Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Vitriol envy?

I usually don't revel in my hate mail, but this is amusing.

In response to my column on Bernie Goldberg in the November Reason (not yet online, though an earlier Boston Globe column on Goldberg's 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America can be found here), a reader from Alabama has this to say:

It amuses me to see how Bernie Goldberg got under your skin. Your attack on him came across as a little desperate.

I love how you call Ann Coulter a "nasty right-winger". I hope you read everything she writes. Ann Coulter is brilliant, funny and always entertaining. She would eat you alive in a debate, and she is a better writer, so I can seehow she gets under your skin too.

Bernie Goldberg, actually, leaves me fairly indifferent. I was simply amused by his blatant partisanship in selection the Goldberg 100, and by his evolution from liberal media gadfly to conservative media darling.

But Ann Coulter really does "get under my skin." I usually turn off the TV when she's about to appear; when I try to stick it out, I rarely last more than a minute. I refuse to go to any public event in which she participates. I think Coulter is the epitome of what has become the bane of political discourse in America: the tendency to demonize one's opponents, to treat them a priori as either idiots or scoundrels, to substitute ridicule, sarcasm, insults, and bile for even a pretense at reasoned argument. Goldberg, who leaves Coulter off his list of political hate-mongers, thinks it's okay because she does it all with "a twinkle in her eye." To me, that "twinkle" looks more like a brazen smirk ("yeah, I'm saying outrageous stuff -- try and stop me").

I've never understood Coulter's reputation, even among some reasonable conservatives, for being "funny" (let alone "brilliant"). For instance, here's a zinger Chris Caldwell cites as "Menckenesque" in his review of Treason in The Washington Post: "Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do. They don’t have the energy. If they had that much energy, they’d have indoor plumbing by now." This is humor? Here's another sample: "Whether they are defending the Soviet Union or bleating for Saddam Hussein, liberals are always against America. They are either traitors or idiots." Dorothy Parker herself, in her grave, must be green with envy.

Yes, dear reader, you've got me pegged: it's my life's secret tragedy that I can't write like Ann Coulter. The only thing I'd love even more would be to look like her intellectual twin, Michael Moore.

24 comments:

Dave said...

Some people like Ann Coulter because they think she is more attractive than most public figures. They will deny it of course, because that is superficial and not intellectually respectable, but alas it is also true.

For the record: yes, I do think she's attractive, and yes, I don't turn the TV off when I see her.

No, I don't think she's particularly interesting or "brilliant." Nonetheless, I am honest enough to know why I can stand to listen to her babble.

Unbridled Greed said...

Can't stand her. The noise-to-signal ratio is way too high.

Rainsborough said...

Yes!
I have long wondered whether Coulter is at all sincere: could anyone be as vitriolic in how they say it and brainless in what they say and yet mean what they say? It seems her MO is to figure out what liberals will find to be most outrageous and say just that, so as to get a rise out of them and delight her conservative following. Whether there's any truth or wit to it doesn't matter, just as long it's indecent and insulting enough.

Olga said...

I read somewhere recently that in order to get through to a disobedient pet (like a cat or a dog), you should get down on all fours, i.e., drop to their level, and then they'll better absorb what you're trying to communicate. For a while, it seemed that the general level of political discourse in this country could be defined thusly: if a right-winger disagreed with you, he'd tell you you're wrong; if a left-winger disagreed with you, he'd tell you you're evil. When I think right-wing pundits, I think George Will, Dinesh D'Sousa, Charles Krauthammer, even Florence King (whatever happened to her?) Ann Coulter? She is amusing as a phenomenon, especially if you think of her as the Right's pet-trainer who's willing to drop down to the level of Barbra Streisand. It's when she (or Michael Savage) are taken seriously that things get a little disturbing.

As for her attractiveness, isn't it amazing what long blond straight hair can do for a girl in our culture? It's like a shorthand for "beautiful." You see the hair, you don't look any further but think "Wow, a supermodel!"

The Coulter fan who thought she could take Cathy -- or anyone -- in a debate must have missed her performance on what-was-that-show w/James Carville and Tucker Carlson, where she showed up to promote her book Slander. It took literally a heartbeat before Carville wiped the floor with her by simply calling her on such lines as "Katie Couric, the amiable Eva Braun of the Left" (wtf?), and the only response she had was feeble bleating that liberals have no sense of humor. She didn't have a coherent sentence to say in defense of her book. How do you go so unprepared on a show with James Carville, who you know will try to eviscerate you, and let him hammer you until you slink away with your tail between your legs? Hubris? I think not. I honestly think that's the best she can do in a debate with an experienced opponent who doesn't pull punches just because she's a girl.

Anonymous said...

(I'm still chuckling at the Eva Braun quote, above...)

Interesting how you felt you had to point out the 'from Alabama' thing in your post.

So, to give you another perspective, I'm from Cambridge, MA. I also find Ann brilliant, funny and entertaining. I expect probably as much as you would find John Stewart entertaining (whereas, excepting rare occasion, I find him mostly tedious, a pretentious kid mimicking eating at the big boy's table and mocking those who actually do).

Why is it that when liberals (moderate or not) give an example of a type contra their opponent, they always pick the weakest? How about a few other lines:

"What liberals mean by "goose-stepping" or "ethnic cleansing" is generally something along the lines of "eliminating taxpayer funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. But they can't say that, or people would realize they're crazy. So instead they accuse Republicans of speaking in 'code words.'"

"There is no surer proof of a Republican mediocrity than the media's respect."

"Dennis Kucinich did his tax return this week, and under "occupation" he wrote "Jay Leno punch line."

"Being anti-war in Hollywood was an act of bravery on the order of the keynote speaker at a PLO dinner making jokes about Ariel Sharon."

I could go on...

Olga said...

I concur about Jon Stewart. As a publisher of satirical fiction, I find it endlessly irritating that The Daily Show is what passes for satire in today's culture (people, please, parody is NOT satire, it's a horse of a completely different color!), and I find Stewart himself smug and neurotic. He has an occasional sharp zinger, but those are few and far between, and I can't shake off the feeling that he wants to be considered a major wit for the ages, the Mark Twain of our generation, while he is but a fairly mediocre whippersnapper. I was nauseated that he gave Goldberg's 100 People so much air time and such serious consideration, while not letting Christopher Hitchens slip in a word edgewise. I think the explanation for that may be that he's not in the least intellectually threatened by Goldberg -- and why would anyone be? -- but Hitchens, with his reputation, talent, and flair, is exactly what Stewart wishes he was/had and knows he falls short.

My husband watches the TiVo'd Daily Show quietly on his headphones so as not to provoke a tirade from me.

That's why I'm an independent :) Mention either Ann Coulter or Jon Stewart, and I'll go on a rant.

Anonymous brings up some clever Coulter lines, but I'd view her differently if she were a comedian rather than a political commentator with an occasional claim to being also a historian and a journalist.

Who said anything about Alabama?

Cathy Young said...

anonymous, I think you are much too quick to discern nefarious motives everywhere. You've obviously pegged me as a "liberal" (which would come as a surprise to many people), so if I mention that a silly email I got came from Alabama, it must be because I'm making fun of those rednecks down South, right? Wrong. Location is quite commonly used as an identifier for letter-writers. I would have mentioned Cambridge, Mass. just as readily.

As for your defense of Coulter: to be honest, of the lines you quoted, the only one I find remotely funny is the Dennis Kucinich one. The "PLO dinner/jokes about Ariel Sharon" is much too common a rhetorical trope, and the other two lines depend entirely too much on the audience's agreement with the speaker's viewpoint.

A truly "brilliant and funny" political satirist can make you appreciate his or her wit even when you disagree. That's true, for instance, of Florence King, or Christopher Hitchens. Or H. L. Mencken. Coulter doesn't even come close.

And by the way, I am not a fan of Jon Stewart, either.

Anonymous said...

I, also, feel that much of Coulter humor depends on agreeing with her view point. In my mind (and I should preface that I am not implying moral equivalency or saying that Coulter lovers are rascists or any of that tripe), her humor is like black-face type humor was in the 30's. To find black-face funny, you had to accept all these stereotypes about black people as being basically valid. To find Coulter funny, you have to accept all of these stereotypes of liberals as being basically valid. As with any stereotype, you are going to find a very small number of individuals that fit the mold. However, with most people who get lumped into that group, the stereotype doesn't fit. So, basically, unless you confine yourself to the very insular mindset that Coulter and others like her share, not only will you not find her funny, you'll view much of what she says as being simply rude and insulting.

angry young man said...

I agree with Dave: conservatives watch Coulter because she's the closest thing they have to hot, despite her horsey face, when compared to church ladies like Miers, Schlafley, heartless grandmothers like Barbara, and Stepford Wives like Laura. For similar reasons Bush put Jenna and Barbara on display during the convention, even the first is obviously a moron and the second just plain weasel mean.

As for blonde hair, it's noted in the book Freakonomics that blonde hair is valued as much as a college degree when it eliciting response to online personal ads.

colagirl said...

I read several of Ann Coulter's columns a while back, and IIRC, they left me wondering if she was actually mentally disturbed.

Not because of the content, but because it seemed as if her columns revealed a disorganization in her thought patterns. She would put sentences next to each other that did not flow logically, would make sudden and drastic shifts in subject matter without rhyme or reason, and basically left me wondering if she had composed them in an altered state of consciousness. I recall a couple of people I knew a while back speculating half-seriously if she was a crystal meth addict (apparently she fits the profile); *shrug* It's as good an explanation as any.

Apparently she appeals to some people. I guess I'm not one of them.

(Oh, and I agree she's not particularly attractive--she always looks kinda skanky to me actually. Not gonna speculate if she's a natural blonde....)

Helian said...

>>”Bernie Goldberg, actually, leaves me fairly indifferent. I was simply amused by his blatant partisanship in selection the Goldberg 100, and by his evolution from liberal media gadfly to conservative media darling.”

>>”I think Coulter is the epitome of what has become the bane of political discourse in America: the tendency to demonize one's opponents, to treat them a priori as either idiots or scoundrels, to substitute ridicule, sarcasm, insults, and bile for even a pretense at reasoned argument.”

Are you aware you’re contradicting yourself here? First you dismiss Bernie Goldberg with ridicule and sarcasm, and then declare ridicule and sarcasm the bane of political discourse in America. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. Why, exactly, is it amusing that Goldberg would be “blatantly partisan” in his selection of the 100. He makes no secret of where he stands politically. Should he have carefully chosen 50 from the right and 50 from the left, even if he thought the 50 on the right weren’t really “screwing up the country,” just to convince people like you that he isn’t “biased.” You’ve missed the point. Using your logic, all of us would have to alternately vote Republican or Democrat every other election so we couldn’t be accused of bias. We would have to sleep with a man one night and a woman the next to avoid any suspicion of “bias” in our sexual preferences. If you had actually read Goldberg’s “Bias” you would know that he certainly doesn’t suggest that having a particular world view is evil, and he makes no secret of his own world view. His problem was with a mass media that claimed objectivity, balance and fairness, but was anything but objective, balanced and fair. His problem was with journalists, the most cynical class in the world when it come to judging the motives of others, who claimed they were themselves perfectly objective, uninfluenced by their personal political views, absolutely balanced and pure in reporting the news. His point was that these people, who claim to be objective in their reporting of the news, were, in fact, anything but objective, but refused to admit it. What can I say but, “join the club?” I haven’t seen a single attempt by anyone in the media or on the left to answer Goldberg’s arguments with, as you put it, reasoned discourse. I’ve seen lots of ridicule, lots of pious hand waving, lots grasping at anecdotal straws, but never anything that would rise to the level of a serious attempt to refute the charge of leftist bias in the media. Where has there been any attempt to quantitatively analyze the content of the news, using some pretense of scientific and statistical methods to detect bias. I have seen nothing of the sort that supports the media’s bogus claims to “objectivity.”

Your dismissal of Coulter doesn’t exactly smack of “reasoned discourse” either, or would you claim that calling someone a “hatemonger” doesn’t amount to demonizing them. You might reasonably argue that it’s OK to demonize people who demonize others, but I haven’t seen that argument in any of your postings.

In a word, if you’re going to strike pious poses on your blog, at least make some pretense of practicing what you preach.

Cathy Young said...

helian: if you want to see my arguments regarding Goldberg and Coulter, may I suggest you read the columns I linked in my post?

You defend Goldberg's partisan selection of the "100 people who are screwing up America" on the grounds that "he makes no secret of where he stands politically." But in fact, Goldberg has repeatedly emphasized that he is (or, for a long time, has been) a Democrat, and in his book he presents himself as a non-ideological champion of the common person. If he wants to excoriate liberals, fine. But when Goldberg denounces people who demonize and insult their political opponents and then leaves Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity off his list, that's a blatant double standard.

Incidentally, not only have I read Bias, I even wrote a fairly positive piece about it.

LTEC said...

Although all your criticisms of Coulter are valid, I think it is wrong to compare her to Michael Moore. Coulter does not (I believe) support dictators and terrorists, and Moore does.

If you want to find someone on the left who corresponds to Coulter, try John Kerry, who complained about "Benedict Arnold CEOs". Try Al ("digital brownshirts") Gore. Try all those democrats who call "racist" anyone who opposes affirmative action or hate crime legislation. How about that Newsday reporter who compared the republican convention to a Hitler rally? The list goes on.

Coulter is an idiot, but she is on our side. Michael Moore is not.

Cathy Young said...

Personally, I'd rather not have idiots in my camp...

Anonymous said...

Comparing Jon Stewart to Ann Coulter is silly.

There's a fairly recently evolved spectrum, along which political commentators fall between "entertainment" and "substantive". Limbaugh was maybe the first influential voice somewhere off the poles. Then came Hannity, Bill Maher, the Daily Show, Coulter, Savage, Franken and the like.
Coulter pretends to be entirely substantive, but spends so much time mugging that it's clear she doesn't believe it herself. Stewart makes no bones about being a comedian first.

beAzl said...

Ann Coulter has done well for herself. She has carved out a niche, selling stinging conservative books to devoted fans, getting many TV appearances, doing the college circuit, complete with pie for dessert. She seems to enjoy what she’s doing. I’m truly happy for her.

She’s also done well for those suffering the oppression of being labeled a sweet dumb blond. She’s blowing that stereotype out of the water. Good for her.

Another clear beneficiary must be the editorial staff of “The Book of Insults and Irreverent Quotations”. Coulter’s zingers are inspired. Writing of one liberal Republican senator from Rhode Island:

“This man is literally too stupid to know he's a Democrat. If [the liberal Republican senator from Rhode Island] hadn't inherited hundreds of millions of dollars, he would be living in a shack tending weeds.”

Yes, this makes me chuckle. She should patent this. The problem is, it’s not a fair fight. Should the senator shoot back with the kind of response this deserves, it would seem unbecoming, petty, thin skinned. He would be thrown out of office by voters embarrassed by him engaging in bar room brawls. So he must remain stoic, and Coulter’s insults go unanswered.

We can all admire Mike Tyson’s grace, power and skill as he pummels an 88 year old woman in a wheelchair. Maybe this woman is someone we don’t like, someone who forced her children to sleep in urine as a punishment for wetting their beds. Despite any cathartic pleasure in seeing her pummeled, deep down we recognize that she’s defenseless, and that Tyson’s energies would seem better spent elsewhere.

Ann Coulter should pick fights with people who would enjoy the thrill of composing similar ad hominine attacks right back at her. That would be guilt-free entertainment, and might even sell books.

In some parallel universe, where the 2000 election results were a perfect tie, fulminating in a bloody civil war between the Red States and the Blue States, I have little doubt that Ann Coulter would be an invaluable asset to the Red States. She would ridicule the leaders of the blue states, pointing out their speech impediments, their limps, their nasty drinking habits, their morally corrupt ways, all with her acerbic wit. She would whip up the soldiers into a frenzy, and send them off to war with a snap of her fingers.

But we are not in a civil war, and determining whether she is helping or hurting conservatives, and more generally Republicans, and even more generally America, is more difficult to determine. This is not to say that she should feel obliged to do anything to help these causes, if it would harm her book sales. But those of us (myself included) who want conservatism to succeed (the libertarian variety anyway) should think about the consequences of championing her.

Some battle advantages do carry over to the democratic arena. Being able to rally loyal troops to fan out and collect signatures and hold miniature rallies at the mall is important, as is the ability to inspire people to donate their money to the cause.

I don’t know whether Ann Coulter is able to raise more money for the Republicans with her rhetoric, or if she angers the left so much that her existence results in a liberal fund raising advantage. I suspect the latter, but I have no way of knowing.

But I am concerned that her biggest fan base may consist of pubescent, college-bound conservative boys who perhaps harbor a fetish to lie on the floor while leather-clad Ann whips them into submission. Telling these boys that liberals are treasonous idiots would make it easier for them to go off and bludgeon said liberals to death with a clear conscience, in the civil war universe I mentioned. But in our universe, they will go to college, where they might end up with a liberal roommate who is in the ROTC, and who dreams of going off and capturing bin Laden, regardless of the risks. Or this future conservative foot soldier might find that some (but not all) of these liberal idiots actually out score him in physics exams. How can this be? His world view crashing down on him, how can we blame him if he turns against everything Ann Coulter represents, and succumbs to the dark side by becoming a life-long Democrat?

LTEC said...

My point was not that we should defend Coulter or give her a pass simply because she does not support dictators or terrorists. My point was that however much we criticize her, we shouldn't pretend she is as bad as Michael Moore.

I say this not merely to be fair to Coulter, but because it is important to realize just how bad the Moores of the world are. It is also important to be able to calibrate idiocy, both on the right and the left.

Helian said...

@Cathy:
“helian: if you want to see my arguments regarding Goldberg and Coulter, may I suggest you read the columns I linked in my post?”

I will be glad to. However, the point I made was that you condemned ridicule and sarcasm, and then used it yourself in the same post. What you wrote in those other articles is not relevant unless you want to add the caveat to your general rule that it’s OK to use sarcasm and ridicule once you have made an attempt at reasoned and objective analysis. Seems a little complicated to me, though, and it probably wouldn’t work in practice.

@Cathy:
“You defend Goldberg's partisan selection of the "100 people who are screwing up America" on the grounds that "he makes no secret of where he stands politically." But in fact, Goldberg has repeatedly emphasized that he is (or, for a long time, has been) a Democrat, and in his book he presents himself as a non-ideological champion of the common person.”

I didn’t defend Goldberg’s selection of his 100. I simply pointed out that it’s absurd to claim that his choices are evidence of “bias.” To avoid your charge of “bias,” Goldberg would have to do violence to his own convictions and choose people based on some kind of a poll conducted with a set of people chosen scientifically to preserve political neutrality. Why, exactly, would he want to avoid that kind of “bias.” He says up front in his book, “First, I didn’t take a poll. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but this is my list. There won’t be two people in the whole country who agree with every name in the book. ‘Why in the world did you put him on it?’ someone is going to yell at me. ‘How come you left her off the list?’ Because the people on it are the ones I think are screwing things up.” Prophetic words, no?

@Cathy
“If he wants to excoriate liberals, fine. But when Goldberg denounces people who demonize and insult their political opponents and then leaves Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity off his list, that's a blatant double standard.”

In fact it’s not a blatant double standard, because, as Goldberg clearly states in his book, his list was not chosen to “denounce people who demonize and insult their political opponents.” It was chosen based on his perception of who, exactly, is screwing up America. He groups those people into a number of broad categories, including, America bashers, Hollywood blowhards, schlockmeisters, rap music stars whose songs celebrate vulgarity and violence, “American jackal” lawyers, the chronically offended, racial enforcers, white collar thugs, sex warriors, and ivory tower academic radicals. I do not find “people who demonize and insult their political opponents” on his list, do you? What you are, essentially, doing is declaring that, because Goldberg gored your sacred ox, the media, he has, therefore, abdicated the right to ever again express a political opinion that you haven’t personally vetted for “fairness” and “balance.” I respectfully submit that that is not the case, and he has a perfect right to make his list conform to his own personal beliefs. Your claim that his list is not “balanced” and “fair” because he doesn’t happen to agree with you on who should be on the list is nonsense.

Olga said...

Itec said: "Coulter does not (I believe) support dictators and terrorists, and Moore does."

That's the difference? As much as I loathe Moore, I'm not aware of his actually doing anything in active support of dictators and terrorists that would substantially help their work. (I'm not saying he never did, just that I'm not aware of it.) Unless, of course, you mean that he does it by spreading lies in his documentaries and using manipulative, out-of-context Film Editing 101 that makes the Bush administration look bad. Which would boil down to ye olde, tirede "Speak no evil of your government or the terrorists have won."

It's not unreasonable to compare Coulter to Moore on the grounds that both are narcissists who will say anything to remain the center of attention and appear to be incapable of experiencing any shame or taking any responsibility for their outlandish pronouncements. That would make them intellectual twins. Perhaps not necessarily identical twins. They don't have to be twins in every respect to be comparable.

As for comparing Coulter to Stewart, I don't know if it's the same Anonymous who first brought up Stewart that now says it's silly, but while I agree that Stewart would be the first one to tell you that he's a comedian, while Coulter lays claims to serious punditry, try to explain to the millions of The Daily Show fans who get all their political information from the show that it's only a joke. There are literally millions of people out there to whom Stewart is the new Cronkite, and whatever he says is "the way it is." What Stewart and Coulter have in common though is their visibly strenuous efforts to be taken seriously as intellectuals and major wits of our generation. And it's kind of sad to watch them both about to pop a vein.

LTEC said...

Olga:

Moore has supported terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq and in Israel in very unambiguous terms. It is clear what side he is on in these conflicts. However, as far as I know his support has only been with words. Does this "substantially help their work"? I don't know, but in any case it is (and should be) legal.

Evidence:
Look in "Stupid White Men" to see why the US deserved to be attacked. Search Moore's web site to see if he supports Israel or her enemies. But his most famous quote is:
"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."

I don't think Coulter could be this awful if she tried.

Anonymous said...

Itec,

Really?!

Coulter said, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity"

I am sorry, but she is just as bad as Moore! She gave the jihadists a great big propaganda present with a smile and a twinkle in her eyes! The reason you can't see that is that you agree with much of her perspective.

z

Cathy Young said...

z -- I agree. Coulter's "kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" comment has certainly given a lot of ammunition to "the other side." And there are way too many other things she has said that make it easy to caricature conservatives as heartless neanderthals.

Beazl: Good point, too, about how a Coulter-reared conservative may experience a nasty bout of cognitive dissonance once he meets some liberals who don't fit the stereotype.

Helian: I'm not at home right now, and hence not in possession of the Goldberg book. But he does in fact castigate, at some length, people who debase political discourse by demonizing their opponents, calling them names, etc. All his examples are from the left. Then he says "well, occasionally the right does it too" and uses Michael Savage as an example. And he specifically exempts Ann Coulter from the same charge because, you see, when she calls people "pond scum," she does it "with a twinkle in her eye."

Finally, I certainly think that irony and ridicule have their place in political commentary. But when those are your primary weapons, and when you're as extreme about it as Coulter, something is wrong.

Helian said...

@Cathy

"Finally, I certainly think that irony and ridicule have their place in political commentary."

I agree, and since I am certainly not without sin in that respect myself I hereby end my sermon. Thanks for your replies.

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