Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A short note on Ann Coulter's motivations 

Somebody with a wicked sense of humor apparently hacked Ann Coulter's web site. Instead of taking it down or posting something inherently offensive -- the usual hacker move -- he (or she) put up a false "open letter to my readers" in which "Ann" admitted that her entire career had been a practical joke. Like her or not, you have to admire the wit.

The idea behind the prank reinforces the fairly widespread belief -- on both left and right -- that Ann says what she says for some fundamentally disingenuous reason, such as to sell more books.

Not true.

I do not really know Ann now, but I knew her pretty well back at Michigan Law School. In the first week or two of my third year we threw a party at our house and Ann -- who had just arrived in Ann Arbor as a first year -- materialized as the date of one of my classmates. Mrs. TH and I ended up talking conservative politics with her at some length, and over the course of the 1985-86 academic year became pretty good friends. We would study in the Michigan Union and end up laughing (or ranting) about something hideous we had read in the New York Times (plus ça change...).

The thing is, she has not changed. Apart from being a tad more polished, the Ann you see on television is essentially identical in mannerism, turn of phrase, and bomb-throwing rhetoric to the Ann we shot the breeze with more than 20 years ago. Long before she had a book to sell or even envisioned a career as a pundit, she took great pleasure in phrasing her opinions in the starkest possible terms, especially if she could make her friends laugh guiltily or offend people who offended her. Ann's public life is just an extension of actual personality -- she has a sharp sense of humor, takes endless pleasure in irritating people to the left of her, and does not much care (or seem to care) what such people think of her.

So when people say that Ann says what she says to sell books, I do not think that is right. Mrs. TH and I agree that her public personality today conforms so well to her private personality back in the day that we are all seeing the real Ann. She does what she does because it gives her great pleasure. She is the rare celebrity, I think, who has found a way to have a public life that is not really in conflict with her private life.

Draw whatever conclusions you will.


By Anonymous tyree, at Wed Oct 17, 10:06:00 AM:

Thanks for that, Tigerhawk.
Ann certainly hit the nail on the head when she wrote about the progressive/liberal way of trotting out widows, children and the handicapped to be their spokespeople. The way Democratic Party used the Frost child to make their case on socialized medicine came straight from her book. Using unassailable spokespeople is used by the liberals when they want to shut down debate.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Wed Oct 17, 10:36:00 AM:

I suppose thats the same advice I gave my kids.
1) Find something you like doing
2) Make money doing it

All the happy people I've met in life have been following this general path.  

By Anonymous Kovacs, at Wed Oct 17, 11:00:00 AM:

Wow, so she used to be even more of a venomous ghoul than the "more polished" version is now? That's hard to believe.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 17, 11:12:00 AM:

It's one thing to defend your friends, that's fine, but when they are wrong, you're better served to tell them that they're out of line than to defend them the way you do here. You like words and winning your arguments, but you have a blind spot here and about her (kind of the way people say, "well, I know the QB at my high school can act like a jerk, but he's my next door neighbor and is nice to me, so that's all that matters). Her recent remarks about Jews, on top of her comments about the 911 widows, were totally offensive. Yes, of course, the First Amendment gives her the right to say what she wants, but that doesn't make her comments any less repulsive.

You think that this is the "real" person. To me, she's the pundit world's version of Britney Spears, imploding publicly. She has taken a full drink of her notoriety and enjoys it, so she keeps on doing things to keep her in the spotlight. Perhaps you're right, that's Ann being Ann, but is that the type of person you want to hang out with?  

By Blogger Escort81, at Wed Oct 17, 11:25:00 AM:

TH, isn't it true that a characteristic of a good lawyer is to think before you speak, so as to say only those things that will advance the cause of your client? I would think that is true of a litigator in front of a judge or a corporate lawyer working on an SEC document. What benefit inures to your client by saying outrageous things? I submit that Ann Coulter harms her cause (though I suppose at this point she is her own client) from time to time by blurting out offensive comments and causing more backlash than she "wins" in minds changed.

She was canned from NRO right after 9/11 for one such incident.

Would you hire her to be your lawyer?

I understand that her recent use of the word "perfected" is a distinct term of art in Christian doctrine and theology, but she must have known, or should have known, that it would be wildly misinterpreted by the TV audience. Why go there? What does it accomplish?

I suppose on one level I admire anyone that speaks their mind. However, I think that on balance Ann Coulter subtracts from the political culture in the same way that lawyers on the left do who throw blue colored brickbats. Ann Coulter's rhetoric adds to the unhealthy ultracentrifugation of our politics -- where material is spun so fast it breaks down into its component parts. Of course everyone has First Amendment rights, but I wonder if lawyers, as officers of the court, ought to have a civic (or even ethical) duty to be more considered and less offensive in their public speech. Probably too unrealistic and idealistic!

Were you at UM Law (and PU) at the same time as the current lead owner of the Boston Celtics?  

By Anonymous Dr. Mercury, at Wed Oct 17, 11:58:00 AM:

Very interesting article, TH. I would say that, overall, you have captured the essence of blogging better than most. Blogging is supposed to be about opinion and insight, not "news commentary" per se. If I want news commentary, I'll go hit up RealClearPolitics.

As far as Ann goes, I have a few opinions and insights of my own to add to the mix:

- Along with what Tige said, the documentary "Is It True What They Say About Ann?" also puts on display that what you're getting in the column is what you get in the real person, as well. Would she be a fun person to hang out with? Absolutely. She's bright, witty, feminine, and has a great sense of humor. It doesn't particularly come across in the TV studio, but in the film she obviously has this devilish twinkle in her eye, always looking for a yuk.

She's waxes serious when talking about family and her past, but when it comes to present-day politics, as she's stated a thousand times, her main purpose in life is to give the liberals a good tweaking. And this she successfully does.

Week after week after week after week.

You'd think they'd learn. :)

- Unquestionably, the most perplexing thing about Ann's critics is how many of them are from the Right. It's like they take everything she says literally, not grasping the satire when it occurs. When I read her words, it's very clear to me when she's 'talking straight', and when she goes over the line into satire.

People perhaps less intellectually-inclined might refer to her works as "repulsive"; that she's the "pundit world's version of Britney Spears" and that everything she does is to "keep her in the spotlight".

These mamby-pamby sob sisters wouldn't know a hard truth if it bit 'em on the ankle.

- What's also remarkable is how people put words in her mouth. I documented the John Edwards "faggot" remark here.

And now we have the Jews acting the same way. In the interview, she said something like, "The Jews need to be 'perfected', as they say."

Emphasis mine.

And do you remember the response?

"I can't believe you just said that!"

No, you idiot, she didn't just say that! THEY said that!

So, here we go again. Just like the 'faggot' remark, what Ann actually SAID is clearly secondary to what people wished she had said.

Result? More hyperbole, more publicity, more clammoring for book deals and TV show appearances -- and all from a Lefty TV host who purposefully misconstrued her words -- and then someone with the clever name "Anonymous" comes along and accuses her of trying to hog the spotlight.

Yeah, that's it, 'Nonny. You nailed it.

- And then there's the hyperbole from the Left. Until just a year ago or so, I had no idea the ugly, mean, cruel, terrible word "harpies" belonged on the same list as "monster", "terrorist" and "Hitler". I refer, of course, to Ann and the (in)famous 'Jersey Girls' incident.

Ann Coulter: political maelstrom

Thanks again for sharing the perspective, Hawkman. Very cool.  

By Anonymous Tammy, at Wed Oct 17, 12:47:00 PM:

I am with the good doctor above. Ann is a breath of fresh air, a voice unafraid to highlight absurdity, and unbowed that so many people will not/can not use their intelligence to listen and understand what point she is making.

Sad is how many on the right fail this test. We have strong women: Ann, Michelle, Laura (both I. & Dr. S.), Ms Underestimated, Zombie, Atlas, LaShawn, etc; the list is long, and proof of what a strong woman can bring to an argument!  

By Blogger davod, at Wed Oct 17, 06:14:00 PM:

I cannot say I am surprised, but I am dismayed at how many conservatives throw Coulter overboard as soon as a controversial comment is broadcast.

They bitch and moan about the lies and misrepresenattions of the liberal media, then attack Coulter without taking the time for independent review of the charges. Wooses.  

By Anonymous Carl Gordon, at Wed Oct 17, 06:23:00 PM:

Independent review of the charges???

These are some sandpaper rough days to be a republican. The inbred NASCAR fans back in Iowa, Texas, Colorado, Florida, and other primeval palookavilles of this great country are wearing paper sacks over their heads in shame because their team is getting bitch-slapped out there. You can throw a rock (and make it a big one!) in any seedy public lavatory throughout the country and hit at least one deeply conservative, self-righteous, holier-than-thou congressman, senator, or mega church pastor, leaving the true deceivers/believers to wonder--WTF?

"Oh heal them, Lord, in the beautiful blood of the lamb!" they beseech in prayer, "I heard voices, and I heeded the call, as I selected these, my public servants, these Godly soldiers, these nadirs of probity, to represent both me and your will and enforce that same unchanging certain correctness on my town, my state, and this whole nation. I empowered them so that they might smite the harlot-filled Babylon of Hollywood, so that they might purge the filthy restrooms of various Gomorrahs throughout the country, so that they might force the accursed liberals and other fornicators from the dank dens where they blaspheme. I trusted them to raise high the blow torch of decency, restore the fear of god, and enshrine your holy will in law, by this holy Jihad!"

Yet, it is dumbfounding to consider how many professed conservatives have been violating the traditional values they profess to hold dear. For every knucklehead you recognize--Larry Craig, David Vitter, Ted Haggard, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, Tom Foley, Tom DeLay, Randy Cunningham, John Doolittle--there are hundreds at state and local levels whose hypocritical indiscretions never make it CNN. And don’t even get me started on all those pedophilic Catholic priests out there. They count too.
Isn't it incredibly obvious that those who align themselves with social conservatism are far more likely to engage in inappropriate behavior than those who call themselves liberals. I’m not talking rocket science here.

We all have urges, some we’d prefer not to see the light of day, but these are people who seemingly lack the skills of introspection, or even common sense. And along with the obvious repression they struggle with, the repercussions of their stunted emotional state are likely to be exacerbated because the same factors that make self-examination impossible--loveless parenting, strict religious upbringing, for example--also tend to magnify their less-savory natural urges.

And that is the reason so many conservatives, doubtful of their own ability to control their sleazy desires, and projecting their own failings and bewilderment on the rest of humanity, come to be what they are. That is why they push for strictness in the home and to have morality rammed into law. They recognize a looming menace from which we must be protected, but cannot grasp that the foundation of the danger lies within themselves.

This is not to suggest that the majority of those who appear to be values-fixated Republicans are in fact pedophiles-in-waiting, repressed homosexuals, or thieves, waiting for opportunity? They are probably generally decent, doing their best to get by and perhaps willing to live and let live. But it also means that there is something in their experience with their family or community that guides them to believe that people are not to be trusted to contain their seamy urges.

It is not hard to identify those who pose the greatest danger to us, those who are incapable of self-examination, and are oblivious to their own transparency, for they are the ones that shout the loudest, spew warnings of moral rot and disobedience, that seek to exploit the fear they provoke to advance their own power and influence, that seek to raise an army of the self-righteous to march on the seat of wickedness and double standards. Imagine their shock when they realize that the seat is made of porcelain. That they themselves are the one besieged and the army they raised waits for them, right outside the stall door.  

By Anonymous PostLiberal, at Wed Oct 17, 07:26:00 PM:

@Carl Gordon

The difference is quite often that if a Democratic politician gets caught in some sexual malfeasance, he gets reelected, such as a certain Senator or certain Congressmen from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If a Republican politician gets caught in same, he resigns. Or in the case of Senator Craig, says that he intends to resign.

My suggestion would be to refrain from amateur psychoanalyzing. For example, given your statements, how do you explain that more Republicans than Democrats report that they are very satisfied with their sex lives?

You come across as a pretentious, self-righteous so-and-so, which is precisely the accusation you are throwing at Republicans.

As for myself, I have voted for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates an equal amount of times, but most of the time I have voted for an Independent presidential candidate.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Oct 17, 11:50:00 PM:

Carl Gordon extrapolates a little too much regarding the perversity of Social Conservatives. There's as much vice (probably more) from Liberal public figures - but its a Dog Bites Man story. Vice is really only news when conservatives engage in it.

I'd be surprised if Coulter's private life did not come into some conflict with Social Conservative Values. She's a chain smoking, single, night owl. Not exactly the profile of The Church Lady.

But Social Conservative "Hypocrisy" is a Moot point. Failing to live up to Standards you believe in is not Hypocrisy - it's Weakness.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Oct 18, 06:53:00 AM:

I think it's like this...

Lt. Col. Charles R. Codman: You know General, sometimes the men don't know when you're acting.

Patton: It's not important for them to know. It's only important for me to know.

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Thu Oct 18, 08:27:00 AM:

"For every knucklehead you recognize--Larry Craig, David Vitter, Ted Haggard, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, Tom Foley, Tom DeLay, Randy Cunningham, John Doolittle--there are hundreds at state and local levels whose hypocritical indiscretions never make it CNN"

And there are thousands who are decent upstanding people who mean what they say.

Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, William Jefferson, Jimmy Carter, Marion Barry, Norman Hsu... your side is equally full of scumbags and hypocrites. And for every one we know about, there are probably hundreds more beneath the national spotlight.

You've such vitriol for Coulter, but how about Michael Moore? Coulter is strongly opinionated, but Moore is a deceitful propagandist who openly called for the defeat (and presumedly the deaths) of Americans in Iraq. Remember this? "They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."

Shouldn't that be worse?

Or is that ok, because he agrees with you? How deep into the pit of hypocrisy do you stand?

"The inbred NASCAR fans back in Iowa, Texas, Colorado, Florida, and other primeval palookavilles"

I have an uncle named Mitchel, a Texan (like me), who is a self made millionaire. Business acumen, good heart, and a strong sense of fairness. His son is a Marine and his daughter just graduated from college and is working as a fashion designer. He loves NASCAR. (and cars in general; he's got two classic corvettes in his garage that he likes to work on)

If someone else had made a statement like that about, say, blacks, or hispanics, or phillipinos, what would your reaction have been? Lemme help you: "You ignorant, racist inbred Texas rednecks!"

But when you make a similar generalized statement about people, it's ok?

Again, how far into the mire of hypocrisy are YOU?

I think I know, and I have only this to say: Fuck you.  

By Blogger Catchy Pseudonym, at Thu Oct 18, 09:24:00 AM:

Larry Craig, David Vitter, Ted Haggard, Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, Tom Foley, Tom DeLay, Randy Cunningham, John Doolittle - all did their thing within the last 2 or 3 years.

Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, William Jefferson, Jimmy Carter, Marion Barry, Norman Hsu - outside of Hsu who isn't even a politician - how long ago and far apart did their indiscretions happen?

Can't you see how a gay-hating politicians (or in the case of republicans) politicians, caught being or trying to be tea-bagged is a quite funny to most Americans? It's funny. Oh... and hypocritical.

I can't believe you guys are defending Coulter. She might be admired in your little circle here, but most people see her for what she is. She can say what she wants, but nothing that comes from above her adam's apple is ever anything worth admiring.  

By Anonymous Bird of Paradise, at Fri Oct 19, 12:49:00 AM:


By Anonymous QuakerCat, at Fri Oct 19, 12:03:00 PM:

Personally, I love Ann Coulter and I do think that she knows exactly what she is going to say before she says it. However, I think her calculation is for the purpose of highlighting the hypocrisy of the left and the main stream media.

What is unfortunate is that people like Bill Maher (sp?), Keith Oberman, Al Franken, Michael Moore, etc are regularly spouting off in similar ways as Ann Coulter, but when their ire is directed to white southern males who love God, Country and family not one part of the media jumps on them? They either look the other way or just shrug them off - I like Ann Coulter because she continues to stand in there and fire away.  

By Anonymous Tory, at Fri Oct 19, 04:16:00 PM:

One distinction that I have found to be utterly vital in any kind of honest debate is the difference between the person and their judgment. I think a couple of examples readily demonstrate that the validity of what is said can be totally independent of the wisdom of who is speaking; consider a parrot that can recite the totality of a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. It doesn't understand what is being said, but says true things nonetheless. Similarly, someone who is a compulsive liar and has never said a true thing in his life can, for the first time, say true things and have those true things be valid. The only time when a person's history enters the analysis is when they invoke their judgment or values; things which have a personal or empirical record, and thus can be taken in a Bayesian fashion; if someone always uses his judgment to choose football bets and is always wrong, you eventually start betting the other way, no matter what, because his judgment is flawed. Because these examples exist, and parallels to these archetypes can be drawn in most scenarios, is seems inadvisable to violate this distinction for fear of opening yourself to an obvious and knock-out objection of the actual words or arguments being right.

Taking this principle to tie together two ideas that have arisen in this thread, namely Ann Coulter and Graeme Frost, I think the objection that many people I know raise regarding the former is this: she hand-wavingly defines categories (those damn liberals) by a couple of data points (Ted Kennedy, the Clintons, whoever,) and makes vast generalizations about everyone in this category. Interestingly, this label can be invoked to dismiss any criticism that comes up, as the amorphous characteristics of this nebulous category become the primary focus. Further, I think many people would think that she violates the principle I outlined above, attacking the speaker rather than the ideas. Taking any favorite whipping-boy of your choosing for either side, be it Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, Bill Clinton, etc, the mere fact that one of them makes an argument is not, in and of itself, sufficient reason for dismissing the argument.

This ties into the S-CHIP 12-year-old spokesperson in the following way: the mere fact that a kid gave the Democratic rebuttal doesn't necessarily imply that the kid should be a target, because the ideas are the matter of substance. Rather than making claims (which seem to have been debunked en masse) concerning his family's wealth and the illegitimacy of the spokesperson, why not talk about what is being said, where the assumptions are, and why they are wrong. It may be pleasantly vindictive and quick to dismiss the speaker, but no converts are won by ignoring the position; I can't think of an example where ignoring the arguments wins converts, or does anything besides galvanizing the base, but maybe there is one. Whatever Coulter's motivations, she seems to make some specious arguments which ignore ready counterexamples.

Full Disclosure: I'm not going to declare allegiance to any particular side, and thus moronic generalizations (“you're just in the camp of those stoopid libruls”) will not be well taken. Further, the empirical matter of whether or not the subtle phrasing of a particular quote or passage says offensive thing X or neutral thing Y also seems immaterial, so long as a large fraction of readers walk away thinking X was said. I have attempted to make it through two of Coulter's writings in the past, but have twice ended up putting the book down in disgust at the insipid argumentation, which ignored most of the likely and logical counterarguments. My political philosophy is primarily informed by a skepticism of power, focus on argumentation and justification, and thoughts on how government should be structured to limit the abuse of power. If anyone wants to discuss any of these matters or others without one-line, sloganeering responses, I am up for it.  

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