CPAC Coulterized: The Obligatory Coulter Post

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 05, 2007 5:15 PM
Oh, Ann Coulter. I know everyone's said about everything that can be said about this, and Monday isn't even over yet, but such is the power of Ann's rhetoric and the firestorms that follow it, that we are all obliged to respond to it. My first response was short, annoyed, and disgusted. Here's the full-blown take.

In college, I discovered Townhall. It was this wondrous place where I could read all sorts of conservative opinion all in one place, and use the political analysis I found to better arm myself against lefty professors. I'm not just saying that 'cause I work here, either. Really, that's where I read my daily political commentary. Among my most frequent reads were Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin. I read others, too--notably Thomas Sowell and John Stossel, because I dig me some fiscal conservatism-- but Coulter and Malkin had an impact on me. They were young, strong conservative women who were sometimes biting and always successful. I liked the idea of what the future might hold for a young, strong conservative woman, though at the time I didn't think politics was going to be my career path.

Point being, I had a soft spot for Ann. When I left N.C. to move to D.C. a couple years ago, a friend gave me one of those talking Ann Coulter dolls, which I immediately set about hiding in my liberal editor's office, rigged to squawk about liberalism every 10 minutes. Heh. Luckily, he was a good-humored man.

For those reasons, I'm often more inclined to defend Coulter than others in my office, and others inside the Beltway, in general. But it's been a few years now since Coulter's become a caricature of herself, and I'm about done defending. I defended her on the grounds that she's a whip-smart woman who can whip-crack her political opponents like nobody's business. She's still both those things, but the shock jock element has really grown to overshadow the smartness, and it's not the liberal media bias that causes that effect. It's Ann herself.

I also defended her because I think it's very easy for policy wonks and Beltway snobs to forget that there's a large segment of decent, hard-working Americans for whom Coulter is an outlet and an icon. They get angry with liberals; they get frustrated with wimpy Republicans, and they let Ann lash out for them. I understand. There have been times that I've marveled at whatever stinging witticism she's levied and wondered at the fact that I could never do the same.

One of those times was not Friday, when she used the word "faggot" to refer to John Edwards. One of those times was not last year's CPAC when she used the word "ragheads" to refer to Iranians. I think it's important for us, here in our Washington pundit circles, not to forget that there are a bunch of right-leaning regular people out there who like Ann Coulter, and with good reasons. In the past, I've recoiled when confronted with reflexive Coulter snobbery because it's the "right" thing to say in Washington circles. "Oh, Ann Coulter. No, of course I don't like her. She's so gauche."

In the past, I've defended her, even as her rhetoric got worse, as a "gateway conservative"-- an entertaining act that pulled in folks who are ticked off at the modern liberal movement, but not necessarily ideological conservatives. However, once those people start reading her, I argued, they generally migrate to other conservative writers like Thomas Sowell and Charles Krauthammer, which I felt was a net win for conservatism. Many more people have been exposed to the ideas of free-market conservatism because of Coulter than would have been without such a popular figure to bring them in.

But how many have been turned off by the same figure? At some point, the scale tipped, and Ann started doing more harm than good. In two years at CPAC, with just two words, she reinforced two stereotypes of conservatives-- as racists and homophobes-- that certainly don't need reinforcing. I've spent much of my life fighting back against the notion that all conservatives are nasty, racist, homophobic meanies who just want to get rich and screw the poor. I became a fiscal conservative specifically because I wanted to help the low-income area in which I grew up, and it was apparent liberalism was not the way to do it. It's not a stereotype that's easy to dispel in a largely liberal environment, but it's one that needs to be dispelled, and inroads can be made as long as the person driving the car isn't yelling "faggot" and "raghead."

"Faggot" is a nasty word. I learned that from a teacher in first grade, when it suddenly became the in thing for my classmates to call each other, but I'm pretty sure I knew it before that. I knew it was a nasty word on the elementary-school playground. Why would we, as conservatives, not acknowledge that it's a nasty word when used at a mainstream political conference attended by presidential candidates and packed with young conservatives who are ostensibly learning to lead our movement?

If some liberal blogger had caught a random CPAC attendee on camera saying, "John Edwards is a faggot," I would have been embarrassed for our movement. How much worse that it was a featured speaker who said it?

Tough is fine. Even some of Ann's over-the-top jokes can be written off as just that-- jokes. But you can't write off every hateful, politically damaging crack as a-O.K. simply because that Ann's a jokester. I, for one, am proud that there are Middle Easterners, gay men and women, and other minorities for whom conservatism is an ideology that empowers. Don't they get enough crap from our lefty colleagues for "leaving the plantation?" Why should they be subjected to more from one of their supposed allies?

Ours is not the ideology of identity politics and knee-jerk, manufactured outrage that serve political ends, not people. But it is an ideology that should seek to serve everyone, regardless of color or sexual orientation. We're always going to disagree within our ranks about some issues, but if conservatives truly believe that free-market conservatism serves all Americans better than does big-government liberalism, then why scare people out of our big tent? We should be working, as Michael Steele said, "invite everyone to our table, because it's the table of opportunity"-- not by compromising our beliefs, but simply by not compromising our conferences with folks who say "faggot." It's really not much to ask.

As for the Left--no, they will never apologize or denounce similar behavior on their side, and no one will ever notice or give credit to the right for calling out its own. But to take that as a cue to excuse ourselves in acting just like them is ridiculous. I don't wanna be no Kos just because he can get away with it, so why can't I?

And, speaking in a politically pragmatic sense, it just does us no good to have her at CPAC, associated with all of the Republican Party's presidential candidates. Who will come to CPAC to bother with conservatives next year if she is there to cause a liability by proximity to any campaign that sets foot in the door? Don't conservatives want presidential candidates to come to their biggest gathering and address their concerns? The front-runners are all moderate-ish men that need to make some promises. That's a significant amount of political pull lost for a couple punchlines, if you keep Ann in the line-up, isn't it?

Check out the damage Coulter already did to Romney. He praised her before her speech, and she sucker-punched him. Now, anyone on YouTube can splice the two clips back-to-back and make Romney look like a jerk. Insodoing, as Ace points out, Ann handicaps a conservative guy who has the potential to effect more change on a conservative policy level, for all of America, than she'll ever have. Do we really want her doing that every year to our top candidates? We don't want to become the left:

It's a tenet of the fightin' fightin' nutroots that you spray your invective around indiscriminately, without thought to its effectiveness or blowback, because it's the fightin' fightiness of the fight that really matters, not actual results. Or prudence. Or simple decency.

I reject that. Most conservatives do, at least when they see such infantile tactics used by the left. But when it's Ann, well, many conservatives find themselves defending the fightin' fighty fightiness of the nutroots.

We're better than that, and Ann used to be better than that.

Right now, she's just making our battle more uphill, and we don't need that. She's also made it necessary for every conservative blogger to spend the past couple of days writing about a rude gay slur when they could have been writing about some of the actual ideas expressed at CPAC.

Not cool, Ann.

Anyway, who wants a doll that says "faggot?"