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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why Ann Coulter matters

(updated below)

Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds accuses me today of "degrad(ing) the blogosphere" because I wrote a post at Crooks & Liars observing that Reynolds had done nothing to denounce the violence-advocating and epithet-spewing remarks of Ann Coulter at last week’s highly prestigious Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and I encouraged C&L readers to e-mail Reynolds and ask why this was. As I documented here, the CPAC is one of the most important Republican events of the year, and its invited speakers along with Coulter included Dick Cheney, Ken Mehlman, Bill Frist, Newt Gingrich and Reynolds himself.

As I explained in the C&L post, my belief that Reynolds has an obligation to either denounce or defend Coulter’s comments is largely based on the fact that Reynolds routinely lectures Democrats on what he claims is their obligation to denounce "extremists on the Left" – even when the extremists in question are totally fringe and inconsequential figures who have nothing to do with Democrats, and – unlike Coulter here – don’t have huge throngs of followers and aren’t invited to be the featured speaker at the most important political events of the year. I specifically cited this post from Reynolds self-righteously taking Democrats to task for their grave moral failure in remaining silent about that oh-so-significant, long-standing icon of the Democratic Party, Ward Churchill.

In that regard, compare Reynolds’ Churchill sermon to Democrats ("I keep hearing that there's a silent majority on the Left that doesn't agree with these things. I keep waiting for it to stop being silent."), with Reynolds’ excuse for his silence about Coulter from his post today ("I tend mostly to ignore Coulter."). Isn’t that the very definition of a double standard?

Republicans have been playing this game for years. They wildly inflate the importance of fringe, extremist figures and then -- every time one of those individuals makes an intemperate remark or comment that can be wrenched out-of-context and depicted as some sort of demented evil -- they demand that Democrats ritualistically parade before the cameras and either condemn those individuals or be branded as someone who is insufficiently willing to stand up to the extremists "in their party."

If that’s the game that is going to be played - and we’ve been playing exactly that tired, corrupt game for several years now – it ought to at least be two-sided.

Unlike, say, Ward Churchill, Ann Coulter is not some fringe, obscure figure for the right-wing crowd. To the contrary, she is one of the most popular and influential pro-Bush speakers around, which is exactly why she was invited to be one of the featured speakers at one of the most significant conservative events of the year. And Glenn Reynolds, just like Coulter, was also an invited speaker at this event.

So, Coulter isn’t just the leader of a substantial faction in Reynolds’ political party (although she is that), but they also have the nexus of both being invited speakers at the same event. Put simply, Coulter’s importance is infinitely greater than Ward Churchill’s (or Harry Belafonte's or Barbra Streisand's or any other left-wing bogeyman), and Reynolds’ connection to Coulter is far more substantial than all of those Democrats who never even heard of Churchill before and yet, according to the sermonizing Reynolds, nonetheless somehow had a compelling obligation to denounce him.

The comments Coulter made during her speech were reprehensible in the extreme. And those comments prompted not condemnation from the audience but its opposite -- what one observer described as a "boisterous ovation." Certainly under the denuncation standards that have been applied to Democrats for years, every attendee at that event, and anyone pledging featly to the "conservative" cause, has an obligation to say what their views are of Coulter generally and to address specifically why she was invited to be a featured speaker and why she plays such a prominent role, and commands such popularity, in the Bush movement. Although her comments were extreme, they are neither new nor surprising, as she has a long and documented history of urging violence against her political opponents and making comments quite similar to those she made at the CPAC.

I wrote my post urging that Reynolds be asked about his conspicuous silence concerning Coulter only once: (a) several days elapsed after Coulter’s speech and Reynolds said nothing to condemn it, and (b) I began receiving e-mails pointing to posts written by Reynolds where he piously demanded that Democrats not remain "silent" in the face of intemperate remarks by far less important figures than Coulter.

Republicans have spent the last five years courting the most extreme and radical elements of their party, while the media allows them to present a mainstream and moderate face to the public. While we were given John McCain, Rudy Guliani, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the prime-time speakers at the GOP Convention, Republicans cowtow in the dark to figures like James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Coulter. It is time that they either embrace those alliances in the open or repudiate them.

And oh, just incidentally, if you are a person who finds Coulter’s remarks reprehensible and believe that they ought to be condemned by decent people, guess what that makes you, according to Reynolds? That's right - a "lefty" ("SO I GET HOME AND FIND MY INBOX full of complaints from lefties that I've been "silent" about Ann Coulter's remarks on Friday" and "The lefties seem mostly upset about her use of the term "raghead").

Now, having said all of that, Reynolds’ condemnation of Coulter, once he was finally prodded into making it, is quite potent and clear. He says that Coulter inflames the divide between Muslims and the West and therefore, because winning hearts and minds is our most important objective in the war on terrorism, Coulter is "objectively pro-terrorist." I can’t quibble with that.

But that leads to a rather glaring question, which is this: why is someone so extreme, hateful, and destructive so wildly popular among Bush followers; why is she continuously treated as a respectable and important figure among "conservatives"; and why have so few of the prominent Republicans who participated at the CPAC not condemned her, ever? If one is a supporter of Bush, as Reynolds is, aren't those rather pressing questions?

UPDATE: Joe at Dartblog has this long, impassioned defense of Instapundit along with an ostensible reply to this post (which Instapundit promptly links to without replying to this post himself), and what's so amazing about Joe's post is that he comprehensively covers every single aspect of this issue except for the only two points I made:

(1) I did not argue that Reynolds has an obligation to denounce Coulter's comments on the ground that I think that everyone in the world has the obligation to jump up and denounce every repugnant comment. I argued that Reynolds has this obligation here because Reynolds himself has previously argued for that standard and applied it to Democrats -- by, for instance, condemning Democrats who failed to denounce the super-significant, iconic "Democrat" Ward Churchill.

Thus, with regards to Reynolds, I'm not arguing for a standard that imposes an obligation on everyone to denounce offensive comments. I'm arguing that Reynolds has that obligation himself because he imposes this obligation on others. I think that point was very clearly expressed in the post, but please - anyone else who wants to defend Instapundit here, recognize and address that point, since it's the whole point of the post.

(2) If people want to argue, as Joe did, that Coulter is just some fringe, irrelevant figure whom Republicans detest, then it really is incumbent on them to explain why millions of Bush followers buy her books, why they cheer on her hateful, violence-advocating rants, why she is one of the most featured pro-Bush pundits on Fox, and why she is one of the featured speakers at the most important conservative event of the year. Coulter has a vast and enthusiastic following among Bush followers and is treated accordingly. If she's "objectively pro-terrorist," as Reynolds claim, shouldn't this not be the case?

UPDATE II: Contrary to Reynolds' claim that he "tend(s) mostly to ignore Coulter," and contrary to his defenders' insistence in the Comments section that he has a long and clear history of denouncing her, what he actually has -- as this Comment from Y.G. Brown demonstrates -- is a pattern of linking to Coulter and/or promoting her latest ventures, such as her blog. So, here we have someone promoting and linking to the ideas of a reprehensible hate-monger, who simultaneously lectures Democrats about how they are morally shameful for failing to denounce obscure, irrelevant extremists.

This is a real microcosm of the game many Bush followers have been playing for a long time -- singling out irrelevant, supposedly "leftist" extremists and demanding that Democrats attack them, while tacitly endorsing and forming alliances with their own far more influential and significant extremists. As these facts demonstrate, Reynolds is a perfect illustration of that one-sided game, but it's quite pervasive.

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