kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I am envious of Ann Coulter

Imagine you turn on your television, to the "mainstream media," and you hear the following exchange.

. . . . and now your host, Spudnuts O'Flapjaw:

Intro: Tonight's guest is the reigning princess of insight and wisdom on the left part of the American spectrum, Ms. Droolia McNopants.

SO: Droolia, I understand there are a number of rightwing websites that have targeted you for violence, including rape fantasies; is this true?

DM: Absolutely, Spud.

SO: Well, we're not going to identify these sites for our viewers; we don't want to give them the satisfaction.

DM: But I love the publicity, Spud; it makes my books sell millions more copies!

SO: What else do these sites say?

DM: They say a number of things that are simply insults, because they are unable to formulate a coherent argument. They want a Christian theocracy, they want to kill anyone who voted against George W. Bush (which they identify with treason); they want to eliminate the teaching of biology, and they want everyone with dark skins to die.

SO: Those are some strong claims, Droolia. Why do they hate us so?

DM: They are funded by a number of people with a political agenda that hates freedom of speech, hates the Constitution, hates minorities--religious or ethnic--and hates women. All these people who hold these views are hating haters and Nazis, and instead of constructing solid arguments based on evidence, they have to resort to name-calling, because they are Nazi traitors.

etc., etc., etc..

Last week (12.01.05) I was waiting for a ride, and turned on Fox, whereupon I received remarkably similar insights from a conversation between Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter.

I will recognize, up front, that more than enough has been written and said about Ms. Coulter; I keep waiting for her Warholian 15 minutes of fame to be over. On the other hand . . . .

I have pretty low expectations for Fox, only slightly lower than I have for CNN (identified by O'Reilly as "leftist") and MSNBC (which O'Reilly assures his viewers that "no one watches"). He may be right about the latter, although I watch it; identifying Lou Dobbs and Anderson Cooper as "leftist"--presumably Dobbs is the dialectical materialist, promoting state seizure of all private property, while Cooper is more of an anarcho-syndicalist, frequently shouting out "One Big Union!"--seems a bit of a stretch. Of course, on Fox, "the left" refers to, well anyone who disagrees with George Bush (except those who don't think him sufficiently conservative): thus on the Fox taxonomy, Joe Lieberman, Jack Murtha, Nancy Pelosi, Noam Chomsky, Stalin, Proudhon, Joe Biden, and Che all share the same basic ideology.

Here were the insights I gleaned from this extremely popular show: the members of the ACLU are "Nazi block-watchers"; no conservative can visit a college campus without hiring security; any liberal can so visit, but Ms. Coulter would "like to change that"; the differences between Ms. Coulter and Cindy Sheehan are a) one has written four #1 best-sellers and b) one has never said "America is not worth defending"; liberals cannot formulate an argument; feminists are torn over the many violent rape (if that isn't redundant) fantasies about Ms. Coulter that abound on the Internet, in that they generally object to rape but also generally object to Ms. Coulter.

This was an experience after which one needs mental floss.

The web is full of things about Ann Coulter, both for and against. Because the websites being discussed weren't identified, O'Reilly and Coulter could attribute virtually any claim to them without fear of being contradicted by, say, evidence. (Indeed, the claims become untestable and unfalsifiable--and thus useless--in that they can always say "You didn't find the website to which I was referring.")

So I looked for a good long time. Most--actually, all--the fantasies I ran into involved either consensual sex or the sex being Coulter's idea. Perhaps these rape fantasies are out there, but rape is such a violent and degrading act, I would think one should be careful using it in an accusation. (Although Ms. Coulter's exegesis of (presumably) Genesis takes it to say that
God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it! It's yours." [Hannity & Colmes, June 20, 2001]
Maybe she throws this word around with the abandon she does with "treason"?)

The worst, most vulgar, and funniest, I read was this one:

I can't even type the site's name here but this is the link.

I actually think it is a bad idea to "pie" a speaker (although I can't object to making "pie" a verb; as Calvin [of Calvin and Hobbes] says, "verbing weirds words"), and I also object to "shouting down" speakers. I'm an old-fashioned "let a thousand flowers bloom, the truth will out" kinda guy (you know, the kinda guy that combines Mao and St. Paul).

In any case, if you wish to see specific and detailed objections to Ms. Coulter--whether style, content, or both--try these.

Columbia Journalism Review

The Late Spinsanity

The inimitable Scoobie

Ms. Coulter eschews name-calling, is profoundly adept at research, and, being almost unique among her generation for being able to construct coherent arguments, she thus serves as a paradigmatic and indispensable counterpoint to the left, which cannot construct such arguments, refuses to deal with facts, and thus has to resort to name-calling.

That's her take, at least. Personally, I think that calling the ACLU "Nazi block-watchers" and calling those who oppose the war in Iraq "gutless traitors" qualifies as name-calling. Personally, I think having larded up one's book with footnotes on the basis of what appears to be a highly-selective use of Lexis-Nexis doesn't qualify as "research." Personally, I can think of dozens of people who would qualify (for me, not on the spacious--albeit specious--account of the "left" provided by O'Reilly, which includes the AARP, CNN, the ACLU, and perhaps any other organization referred to by its initials except the NRA and the KKK) as being able to provide remarkably clear, well-constructed, powerful arguments. Starting with Marx (now he's on the left).

I also don't think it qualifies as part of the construction of a good argument to identify George Soros and all websites critical of the Bush II administration and all people posting at various sites on those websites as holding views in common, and thus being intellectually responsible for what any member of such a set puts forth. Yet she (and O'Reilly) does this constantly, by referring to "them" and "they," without ever distinguishing whether the particular view to which she objects belongs to, say, Soros or Move.On or a blogger or some knucklehead in Omaha harboring fantasies about her underwear.

I spent well over a year at her own chatroom, which is populated by a wide variety of people, including a number of posters who were both brighter and better-informed than their heroine herself. Can I ask her to be responsible for the views posted there, by referring to "them"? Some of the not-so-bright posters at Ann.Coulter.org have suggested that Muslim males be prohibited from traveling for a year; some have made death threats against (or wished for the death of) any number of Democrats (as well as against me); a few have even spoken of their desire for the death of all Muslims.

If I were to adopt Coulter logic:

How can they be in favor of genocide, and claim to be Christians?

Ms. Coulter says she loves to engage in repartée with those "stupider than she is" (quoted in the above story about her recent talk being interrupted). I have no doubt about that; who doesn't? The real question is what happens when she engages someone who is smarter than she is. Such people aren't hard to find, and thus such exchanges aren't difficult to arrange: but, evidently, they don't make good television. The rare times I have seen her talking with someone who wasn't simply adopting her approach of smarmy one-liners and invective, or a cheerleader (as is Sean Hannity), she becomes flustered and quickly gets off her game.

I would pay to see her debate constitutional interpretation with Laurence Tribe. Or the role of government with Mario Cuomo. I'd even bring the paper towels with which to clean her up off the floor afterwards.

The obvious question that remains is this: why am I envious of her?

Because she can't work very hard--too much of the stuff she says must simply be made up, but isn't the kind of fiction that takes a lot of work (in contrast to, say, Banks or Roth or Morrison)--but she makes scads of dough and seems to have a lot of fun.

My Dad is convinced (and has some good reasons for thinking) that Rush Limbaugh doesn't believe half of what he says. Perhaps the same is true for La Coultera; she has a shtick, similar to El Rushbo's, of saying outrageous, indefensible (and frequently false or unfalsifiable) things, yet doing so in a humorous manner (accompanied by the basic attitude of "I can't believe anyone would be so benighted or evil to consider disagreeing with me!").

Thus she has gotten rich and famous for articulating half-baked and potentially pernicious ideas, and selling them to people who are happy to have their meanest thoughts confirmed.

Wouldn't you be envious if you had pulled off such a scam?

The obvious topic to pursue is whether or not any of her professors at Cornell recommend Richard Hofstadter's works to Ms. Coulter (e.g. The Paranoid Style in American Politics, or Anti-Intellectualism in American Life), following that up with a bit of Santayana's wisdom, or Nietzsche's, or Marx's: for, after all, history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.


Blogger Bazarov said...

Making money off of idiots...what a racket indeed. If i didn't have a conscience, i would like to see how well this little scheme i've been thinking up would work. Perhaps if i get desperate enough and am in need of money i will do it...or perhaps i could do it and give the proceeds to a charity.

Here's the scam...
Get a five dollar curtain from Wal-Mart or Meijer's. Next, make a stenciled image of Jesus...or Jim Morrison, either will work. Now, put this stencil ontop of the curtain and light up a Propane torch and scorch the template and underlying curtain. Remove the stencil and Waalaa! You got yourself a religious relic. Now all you gotta do is some random burnings here and there to make it not so obvious. Go onto e-bay with a heart wrenching story about how your home was burned down and all the adopted children you had taken in from mothers who were gonna have them aborted died in the fire. Say that you were about to kill yourself after having given up on God because no loving God would allow such a travesty to occur. But! Just as you were standing on the chair with a rope around your neck you happened to notice the curtain and the image of Jesus looking at you (weeping of course). You had an epiphany that moment...sell the relic and rebuild the shelter for children of mothers who wanted them aborted.
Now, i don't think i'd make as much as Anne has off of sputtering nonsense and whatnot, but i don't think i'd have to worry about where my next meal was gonna come from. What do you think?

1:05 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:41 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

Lisa: I'd like to buy your curtain.


4:42 PM  
Blogger Bobcat said...

First, very entertaining post Dr. kmosser. But...

Why does Ann Coulter make so much money? Is she lazy and does she just make things up? Does she believe what she says? I don't know the answer to these questions, except for the second to last one: yes, she makes things up.

The question that most interests me, though, is the first one. I think, though you may not agree, that she is a quite talented writer. On the rare occasions I read her columns, I almost always like them. This is in great contrast to almost anyone else who writes columns, even those who are close to me politically, like John Tierney. I think she's just plain good at writing columns as well as being an engaging guest. She has a knack for memorable turns of phrase and really making conservatives feel as though the world is against them. Similarly, I think Rush Limbaugh is an amazing talk radio host, clearly the best today (see the David Foster Wallace essay about talk radio for The Atlantic).

Yes, I think Coulter is a liar; yes, I think America would be better off if she didn't publicly opine. But despite all that, I find her immensely entertaining, as do millions of others, and I don't think that's because we're all dumb jerks.

(Note: I don't mean to imply that you think anyone who enjoys Coulter's work is a jerk, but it did look as though you don't think she's particularly talented, and that all her fame and money is undeserved. To borrow a phrase from O'Reilly, Am I wrong?)

9:51 AM  
Blogger kmosser said...

I should have made it clearer that I do think she is entertaining; given that I read her on a regular basis--although I've quit listening to Limbaugh, who has become too bombastic, he was in his prime remarkable at what he did--and that I mentioned that some of her fans are brighter and better informed than she is, it should probably be seen as implicitly following that her fans are not necessarily part of Mencken's "booboisie," nor that she can't write.

That sentence was too long.

In any case, it isn't that she fails to entertain; I just wonder how responsible one should be for coarsening the civic discourse and saying unsupportable--and on occasion immoral--things.

Hence there is an interesting question about one's fame and wealth being deserved. Hmmm. Compared to Jack Nicholson? Tiger Woods? Keanu Reeves? Martha Stewart? George Soros? Bill O'Reilly?

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