Monday, March 05, 2007

Beware of Strawmen

Bloggers and the news media are buzzing and fretting about Ann Coulter [indirectly] calling John Edwards a faggot at a prominent right-wing political gathering. To me, this is actually a distracting ploy that dangerously obscures the right’s greater insidiousness.

True, Coulter’s popularity baffles me. I always suspected that she suffered from undiagnosed Tourett’s syndrome. Whatever hateful thing enters her mind, she says freely. Concern for other humans does not register in her mind. This suggests to me that she needs serious medical treatment.

Whatever the case, Ann Coulter just isn’t smart. Her writings, instead, appeal to people’s worst elements. These types of slurs, which are common for Coulter, show her intellectual poverty. She gets attention more for her bizarre irrationality than any type of reasoned argument. Indeed, Coulter never puts forward interesting or insightful plans for government, whatever her political agenda.

All of that means it’s better to simply ignore her. If people read her or don’t read her, I don’t really care – She just isn’t that important. People in power (on either side of the political spectrum) seemingly consider her an irrelevant side-show.

What I find dishonest is that she becomes a means for the other right-wing extremists to make themselves seem more palatable. Every single Republican (and most Democrats) who have declared their intention to run for president have stated that they think queer relationships are less valuable than hetero relationships. Most Republicans, moreover, explicitly argue that queer people are less worthy citizens than their hetero counterparts.

Mitt Romney, for instance, is building his presidential campaign around the unusual strategy of disparaging the state and people whom he governed. In particular, Romney disdains the “radical” idea that equality should exist under the law. This has recently won him the top-spot in a poll among conservative activists. To get that honor, Romney has firmly come-out against sexual freedom. Indeed, he has ignored the social (and even religious) complexity of the nation and created his own fantasy vision of the United States.

Romney outright rejects queer relationships and parenting. "Today, same-sex couples are marrying under the law in Massachusetts. Some are actually having children born to them,'' he told a mindless crowd of fanatical conservatives, "It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has the right to have a mother and a father." It's funny, I always thought that children had a right to a safe and loving home, access to medical care, and a free education. Apparently, though, I was just way off base. All of those things are much less important than making sure that every household has a little penis-vagina sex going on inside.

Romney argues that even being friendly with gay folk disqualifies you as president. He has attempted to discredit his political rival Rudy Giuliani by calling him “pro-gay” (an appraisal of Giuliani that I, as a gay man, would not share). In Romney’s mind, being “pro-gay” and Republican don’t mix.

Don’t think, though, that Romney only hates the queers. He has plenty of hate to go around, including single hetero parents. "The family structure is critical to our society,” Romney recently stated, “We will not succeed if 60 percent of our children are born out of wedlock," he said.” For this candidate, they only possibility of success is if the nation conforms to a narrow model of “family” based on heterosexual marriage. Romney, I can only guess, must watch a lot of Donna Reed reruns.

Even as he takes stabs at single hetero parents, Romney knows that [verbal] gay-bashing will bring in the most votes and cash. He can predict doom and chaos if queers form families or are too visible in society. Romney has basically argued that God granted the hating of queer people as the special privilege and duty of fanatical Christians.

Like any good Republican, Giuliani quickly responded to being wrongly labeled “pro-gay.” The former New-York mayor assured the nation that he believes that gays and lesbians should always be treated as second-class citizens. "Marriage should be between a man and a woman," Giuliani told the conservative talk show host Sean Hanity, "Here's exactly the position I've always had. And it's the same — and I feel the same way about it today that I did eight, ten years ago when I signed the domestic partnership legislation: marriage should be between a man and a woman. It should remain that way."

Now we all know that I don’t think gay marriage should be the number one issue for queer activists. Like it or not, though, gay marriage has become the means through which the right-wing can mobilize the existing hatred and fear of queer people in this country for their own political purposes. Let’s not forget that Bush’s 2004 election victory was built, in part, on the backs of gay-men. All of these Republican candidates figure they can do likewise.

Yet, at the news of Coulter’s remark, these same Republican candidates made it an opportunity to present themselves as not at all hateful. Romney’s spokesman Kevin Madden said, "It was an offensive remark. Political discourse ought to be more substantive and thoughtful." McCain and Giuliani called Coulter's words “inappropriate,” according to the New York Times. These carefully crafted responses did not actually make any reference to the real violence and harassment that queer people face at the hands of people like Coulter. Instead, the best they could come up with was that such words just weren’t nice.

Much of the attention on this issue has been focused on how unfair it was that John Edwards, a straight man, should be subjected to such torment. The fact that gays and lesbians face this type of harassment on an almost daily basis in some parts of this nation gets little mention.

These Republican candidates get to play it both ways. They can appear magnanimous by condemning a hateful epithet, but promote policies that guarantee that heterosexuals have special rights and privileges denied to queer people. These campaigns tacitly make us the objects of both verbal and physical assaults even as they claim such things are "unfortunate."

Romney, Giuliani, and McCain might say that it’s not right to call us faggots, but they make it clear that it’s just fine to treat us like faggots.


Bill S. said...

Well put.

I expect this sort of thing from Republicans, but what's truly dispiriting is when Democrats insist that they are pro-heterosexual marriage, couching the argument in terms borrowed from the conservatives, in order to appeal to the masses.

Arthur Schenck said...

What I find dishonest is that she becomes a means for the other right-wing extremists to make themselves seem more palatable.

Bravo, GayProf! This sounds to me like diversion politics--she says outrageous things not only to make other right wingers seem more "reasonable" by comparison, but also so we don't notice the rest of their extremist agenda.

But I also have to say that what I find just as disturbing is that people on "our side" take attacking her as justification for letting loose with all sorts of misogynistic--and sometimes even anti-transgendered--abuse. How can we claim the moral high ground when we get in the gutter with her? Maybe Pogo was right: "We have met the enemy and his is us".

dykewife said...

i have to wonder what romney wants to win with all those heterosexual mother/father families he wants.

what you wrote and more makes me much relieved that i live in canada...despite stephen harper (who looks like a bond villain - now if we could only get mi6 to assassinate him...)

r said...

I trust no one at this point.

Well, except gayprof of course...

Anonymous said...

Beyond the rhetoric, I have some faith that the Christian right is failing as a political force. Although inflammatory remarks like Coulter's help shore up the conservative base, that sort of tactic will be their undoing in 2008. Comments like hers and those of NBA's Hardaway open the dialogue and allows them to to show how ignorant and narrow their view are to the general public, and do more, in my opinion, to show the weakness of their position.

Let the bigoted pundits talk, let the candidates line up. Then let the people decide. Based on the polarizing efforts of their most fanatic supporters, such as Coulter, these candidates will fail because they have alienated the great mass of middle Americans who do not tolerate such obvious discrimination.

Aside from all that, Bush has so ruined any chance for a Republican victory in 2008, that realistically, any candidate that follows that model as a means to victory, will reap what they have sown. Bitter harvest.

tornwordo said...

That, my friend, is the sad truth. Send this to newspapers please. Maybe you'll get an op-ed spot for it.

Sarah L Boyd said...

I'm only an observer (Canadian) but I can't resis playing devil's seems like coming out as "pro-gay" and being a serious prospect for election as president are mutually exclusive in the current US political environment.

pacalaga said...

They get a little more hateful every day, and it disgusts me. Once upon a time I thought McCain would save us all. (I think it was before I was paying that much attention.) Now I think he might be worse that Bush. Idealistic in his conservative little heart, but SMART too. Damn.
I have long wondered what qualifications Coulter has to be spouting her filth anyway. Is it because she's the only one out there who isn't a creepy old dude in a goofy bow tie? ("yeah, get that mean blond chick - that'll show 'em how diverse we are!"
I wonder if Canadians are as anti-illegal immigrant as this country is leaning - I bet I could make it across the border in North Dakota somewhere...

Anonymous said...

Well said. You also touched on what troubles me about many anti-gay marriage arguments: they are still rooted in the conception that gay relationships are based on lust and cannot achieve true emotional dimensions like heterosexual pairings. Honestly sometimes it's like they consider not expressing their belief that homosexuality is still a mental illness to be "progressive."

TED said...

I think that Ann Coulter might actually be useful to the left. Every moderate or independent who might sometimes have voted Republican probably sees her as rabid and repulsive. But the conservative establishment embraces her. If you can link her views to Republican candidates, you can cost them the support of the center, perhaps permanently.

Anonymous said...

All Hail Gay Prof! I agree with Torn ... get this printed in a newspaper. What sickens me too, is the hypocrisy of the many conservatives touting the one mother-one father in every pot thing, who are divorced themselves and have gone on to buy new kitchen ware and boil more chickens.

Ann Coulter is a nasty disease. I am not convinced that she is human.

Jen said...

I've always suspected that Ann Coulter is animatronic and programmed by FOX...

Dykewife, to feel (only slightly) better about S. Harper, check out .Scroll down to "Canada 2005" and "US 2004" and compare the charts. Notice how our Conservatives hang around the same point in the spectrum as their Dems. It's only a matter of degrees, and Stevo might be leading the Tories North and Right on the scale, but somehow this bit o' knowledge helps me sleep at night...


Anonymous said...

There is a flip side... If she can finally at long last be taken down - to have her viewed (even by arch-conservatives) as a complete crackpot, then she and her heinous views might no longer be considered part of the normal spectrum of "conservative" views.

Because they are right now. An average conservative today might say "oh I like half of what she says" meaning, I guess, they only want to kill half of the people she wants to kill.

But if you could jettison, say, her and Michael Savage into Lyndon LaRouche Land and have them relegated to the whacko fringe, they will no longer be a respected voice of modern conservativism. It might (in my fantasy scenario) actually shift the balance of conservative voices back towards reality (though barely).

Just a thought.

No matter what, though, I'm happy to see her getting a drubbing she's deserved for so very long.

GayProf said...

Bill: Yes, all of the Democrats on the field right now leave me fairly cold when it comes to queer issues. It's depressing.

Arthur: I totally agree about the left's response to Coulter. So many people have responded to her name calling with more name calling. As you rightly point out, much of it is often sexist. That's not terribly helpful.

DykeWife: Well, MI6 might not need to take him out -- You marvelous parliamentary types can change your leadership so much more easily than we can. **sigh**

Rebekah: I am not even sure I trust myself. To me, I seem a little shady.

Marlan: I want to believe what you say -- On my more optimistic days, I do. However, when I look at "battleground" states, like Michigan, things don't look so good. Voters in Michigan have passed some extreme right-wing measures in terms of both race and sexuality.

Torn: Newspapers? Don't more people read blogs now? **wink**

Sarah: Well, I think you are partly right. I don't see how any Republican could get his (and it will only be a him in that party) party's nomination who is okay with the gays. Still, I think there is a chance for a powerful leader to change public opinion. The problem with U.S. politics right now, though, is that most of the left leaders are following public opinion (based on questionable poll data) rather than shaping public opinion.

Pacalaga: I never liked McCain, but I understood his appeal for others when he first came on the scene. Over the past four years, however, he really showed that he has no internal sense of morals. Now he is so in bed with the Bush administration that he really has destroyed his own creditability. If he wasn't so scary, I would think he is kinda sad.

Chad: Right, and they also oddly presume that all heterosexual relationships are somehow stable and healthy by their mere existence.

The Neighbor to the Left: Maybe -- But the Left in this nation has a poor history of pointing out the hypocrisy of the Right. They often buy into the Right's rhetoric.

Cooper: I agree -- Guiliani would be the classic example, right? He is estranged from his son, had a long-term affair while married to another woman, and has generally shown himself to lack an ethical center. And, let's remember, Ronald Reagan was the only president who was divorced (not that I care about such things, but the Right allegedly cares a great deal).

Jen: Now that you mention it, Coulter does have a certain muppet-ish quality to her... Maybe she really escaped from a Chuck E. Cheese years ago.

Atari: I agree there is that potential. In Coulter's case (and Savage, too), though, their base supporters seem to be drawn to this type of language regardless of their obvious status as crackpots. There are many who imagine that Coulter is saying what they really want to say. That is what disturbs me more than her as an individual.

Steve said...

Wow. Another great post, GayProf. Just when I think people are coming to their senses and are beginning to realize we aren't going to eat their babies, I start fearing for not only my future, but for the futures of our homo brethren to come. I'm not sure if you use Site Meter to track your traffic, but when I was there this morning, there was a banner ad, flashing and shit - so it must be important - urging me to JOIN TEAM MITT! There is no way he could pull this off, is there? Like DykeWife, Canada is looking very appealing.

Joey P said...

It is only news if Ann Coulter says something even remotely insightful.

To ignore her is what she fears most.

Let's start doing it, OK?

Anonymous said...

Yes, GP, but although Michigan is not a hotbed of liberalism, it is still a "blue" state with a Democratic Governor and two Democratic Senators.

By the way, Patti LuPone, Karen Carpenter or Madonna? I'll accept your answer, but add that if you don't choose Karen, she really won't mind since she's used to losing anyway.

Enemy of the Republic said...

I believe all of this anti-gay rhetoric will backfire on the right because even people who are very homophobic are beginning to recognize that it was a smokescreen of hate in order to carry out their disasterous foreign policy. Ann C is a fool, but it wouldn't surprise me if she had been told to stoke the fires against one of the Democrats who seems less mainstream and more unelectable to draw attention to the Bush base's dislike of homosexuality. I am no fan of Edwards but to call him gay is just so stupid that it defies logic; therefore, my conspiricy detector is in overdrive. Thanks for this post.

Charles CĂ©leste Hutchins said...

I've seen the theory that Anne Coulter is actually a leftist trying to make the right look stupid, but evidence is against it. David Brock's book in particular casts doubt on this, as does her role as a lawyer in the Paula Jones case and let's not forget that her book proposing the Clinton Impeachment was tremendously influential and almost succeeded.

So why has someone like her risen to prominence? I doubt the far right would tolerate a woman commentator who was logical and provided any real competition. Really, she's perfect because she just says all these crazy things and, like you said, Gay Prof, everybody else looks good by comparison. Plus she's not threatening. Even better, she reveals the sexist hypocrisy of the so-called left. Rush Limbaugh chuckles into his oxycotin bottle at every "MAN Coulter!! OMG" comment on Daily Kos.

When I was getting my MA, I wrote a piece of music which uses her voice. It's on the internets at:

In my thesis, I wrote:
I started thinking about pundits and meaning, specifically, the difference between Limbaugh and Coulter. Ann Coulter speaks in sound bites. Everything she says is designed for maximum punch in as few seconds as possible. And the punch she packs is astounding. What rational person would argue that it was "factually correct" that anyone was a scumbag? Yet she said this about Clinton. And then she goes on to say that anyone who criticizes our current president is a traitor. In one clip that I use, she attacks the very notion of polls when they show low points for Bush but then, without pausing, attacks Kerry for polling low. Her positions are, self-contradictory, indefensible and astounding, but when she's asked to defend them, she does, again in little sound bites. She's impossible to argue with. It seems like any show she was on would dissolve into meaningless name-calling or cross talk. And indeed, most of what she says is meaningless. Ann Coulter gives the impression of communicating ideas without actually doing so. She will say that polls are meaningless and that none of them should be trusted (when talking about Bush's poll numbers) and without pausing for breath will attack Kerry's low poll showing. Her books, comments, punditry and columns essentially say nothing but Republicans are right and Democrats are wrong, over and over again with no backing, no real evidence, nothing but puzzling and meaningless sound-bites and name calling. She is incredibly talented at weaving nothing into the appearance of something.

Bruce said...

Given the deepening morass of Iraq, the debacle of the 2006 mid term election, the corruption scandles of Katrina and Walter Reed, the humiliation of the Libby conviction, and the prospects of a serious economic downturn in the next 12- 18 months, the Republicans have two likely options to destract the country from the unspeakable, dangerous, mess they have made of things before the 2008 elections: 1) They can start a war with Iran, and 2) they can turn up the volume on the "family values" propaganda, including intensifying the homophobic plank in their platform.

We should get ready for more of the Ann Coulter style rhetoric in the future. Homophobia is one of the few cards the Republicans have left to play. Aside from starting a war with Iran, what else can they do?

I fear that as we approach the 2008 election, the Republicans won't even be concerned with looking like good guys or moderates, playing against Coulter. By 2008, it will be full speed ahead for the Republican homophobes.

Doug said...

I can't add anything intelligent to the Coulter discussion, but I have a question: Is this the first time you're stalking the same person who's endlessly playing on your iPod?

Anonymous said...

The title for this blog was well chosen.

It is also true that it is distracting to more important issues.

She is intellectually sloppy. Being provocative, to the point of offensive, is a sign of a dull mind.

But it sells books...the irony.

Thanks for the discussion, it is spot on.

Mike said...

At this stage of the game in electoral politics, the Republicans are laying the groundwork for destroying their opponents using carefully crafted language. Coulter's initial "joke" was nothing more than the start of a smear against what would otherwise be a formidable Democratic opponent.

With Hillary, there's a wealth of ammunition to use. Obama is vulnerable for a number of reasons but mostly because he's African-American and that alone makes him beatable in a large chunk of the country.

By attacking Edwards' masculinity, Coulter is planting the seeds in the minds of America that Edwards is not fully masculine enough for the presidency. He doesn't have the military experience, and is too nice a guy, more Ashley than Rhett, so to speak.

So, you can expect the Right to embellish the picture, much like they did when they painted John Kerry shooting himself in the leg, Mike Dukakis looking stupid riding a tank while setting big black men free to rape your daughters in the ass before murdering them, and Bill Clinton smoking dope when taking breaks from the Oxford anti-war communist poetry readings. (Although, that one didn't work.)

Expect to see the Fox "News" headline "Is Edwards tough enough?" reinforcing his effeminacy in the minds of Americans. These "jokes" don't happen by accident.

tomvancouver said...

"Romney, Giuliani, and McCain might say that it’s not right to call us faggots, but they make it clear that it’s just fine to treat us like faggots"
Love that line, but I am baffled and confused why same-sex marriage is such a decisive issue down there. The truth is in Canada, Spain the Netherlands, the social fabric didn't collapse, no one called on to marry their sister or have multiple wifes. Aren't there other things to worry about like healthcare, the millions of dollars spent everyday for the war "Effort". I've yet to see a Democratic presidential canidate come out in favour of equal marriage. I simply refused that my genitals determine who I want to commit the rest of my life too, and I think being able to marry the person you love is a more fundamental right that even voting. Where are the heroes, where are the Nelson Mandelas. Until I started reading American blogs I didn't realize that in some states you can still be fired or lose your place of residence for being gay, but how long is the Land of The Free going to be hi-jacked by those who believe in Creationism. Growing up, I thought America was the most coolest country in the world, albeit my views were skewed by The Brady Bunch and old movies, and now it just feels like a very hateful place. Sorry for the rant, I'm just pissed off, especially since the crown at the Ann Coulter event erupted into enthusiastic applause. Beer Hall Putsch anyone.

GayProf said...

Steve: I don't know if Mitt can get the nomination. To be honest, I didn't imagine that he could be doing as well as he has to this point.

Joey P.: I agree about ignoring her. It's hard, though, given that the mainstream media gives her so many platforms. Rather than engaging with her, though, I agree that the best course of action is to simply say that she is not relevant (and she isn't).

Marlan: I didn't mean to make it sound like I was picking on Michigan. On the contrary, I am very interested in Michigan right now. It's because there are these odd political divides (racist and homophobic amendments and also Democratic elected officials) that make it an interesting test case for the entire U.S.

Why do think that I wouldn't be singing? **wink**

Enemy of the Republic: I agree -- No matter what else about the comment, it was just dumb (again suggesting Coulter's intellectual poverty). The media's obsession with this comment, but decision to ignore the actual candidate's own homophobia, makes me suspicious.

Les: If Coulter is a plant from the Left, we really need to come up with better strategies.

Bruce: I totally agree that Republicans are using queer folk to distract their base. Over the past six years, most of them have witnessed a decline in real wages and greater insecurity. They only way that Republicans can make them feel better is to argue that they are "morally" superior than their neighbors. Nobody seems to point out that allowing gay people to marry, or keeping gay people from marrying, will do nothing to affect their day-to-day lives.

Doug: You are a true fan of GayProf to have made that observation. Indeed, Mika is the first to hold both spots (It's also harder to find men to stalk from week to week than you might imagine).

Ray: She does sell books -- And this makes me very concerned. Some people are finding her hatred appealing.

Mike: It wouldn't surprise me if the Republican party is "testing" public opinion by this type of statement. Of course, it also wouldn't surprise me if Coulter simply has fluid pressing on her brain. It would explain a lot.

LotusLander: I think that the U.S. has always had these types of paradoxes. On one hand, the nation articulated and guaranteed basic civil rights as a cornerstone of its founding. Yet, those rights explicitly excluded humans who were held in bondage.

I really believe that a dynamic and brave leader could ignite the best tendencies in Americans. Right now, though, both the Left and the Right want to cater to the lowest common denominator.

Anonymous said...

Of the millions of voices crying out in the wilderness, hers is the loudest and the shrillest and the most uninspired, and yet we still manage to give her her due.

It's quite mind-boggling.

AJ Chavez said...

You articulated exactly what I've been thinking but could not put into words.

It's funny that, responding to Coulter's stunt, in and of itself, is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, we should counter hateful and violent remarks, but on the other, we are giving her the attention that she is always so desperately whoring herself out for.

Tenured Radical said...

OK, but last time around Bush referred to John Edards as "the Breck Girl" -- remember that? So there is something quite specific happening here.

I wish I could figure out what it means!


Arthur Schenck said...

"...the nation articulated and guaranteed basic civil rights as a cornerstone of its founding. Yet, those rights explicitly excluded humans who were held in bondage."

This week was the 150th anniversary of the infamous Dred Scott Decision which said that African Americans, whether slave or free, could never be US citizens. And the right wing power elites are STILL trying to keep some people as less than citizens.

Like most of us here, I've been mystified by how Coulter can have such a big platform. But it just occurred to me: In a nation where the MSM were obsessed with the circus over where Anna Nicole Smith would be buried, is it really any wonder that the shallow, morally and intellectually bankrupt and outrageously confrontational Coulter could be treated seriously and with respect by the MSM? She's not some satanic deviation from the norm, she IS the norm.

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth... I am considered to be fairly over to the right in many areas...

...and Ann Coulter scares the beans out of me with her approach to ... well, just about everything.

Anonymous said...

There's a hate speech and homophobia awareness campaign going on in Poland right now, with big posters asking "what are you looking at, fag/dyke?". It stirred up some debate, but not nearly enough, and the Right is quite happy to have hate speech hanging in the open because it looks like something they'd do. You can check it out on - would be cool if you shared some advice or thoughts.

Grrr, fifth time's the charm, I hope... silly word verification is acting up.