Untimely Observations

The Trouble With Ann


I find myself ambivalent about an issue that perhaps should concern me more than it does. The FOX-news contributor and Republican controversialist Ann Coulter was kept from speaking at the University of Ottawa by protesting leftist students. She had been warned before her trip by the university's provost, Francois Houle, that "freedom of speech is defined differently in Canada from the way it is in your country." Houle was referring to the fact that Canada and especially the province of Ontario, where Coulter would be speaking, has a complicated speech and publication code criminalizing politically incorrect language. 

Richard Spencer seems as smitten with the tall blonde lady as was the late Sam Francis. I'm afraid I can't second their affections.

Saying something negative about a gay or a Muslim in Canada can land one in jail or at the very least render one subject to steep fines. The Canadian situation is exactly what some of my academic colleagues would like to see instituted in this country. It already exists in such progressive places as England, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, and Belgium. And to refer to these illiberal practices as a slippery slope leading to totalitarianism would be an understatement. Such speech, and by implication thought, codes are the Western equivalent of the Soviet dictatorship, which the Eastern Europeans were fortunate enough to have overthrown. The "democracies" may not be so lucky.

But in the case of Anne Coulter, this is all show. She is a Republican fixture who goes around slamming Democrats, and as soon as her nasty comments generate negative reactions, FOX and National Review go into high gear telling us how badly the Democrats or the Left have treated her. Certainly nothing detrimental has happened to Ann because of her snub in Ottawa. She has been able to parley the incident into additional guest appearances, in which she has gone back to badmouthing the Democratic opposition.

Needless to say, she's not the only partisan playing this game. The Dems have plenty of them, including Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and, whether or not he's a U.S. Senator, Al Franken. What all of these personalities do for a living is go after the other party in the two-party oligarchy that organizes American politics. The political shock jocks get people roaring mad about contests that otherwise would put most of us to sleep.

The last presidential election was the exception to the rule, although no matter which presidential candidate won in 2008, our national politics would likely have moved leftwards. Although Obama stood more clearly on the left, McCain brought a very mixed record on most social issues, and he even voted for one bailout (with a Republican president). The national health care issue has allowed the GOP to put some distance between itself and the Dems, but without that issue the political debate would have come down to shouting about which side is fighting more vigorously the War against Terror or standing up more firmly against Iran.

In what is usually a tiresome partisan environment, the political shock jocks are offering a bit of entertainment. But they also distort or exaggerate what is taking place. They turn everyday politics and partisan maneuvering into a battle of Good against Evil; and they foster the illusion that differences between the sides are far more dramatic than they actually are. They also prevent real change, at least on the right (which is where I'm coming from) by engaging in empty nam-calling and by grandstanding about the yawning gulf between the Red Team and the Blue.

In this country "conservatives" like Ann Coulter should be setting forth alternatives to the political status quo, which both parties have worked to create and perpetuate. Serious debate from the Right would begin by noticing the shared blame of the two parties that monopolize our electoral system, and not by assigning white hats to one party and black hats to the other. Attacking Democrats as "atheists," as Coulter does in a recent best-seller, or demonizing their personal lives does not advance real political discussion. But getting rebuffed by a Canadian university should add to her personal fortune by exciting her fan base into buying more of her anti-Democratic diatribes.