Coulter and Conservatism

If you’re wondering why only a small handful of prominent conservatives and Republicans have publicly criticized Ann Coulter, the answer is simple: Most of them agree with her, and the ones who don’t are still happy to have her on their side.

Coulter is what right-wingers are all about, you see. They are constantly attacking, rather like those genetically engineered super-soldiers you see in bad science fiction movies. Getting the basic facts right means nothing to them. No one seriously believes, for example, that Coulter’s arguments about evolution are the result of a detailed consideration of the basic facts of biology. It’s not as if she engaged in some sort of point-counterpoint situation, where she attempted to marshall the best arguments being made by both sides. Arguments are not her stock-in-trade. Talking points are. Indeed, book like Coulter’s do not exist to be read, considered, and learned from. They exist solely so that political chat shows will have an excuse to invite her on.


And the Republican party is fine with that. Careful logic and nuanced argumentation are foreign to them. Domestically they care about exactly three things: Cutting taxes for wealthy people, Dismantling the New Deal, and Persuading simple-minded people that they care about anything else. As a friend of mine put it to me recently, if the Republicans suddenly discovered that it was politically expedient to be pro-choice on abortion, they would not only change their party platform, they would fan out to the talk shows to explain that actually it’s the Democrats who were the pro-life party all along. (And the media would lap it up, but that’s a different post).

The thoughtless, knee-jerk reaction is, “The left does it do!” But they don’t. They’re not even close. If you go to the darkest corners of the blogosphere you might be able to find some obscure Marxist bomb-thrower who engages in Coulterian tactics. But those parts of the left that have any power within the Democratic party don’t do anything close to what Coulter does. Can you name any left-wing pundit who writes books in which virtually every major assertion is flatly false (which is par for the course for right-wing stars like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage,…)? Michael Moore? Nope. Aside from the fact that he’s perfectly happy to bash Democrats, the worst he can be accused of is slanting the evidence. Al Franken? Please. Point out even one major error of fact in any of his recent books.

Where do conservatives thrive? Think tanks, cable news, partisan media outlets, the Bible belt. Why do you think conservatives tend not to fare well in academe? Because academe is one of the few environments left in this country where knowing what you are talking about and making a sound argument actually count for something. Think about what college professors do to earn their positions. They spend years of their lives living in near-poverty, obsessively studying their discipline, just to get a credential (a PhD) that will give them a shot at having a career in the subject. Until they establish themselves in their career, they are constantly judged by people who know every nuance of the subjects in question. In that environment, superficiality, mindless talking points, and bad arguments are ruthlessly stamped out. And since most of the things Republicans defend nowadays fall into those categories, it is not surprising that they don’t survive.

But maybe you’re one of those smart conservatives I keep hearing about. The ones who don’t despise science, who do care about learning the facts about things before mouthing off, and who have actual principles that lead them to vote for Republicans. To them I say that you are a small minority within modern conservatism generally. You provide the same aid and comfort to the crazies that many moderate religious people provide for the fundamentalists. When you vote for Republicans you are supporting the Coulters and the Hannitys. It’s that simple.

And why is it that it is Coulter you see on television discussing biology, and not an actual bioloigist? Why is Coulter’s book a bestseller, while a book presenting the actual facts of biology would struggle to find a mainstream publisher? Because there are far more people who want the watered down, prejudice-affirming version of reality than who want the real thing. In the end, Coulter, and the success of brain-dead conservatism generally, are mere symptoms. The disease is the large number of ignorant, simple-minded people who can’t distinguish between Coulter and reality.

Comments

  1. #1 Chad
    June 19, 2006

    Some argue Coulter is just an abberation, an extremist, not representative of the greater conservative movement. The only difference between your average conservative and Coulter is that Coulter says what’s on her mind. She doesn’t stop to think “Hmm, aside from the fact this sentence is totally false, it’s really really offensive. Maybe I should delete it.” Coulter is the Howard Stern of the rightwing. They think it, but are at least smart enough not to say it, she says it.

    She really has no shame.

  2. #2 Peter Perlsų
    June 19, 2006

    Now, now… I’m what most would label a “rightwinger”, and at the same time a staunch critic of creationism. Plus, I’m no fan of Coulter.

    Labelling all those you disagree with as “rightwingers” is lowing yourself to Coulter’s level.

  3. #3 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 19, 2006

    Peter-

    First off, I did not label all those who disagree with me as right-wingers. Even if I had, that would hardly constitute lowering myself to Coulter’s level. Overgeneralizing is not the same thing as publishing hundreds of pages of arrant nonsense.

    It’s nice that you’re a critic of creationism and not a fan of Coulter. Kindly reread the penultimate paragraph of my post. I assure you that Coulter and co. are not offended in the least by your criticisms. They are happy to claim your support nonetheless.

  4. #4 Dave
    June 19, 2006

    I don’t like Ann Coulter. I don’t like Michael Moore. To imply that what Michael Moore does is simply “slanting the truth” certainly doesn’t lower you to Coulter’s level. It just shows your inability to objectively judge the work of M. Moore… unless of course you include “slanting the truth” to include “slanting the truth to the point where it is totally misleading and untrue.” Then you would be correct, professor.

    You could have left out the self-serving rant about the impoverished students working on their PhD. Just because one is poor and has like minded, self-monitoring mentors doesn’t make his work more valuable, useful or correct than the work of others who didn’t follow the same path. That sort of smacks of the priests who say there is a god because they studied the bible to the satisfaction of other priests who also believe there is a god. Not a very convincing argument for the establishment of the PhD as some sort of worthwhile endeavor. Ultimately you should be judged by the value your results, not by how hard you worked to get them.

  5. #5 Gabriel
    June 19, 2006

    Dave: except that the priests don’t accomplish anything palpable, and the science guys go on to developing medicine, inventing computers and sending stuff to space, all based on the knowledge they struggled to learn. So yeah, I agree with your last sentence.

  6. #6 Jeff Hebert
    June 19, 2006

    To imply that what Michael Moore does is simply “slanting the truth” certainly doesn’t lower you to Coulter’s level. It just shows your inability to objectively judge the work of M. Moore

    I don’t believe Michael Moore has called on any Supreme Court justices to be assassinated. Or for terrorists to bomb the New York Times. Or called for televised torture of Arabs. Or branded anyone who disagrees with his politices as traitors who should be sent to Guantanamo.

    Ann Coulter has done all of these things.

    The two are not even remotely comparable. Michael Moore has threatened no one, he simply has a point of view that he forcefully expresses. You can make a case that his exaggerations rise to the level of deliberate falsehood, but he is nowhere near the level of Ann Coulter.

    Not even close.

  7. #7 DV8 2XL
    June 19, 2006

    When is everyone going to wake-up and realise that Ann Coulter isn’t the problem she is the logical result of the the destruction of the Public School System. When schools gave up their mandate to create literate and reasoning graduates in exchange for making every student feel good about themselves, they plowed and sowed the field that Coulter harvests.

    And the Left needs only look in the mirror to see who was responsibe for that.

  8. #8 Matt McIrvin
    June 19, 2006

    Oh, pish-tosh. Hatemongers like Coulter have existed forever; Father Coughlin and the KKK were there long ago. You can’t pin this on some supposed liberal-caused decay in public education.

    (Did she even go to public school? I don’t know; she seems to have grown up as the child of a Republican lawyer in a rich Connecticut suburb. If she did, it was in a well-funded district. She did manage to get into Cornell.)

  9. #9 Lettuce
    June 19, 2006

    . When schools gave up their mandate to create literate and reasoning graduates in exchange for making every student feel good about themselves

    Nonsense. Complete and utter nonsense.

    As tha parent of a child in public school in Wisconsin, and a former Catholic high school droput who blossomed in the public high school; and a member of “the left”, I call rank nonsense.

  10. #10 Orac
    June 20, 2006

    I really think you’re giving Michael Moore way too much credit. The selective data presentation and outright incorrect information in his films have been documented ad nauseum. As far as twisting the truth, he’s just as much a propagandist as Coulter is. The only reason I don’t consider him as bad as Coulter is that he doesn’t spew hate or call for the killing of judges the way Coulter has done.

  11. #11 EJ
    June 20, 2006

    Michael Moore doesn’t seem to be taken seriously. If anyone has him on TV, it’s with a “what wacky thing is he gonna say next?” attitude. And he people don’t seem to have him on their shows much. When Ann Coulter is on TV, it’s like, “here with us is respectable conservative commentator, Ann Coulter.” Even if MM were as bad intrinsicly as AC, which he isn’t, this set of circumstances would still make AC more of a problem.

    On the bright side, I think ACs respectability might be diminishing. Or do I just wish?

    Drifted OT, but I just couldn’t not make this point in a discussion of Moore v. Coulter.

  12. #12 Collin
    June 20, 2006

    “When schools gave up their mandate to create literate and reasoning graduates in exchange for making every student feel good about themselves, they plowed and sowed the field that Coulter harvests.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Case in point…lets be sure that we teach everyone’s point of view in science classes. We wouldn’t want to hurt anyones feelings by telling them that they’re wrong about how the world started and life evolved.

    While I tend to just ignore her (AC), I wish some journalist would ask the simple question, “how does what your writing advance us in our attempts to understand (fill in the blank)?” Followed by…”wow, nothing to say…I’m not surprised.”

  13. #13 ArtK
    June 20, 2006

    “When schools gave up their mandate to create literate and reasoning graduates in exchange for making every student feel good about themselves, they plowed and sowed the field that Coulter harvests.”

    I couldn’t agree more.

    And I couldn’t disagree more. One of my many disagreements is with treating “the schools” as some independent entity that makes its own decisions about what should be taught and how. We are “the schools.” If they have failed, it is because we have failed — failed to value education.

    Case in point…lets be sure that we teach everyone’s point of view in science classes. We wouldn’t want to hurt anyones feelings by telling them that they’re wrong about how the world started and life evolved.

    And your evidence that this is the norm? There are many things wrong with the education system, but to make a blanket generalization on that topic tells me that you haven’t read Jason, PZ, Orac, Ed Brayton or at Panda’s Thumb.

  14. #14 Ompus
    June 20, 2006

    I see it one of two ways:

    A) Coulter believes what she writes and wants to change the world, or
    B) Coulter is driven purely by the desire to make as much money as she can and is willing to do so even if it means lying, demonizing, libeling, slandering and ignoring reality.

  15. #15 DV8 2XL
    June 20, 2006

    Anyone that can look at the current literacy and numeracy rates and state that the public school system is not a disgrace has their head stuck in the sand. That’s all the evidence I need to make my point.

    I’m in my fifties and I spent twenty years in educational politics watching what was happening from the inside. If standards couldn’t be met, well then the answer was to lower the standards. I left because I couldn’t stand it and I couldn’t stop it.

    Oh the kids that were going to make it, make it anyway and yes the ones that want it and are willing to work can always find someone that will be willing to put in the time for them. The trouble is these kids grow up to be the elite not part of the masses, and it’s the masses that drive the political agenda.

  16. #16 Michael Kircher
    June 20, 2006

    “When schools gave up their mandate to create literate and reasoning graduates in exchange for making every student feel good about themselves, they plowed and sowed the field that Coulter harvests.”

    As someone mentioned above, Coulter most likely had a private school education, but let’s say she went to a public school all through 12th grade. How did making her feel good about herself turn her into the hate-filled monster she is?

  17. #17 Anonymous
    June 20, 2006

    “Anyone that can look at the current literacy and numeracy rates and state that the public school system is not a disgrace has their head stuck in the sand. That’s all the evidence I need to make my point.”

    Now that’s what I call reasoning!

  18. #18 Michael Kircher
    June 20, 2006

    Sorry, that was me above. Just forgot to add my name.

  19. #19 ArtK
    June 20, 2006

    DV82XL said:

    Anyone that can look at the current literacy and numeracy rates and state that the public school system is not a disgrace has their head stuck in the sand. That’s all the evidence I need to make my point.

    I think that was directed at me, but I’m sure. If it was, I never denied that the education system has plenty of trouble. My point was that treating it as an entity separate from ourselves is abdicating our responsibility. We (a societal “we,” if you will) have let it become this way. Personally, there’s plenty of blame, right, left and center, for this. Putting it off on “them” is abdicating responsibility again.

    You’re about my age… if you were from California, then you would be familiar with the damage done to the UC system by that hero of the right, Ronald Regan. Or what Prop 13 did to the public schools in the state — I don’t think that Howard Jarvis was much of a leftie. And yes, those on the left have done their damage, too. Confusing empty praise with real accomplishment (the “self esteem” movement) comes to mind.

  20. #20 DV8 2XL
    June 20, 2006

    “As someone mentioned above, Coulter most likely had a private school education, but let’s say she went to a public school all through 12th grade. How did making her feel good about herself turn her into the hate-filled monster she is?”

    Insightful remarks like that just help make my point.

    ArtK, it’s not lack of money, it’s lack of standards. Standards for teachers, standards for students both for performance and behavior. The beginning of the problem was when those started to be eroded. High standards would have made it easy for politicians like me to demand more money, believe me. The only thing that gets parents off there duffs is when they can no longer pretend that their prodigy is doing fine, particularly in the lower grades. It was easier to lower the standards that to deal with the unions and the administrators who were not doing their job. And the parents went right along with it. I could talk myself blue in the face, and spend hours on the phone, only to have NOBODY show up at the public meetings to back me up.

    Blame. There is plenty to go around true, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you are looking for a reason why the Coulter’s and her ilk have an audience you need look no farther than the schools.

  21. #21 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 20, 2006

    Orac-

    There are certainly errors and omissions in Michael Moore’s work, but not nearly as many as various conservative groups would have you believe. After seeing Farenheit 9/11 I read a lot of the commentary offered at prominent conservative sites. I found they frequently attributed statements to Moore that in fact he never said. And many of the genuine errors that people pointed out were not things that were crucial to Moore’s argument. Saying he is just as much of a propagandist as Coulter, is, sadly, ridiculous. A propagandist, yes, but nowhere near in the same league as Coulter. Coulter’s books are nearly wall-to-wall error. Her evolution chapters, for example, go pages at a time without saying anything that is both true and nontrivial. Michael Moore at his silliest is not even close to that level of dishonesty. Furthermore, Michael Moore is treated like a leper by most Democrats. Ann Coulter is embraced by most Republicans.

    DV8 2XL-

    I’ll meet you part way. You’re right that declining standards in education are a scandal, and you’re also right that in many cases it was left-wing school boards that promoted such policies, frequently in the name of the self-esteem of their students. But you’re wrong to blame teacher’s unions for the decline in standards, and you’re wrong to say that declining standards are the reason politicans don’t fund schools at the level they need. You’re also wrong to say that parents merely went along with it.

    Nowadays it is the other way around. It is parents who routinely demand low standards, so that their child shouldn’t be exposed for the ignoramus he probably is. Weak-kneed administrators generally kowtow to angry parents. The teacher, receiving no support from the administration and even facing potential lawsuits from parents then has little choice but to accede. I interact with high school teachers quite a bit. I have yet to meet one who doesn’t believe in high, rigorously applied standards. But in our education system teachers are at the bottom of the heap.

    As for money, that has little to do with declining standards. Gutting public education has long been high on the list of Republican priorities. Left-wing school boards have a lot to answer for in terms of lowering standards, but the right is equally culpable for starving schools of the resources they need to provide for the educational needs of students.

  22. #22 DV8 2XL
    June 20, 2006

    Jason – Individual teachers like individual parents pay lip-service to high standards – then the vote in union executives and school commissioners that back the opposite. Politicians aren’t the only two-faced types you know.

    Also if you believe that money and standards aren’t joined at the hip you really should start to look a bit closer. High standards cost money in small class size and in higher qualified teachers if nothing else.

    You wrote: “You’re also wrong to say that parents merely went along with it.” I beg to differ, they did; and if any group should shoulder the brunt of the blame for this it is them. I was there, on the inside, and I watched it happen.

  23. #23 Jason Rosenhouse
    June 20, 2006

    DV8 2XL-

    I think you missed my point about the parents. I’m saying they did a lot more than merely go along with it. They actively encouraged the lowering of standards. They are at least as much, perhaps more, to blame as politicians and school boards are.

    But I’m afraid the rest of your comment is wide of the mark. It’s not as if politicians are saying that they would be happy to provide the money to have small class sizes and highly qualified teachers, but with such low academic standards why should they bother. The usual justification for underfunding schools is that we spend too much already, and that schools just squander away the money.

    The reason we don’t have more highly qualified teachers is that as a society we do everything in our power to make teaching an unattractive profession. Low salaries, poor benefits, kids who don’t learn discipline from their parents, and lack of respect from a public who take seriously things like “Those who can do, those who can’t teach!” do not make for a promising career choice. This has nothing to do with whether you have machinery in place to enforce high academic standards.

    As for teacher unions, in my experience teachers vote in union representatives people who will zealously defend their interests, as they should. It’s not as if anyone else is thinking about the interests of teachers.

    And teachers do not benefit from low standards. Quite the opposite. Students held to low standards all their lives are much harder to control by the time they get to high school.

  24. #24 Michael Kircher
    June 20, 2006

    “As someone mentioned above, Coulter most likely had a private school education, but let’s say she went to a public school all through 12th grade. How did making her feel good about herself turn her into the hate-filled monster she is?”

    Insightful remarks like that just help make my point.

    Yikes! Reading comprehension is everything isn’t it. My sincerest apologies for mouthing off to DV8 2XL. If I’d have taken just a minute more and really read your comment I’d not have made myself look quite so foolish. Embarrassing. Sorry.

  25. #25 Anonymous
    June 21, 2006

    ArtK –
    Just to clear up, when I i said i couldn’t agree more, I was being sarcastic…maybe i wasn’t clear…as for reading all those blogs you mentioned…I do…way too much.

    And further..there are a lot of problems with public schools. I was pulled out of them and went to a private middle/high school and the difference was immense. Smaller class sizes, better course content, very strict rules, etc. But the importance of public schools can’t be stressed enough as the most at risk segement of the population needs them the most.
    And money is the answer….and not the answer. Inner city schools that have no air conditioning (in the Midwest) and ceilings that are falling apart are not going to be fixed by higher testing standards or holding teachers accountable for their students. I’ve yet to see a major corporation or bank say, “we think people would trust us more and believe that they’re money is being well used if we let all of our buildings fall into disrepair.”
    Teachers need to be paid well. Do companies attract the best and brightest be offering the lowest comparative wages? For all this talk about holding teachers accountable for their students performance and hand wringing about teachers who aren’t well trained in what they teach we sure don’t seem to want to pay them very well. 22,000 to 25,000 starting wages, and most schools requiring a masters in education to advance up the pay scale (or even start teaching), this doesn’t seem like the best way to attract the best and brightest.
    As for not money being the answer…lets try something new…lets hold the parents accountable for their kids failing at school. I don’t quite know how this would be done, but some bright person could come up with something. I recall that when I got poor grades or was caught doing something in school, my dad drug my butt down to the school and made me sit down with the teacher and get things figured out.
    Have better national standards. We could start with science and math…maybe have some professionals from those fields tell us where the current research is and what would be best to learn.
    Finally…I don’t ever want to hear any politician or parents start a discussion about schools or teaching with the statement, “Kids today…” They aren’t any different today then they were back in the good old days and they won’t be any different in the next generation…they just have different experiences then the older folks.
    Volunteer. I’d be curious to know how many of the most vocal critics of education have taken the time to volunteer as a mentor (big brothers / big sisters for one) or give up some time as a tutor.

  26. #26 Collin
    June 21, 2006

    Sorry…forgot to sign the last post

  27. #27 Robert O'Brien
    June 23, 2006

    You’re about my age… if you were from California, then you would be familiar with the damage done to the UC system by that hero of the right, Ronald Regan. Or what Prop 13 did to the public schools in the state — I don’t think that Howard Jarvis was much of a leftie.

    That is a canard, as I demonstrated here:

    http://tinyurl.com/zt4gu

  28. #28 Robert O'Brien
    June 23, 2006

    And the Republican party is fine with that. Careful logic and nuanced argumentation are foreign to them. Domestically they care about exactly three things: Cutting taxes for wealthy people, Dismantling the New Deal, and Persuading simple-minded people that they care about anything else. As a friend of mine put it to me recently, if the Republicans suddenly discovered that it was politically expedient to be pro-choice on abortion, they would not only change their party platform, they would fan out to the talk shows to explain that actually it’s the Democrats who were the pro-life party all along. (And the media would lap it up, but that’s a different post).

    That is nonsense, Jason.

    Where do conservatives thrive? Think tanks, cable news, partisan media outlets, the Bible belt. Why do you think conservatives tend not to fare well in academe? Because academe is one of the few environments left in this country where knowing what you are talking about and making a sound argument actually count for something. Think about what college professors do to earn their positions. They spend years of their lives living in near-poverty, obsessively studying their discipline, just to get a credential (a PhD) that will give them a shot at having a career in the subject. Until they establish themselves in their career, they are constantly judged by people who know every nuance of the subjects in question. In that environment, superficiality, mindless talking points, and bad arguments are ruthlessly stamped out. And since most of the things Republicans defend nowadays fall into those categories, it is not surprising that they don’t survive.

    More nonsense.

  29. #29 ArtK
    June 23, 2006

    Colin — yes, I missed the sarcasm… something that doesn’t translate well to the medium.

    I certainly don’t claim that it’s entirely a funding issue. There are many related issues and parental involvement, as you mention, is one of the biggest. My original point was that as a nation, we fail to value education. This failure shows up in many ways, from a lack of parental support to a lack of funding.

    We have standards, and they really aren’t as bad as many people might think. Despite the effort of IDiots, most are strong on science. Where we are lacking is in the true desire to meet those standards.

    Often the “flavor of the month” skews the instructional time — there was a big literacy push in LAUSD a number of years ago — if they had actually followed the program requirements, teachers would have been teaching reading for about 80% of the school day.

    Instructional time is lost because of the emphasis on standardized testing — teachers must take instructional hours in order to prepare students. For one educator’s opinions on that topic, please see this post on my blog.

    DV82XL is right — the system is broken. Where I think s/he is wrong is in trying to lay the blame on one political philosophy or another.

    To quote that great philosopher, Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us!”

  30. #30 ArtK
    June 23, 2006

    Mr. O’Brien — if you would be so kind as to provide a link to the report that you cite on your blog, I would appreciate it. If it is a canard, I will retract.

    I will state, though, that if per-capita spending on education has in fact increased by 27 percent over the last 30 years, I’d really like to know where the money has gone. Practical experience (i.e. marriage to a public school teacher) has shown a steady decline.

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