October 18, 2007
Over-clamor over Coulter’s comments
Almost a decade ago, James Gleick observed that "the acceleration of just about everything" was going to have less than sanguine impacts on how the traditional news cycle filters events. What used to take weeks now takes days or hours. It's been less than a week since Ann Coulter made her unfortunate remarks to Donny Deutsch on CNBC's "The Big Idea," but the frantic back and forth of blogging, e-mailing, and TV commentary has already somewhat died down. Certainly the din has stilled sufficiently that a few observations can be safely made.|
The online release of the video -- mere hours after the event but well after pundits had already pecked out odes to their own indignation -- mostly confirmed that Deutsch is either overly enamored with taking offense or that he is the single most obtuse human being on cable news. Personally we're leaning toward the former, if only because that field is already so crowded.
The video makes clear that Coulter -- at worst -- was doing the rhetorical equivalent of an exasperated eye roll. She had made an off-handed comment about Christianity. Deutsch had gone into paroxysms so severe that he eventually ended up comparing her to "the head of Iran" who says "let's wipe Israel ..." Deutsch actually meant to compare her to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is very much not the head of Iran, but what's a little ignorance when one is fully engaged in the moral exhibitionism of feigned outrage? Coulter did the only thing that anyone can do when confronted by hysterics grounded in willful misinterpretation -- she sarcastically congratulated Deutsch on cracking her plan and invited him to church so she could convert him.
The left-wing Media Matters site had the transcript online in admirable time. The blurb on their press release jumped from Coulter's humorous description of New York as heaven to her sarcastic concession to Deutsch that he had figured out her plot. In a neat example of plausible deniability, Coulter's repeated attempts to explain that "perfected" has a very precise New Testament meaning were left out of the blurb but kept in the fuller transcript. Coulter -- desperately trying to genuinely explain her beliefs -- had quickly unpacked "perfected" as theological shorthand for saying that Christians believe that they achieve salvation by believing in Jesus, while Jews have to do it by obeying the Commandments of the Old Testament. In addition to being an admirable attempt to soothe unintentional offense, this explanation also had the upshot of being obviously true.
The National Jewish Democratic Council outdid even Media Matters with their sound bite: "While Ann Coulter has freedom of speech, news outlets should exercise their freedom to use better judgment." That's funny, because we were saying the same thing about Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia not a month ago -- and from what we remember, the left's response was that we were being un-American by denying a non-American his non-existent Constitutional rights. American citizen Ann Coulter is out of bounds, but Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial apparently contributes to public dialogue.
There are at least three other salient political and stylistic differences between Coulter and Ahmadinejad. The most important is that he's a genocidal anti-Semitic bigot committed to an apocalyptic Islamic eschatology and she's not any of those things.
The next is that she's a biting satirist, while we've always found his prose overworked and plodding.
And finally, Coulter believes that "Jews go to heaven." She explained that "Falwell himself said that, but you have to follow laws." In addition to raising the possibility that Christians really are endowed with extra patience -- we certainly couldn't stomach explaining the same trivial theological point to Deutsch over and over again -- we suggest that this represents a meaningful difference between her and Ahmadinejad.
Underneath this manufactured scandal is a genuine issue of religious and cultural sensibility. The attacks on Coulter combine the worst elements of pedantic liberal sophistication: the banality of multiculturalist tolerance, the humorlessness of scolding identity politics, and the blubbering of righteous indignation. It's the shallow beginning and the myopic end of the belief gap. Her liberal opponents take their own fashionable, spineless detachment from the world -- "believing too much in something is so unsophisticated." They follow it to its logical conclusion of vapid multiculturalism, where asserting passionate belief is an attack on some incredibly fragile Other -- "believing too much in something is intolerant." It's a tic with these people. "Tolerance" serves as everything from a catechistic defense mechanism to an empty catchphrase attached to anything liberals like (antonym: "neoconservative"). They can't help themselves.
This is bad for a country and bad for a religion. Its only result can be the pathetic oversensitivity of fragile insecurity, which in turn generates genuine intolerance. This point was made earlier this year by Rabbi Jacob Neusner. In the Forward, he insisted that people of good will must "meet head-on the points of substantial difference" between Christians and Jews. Of course Christians think that Jews are unperfected Christians. Of course Jews think that Christians are wayward Jews. How could that not be the case? And how can a person who's confident in their faith find that offensive?
Normally we'd write off Coulter's attackers as disingenuous leftists trying to even the score after Democratic military guru Wesley Clark blamed the Iraq war on "New York money people" and the left's anti-war base was repeatedly photographed carrying signs like "Nazi Kikes Out of Lebanon." But what we can't understand is why Jews are helping them compare Coulter to actual genocidal maniacs. Sure, it demeans Coulter for no reason -- and that should weigh on the consciences of good people. But it also elevates Ahmadinejad, turning him from a pathological, genocidal maniac into just another guest on just another insipid news program. It de facto brings him and his positions into the spectrum of public debate. And for that, Coulter's attackers on the left and their silent partners on the right should be ashamed of themselves.
Omri Ceren is not technically in love with Ann Coulter, but he would not decline sharing with her an evening of rowdy drinking. He is a doctoral student studying rhetoric at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog, Mere Rhetoric, focuses on American, Israeli and international controversies in the context of the global war against political Islam. It can be read at http://www.mererhetoric.com.