acheson and a bunch of Democrats, Spain, France, Germany, Greece, they all have an obligation to attack Syria right now.

From there -- again, major hat tip to Vadum -- Coulter segued to the question of whether Iran has nuclear weapons:


“Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but they’re certainly acting like they do. What if they start having [several words unintelligible at this point on the recording] bipolar episodes with nuclear weapons? If you don’t want to get shot by the police, don’t point a gun at them. Or, or as I think our motto should be post-9/11, 'raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.' "
Ouch.

THE REACTION

OMG! I was taking notes -- on a lime-green pad my wife had been thoughtful enough to bring along -- and when I heard Ann say "raghead," I carefully wrote down that sentence. (My note-taking skills suck, so the fact that I wrote down the whole sentence says something.) The audience response was rather muted, as I recall, because everybody had the same reaction I did: Did she just say ''raghead"?

Dang. The C-SPAN cameras were rolling, the national media were in attendance, and Ann Coulter just said "raghead." Not good. Not enough to sustain a "banish her from the movement" crusade perhaps, but still not good.

On the one hand, my reaction was, "Well, that's just Ann being Ann." Her provocative "what's she gonna say next" style is a big factor in Coulter's popularity. It's a tightrope act, and one reason that the Regency Ballroom was so jam-packed was in anticipation that she might say something truly shocking.

But an outright ethnic slur? I am by no means politically correct, and get tired of nicey-nice Republicans who display an anemic "oh, Ann's too mean-spirited" attitude. But to use "raghead" is at the very least an unfortunate word choice. If she had said, "Jihadi talks tough, jihadi faces consequences," or "Islamofascist" some other word, OK. "Raghead" -- ouch.

And everybody I talked to at CPAC felt that way, or worse. Not all college Republicans are stout-hearted souls. On an elevator later Friday, the topic of Ann's speech came up and some GOP coed said, "Oh, she said something really racist."

I don't know that using "raghead" to refer to the vicious mullah-ocracy of Iran is "racist." My definition of "racism" would be a generalized malice toward an entire group -- the way Iranian leaders talk about Jews, for example. I suppose Ann intended to convey her low opinion of the regime in Tehran by using an insulting slur, but this does not necessarily equal "racism." But half-educated college Republicans often use the word "racist" in the degraded postmodern definition ("A person I don't like"), a rhetorical shortcut favored by the vocabulary-impaired.

Over-the-top bombast is Ann's stock in trade -- a signature move as unmistakable as her hair-flip. Later in the same speech, for instance, she referred to moderate/liberal Republicans (e.g., Lincoln Chafee) as vermin in need of "pest control," who must be eradicated. But during the Q&A session, Coulter fielded two questions by those who objected to her "raghead" remarks. The first question was from a young Muslim Republican (more about him later) who said -- and I'm paraphrasing very liberally -- "Don't you realize how a comment like that hurts our outreach efforts?" To which Ann responded (this is pretty close to a direct quote): "I make a couple of jokes about Muslims. They killed 3,000 Americans. I guess we're even."

This is a "sticks-and-stones" understanding of the controversy. Yes, Coulter and others have said or written things (or drawn cartoons) that offend Muslims. It is rude to offend people with insults, "racist" or otherwise. I know I didn't like it when (for example) Atrios posted side-by-side photos of President Bush and the retarded banjo-picking kid from "Deliverance." As a Southerner, just about any reference to "Deliverance" offends me. I'm not an inbred hillbilly (not that there's anything wrong with that), and find it remarkable that Yankees who so piously look down their noses at rednecks for our "racism" nevertheless don't hesitate to resort to hateful stereotypes when it suits their purposes.

But ... you don't see any hillbillies fire-bombing Blockbuster stores that stock DVDs of "Deliverance." The producers of "My Cousin Vinnie" (a film chock-full of "stupid redneck" jokes) aren't in hiding because of death threats from the Redneck Jihad Army. So the "racism" of Coulter's remarks, it seems to me, must be weighed against the long history of anti-western and anti-Jewish violence by the terrorists, the "Arab street," and Islamic theocrats. Words-vs.-violence, see? That's a distinction most college Republican should be smart enough to figure out.

The second question Ann got about that remark was from a smart-aleck who said (paraphrasing), "So, when are you going to start working Jews and blacks into your little shtick?" In other words, when would Coulter begin using slurs against other groups? Her reply was priceless: "I guess when they start flying jets into our skyscrapers." And then she pointed out that, while her first questioner was Muslim and perhaps justified in feeling offended, the second questioner was just another run-of-the-mill white guy.

WHAT YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

One of the things that surprises me is that people who love Ann Coulter and people who hate Ann Coulter are usually equally ignorant of what happened to her on September 11. It happens that I am acquainted with Richard Poe, and in his book, Hillary's Secret War, Richard tells that story. He recounted it in an interview with Jamie Glazov of FrontPageMagazine:

On the day of the attack, my wife Marie got a call from our friend Ann Coulter. She was stranded in a bar in Queens, and her cell phone was dying. Manhattan was locked down. The bridges were closed and Ann couldn’t get home. So we got in the car and picked her up.
Ann had a column due that night, so we set her up in our library with her laptop. We were all there together when we got the news of Barbara Olson’s death. Tragically, Mrs. Olson had gone down with American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon.
Barbara Olson was a personal friend of Ann’s. The loss hit her very hard. That night, Ann sat in my library, with F-16 jet fighters screaming overhead every few minutes, and wrote her eulogy to her lost friend. It concluded with what would soon become Ann’s most famous and controversial one-liner: We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

In case you don't get the point:

TERRORISTS KILLED HER FRIEND
... FOR THE GLORY OF ALLAH.

In Washington, you meet a lot of people who knew Barbara Olson, and I've never heard anyone who knew her say anything but nice things about Mrs. Olson (whose husband was named solicitor general by President Bush). Don't you suppose that if you were friends with a nice woman who had been aboard one of the jets hijacked by Mohammed Atta & Co., this might make you somewhat less than favorably disposed toward the Religion of Peace(TM)?

I am reminded here of David Horowitz and the Black Panthers: They killed his friend Betty Van Patter, and he can never forget or forgive.

American is in a war, and has been since September 11, 2001. At least in their own minds, America's terrorist enemies are waging a holy war against infidels. The terrorists and their sympathizers hate all of us (liberal and conservative, blonde and non-blonde) because we are Americans and because we are Israel's ally. This hatred cannot be wished away. It cannot be satisfied by appeasement or compromise. And this hatred is part of (again, in their minds) a religious war.

It is a fact that not all Muslims hate us. There are more than 1 billion Muslims in the world, and the terrorists among them are a tiny percentage (given all the zeros in 1,000,000,000, maybe only a fraction of 1%). So it is in some sense unfair to blame all Muslims for the crimes of a relative handful.

Yet it is also a fact that there was only one Barbara Olson in the world, and she was killed along with nearly 3,000 other innocents by a bunch of Muslim hijackers who believed themselves to be acting out the will of the Prophet. As much as I regret that Ann used an ugly word in referring to the leaders of Iran -- and perhaps she regrets it, too -- is she beyond empathy?

NEXT: My new buddy, the Muslim Republican from North Carolina.

-- McCAIN

UPDATE: No shortage of blondenfreude among some Republicans over Ann's "raghead" remark, as for instance, see here. I'm thinking this is more than just politics. It's kind of like how some Beatles fans aren't satisfied with loving John, but feel this love necessarily requires them to hate Paul.