Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Coulter Pulls A Churchill

OF COURSE, THESE IMAGES are reversed, aren't they? Shouldn't Ann Coulter be somewhere to the right of this column, and oughtn't Ward Churchill be on the left? Isn't that the conventional take on the "politics" of these, uh, commentators, for want of a more appropriate but less neutral term?

If it's amusing to any degree to see them on the same page, albeit in apparently inappropriate locations, then consider how much funnier it is to realize that the dyspeptic ramblings of each have come to embody all the sins of their respective extreme sides of what passes for discourse in our benighted land these days - to embody those sins at least to their opposite wavelengths on the political spectrum.

Where they both really belong, of course, is in the middle - of this page, of pointless controversey, of tasteless extremism, and perhaps most culpably, of the subversion of genuine debate in our political process by obscuring legitimate points of contention with the killer fog of screed.

Coulter, as we all know, has once again sampled the refined taste of perfectly sauteed shoe leather with her widely-publicized comments on the interior emotional lives of the September 11th widows. While the statements themselves have been widely circulated, including the most inflammatory of them here serves as a pleasant caption to the picture above and as a point of reference later on:

“These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process.

“These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.”

There is more, naturally, of much the same stripe. But this suffices as an example of Coulter's off-handed and utterly purposeless meanness of spirit - the fraternal twin of, say, an observation like:

"As to those in the World Trade Center . . .

Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it. "

This is Ward Churchill, of course, in his most famous comment on the attacks of 9/11. Points of odious comparison abound here - niceties of tone and style, obviously, but logical fallacies and really poor articulation as well.

What is easy to miss, however, is just how identical in their damage the two passages are, not simply to the victims of these diatribes but sadly even more importantly to political discussion in this nation in general. Fearful partisan fighters of the extreme right and left, embedded in the impregnable bunkers of their own certitude, look to their prophets here quoted as validators of their own suffering at the hands of their hate-filled foes. Blasts of criticism at the heartless and anti-intellectual nature of both Coulter's and Churchill's rants from those of more sober and stable mind become transformed in the minds of the True Believers as yet further evidence of a Vast (choose "Right" or "Left" here) Wing Conspiracy against all that is good and holy in America and in fact the whole damned universe.

Sadly, though, embedded in each of these compost piles are legitimate ideas worthy of much more pointed and rational discussion. To what extent have the victims of the terrorist attacks both living and dead become pawns and icons in somebody else's political games? That is a legitimate question to ask, irrespective of who those victims are. But the question can be addressed with a dignity and decency foreign not only to this tirade from Coulter but that is decidedly absent from most everything she writes.

And Churchill's tastelessness doesn't have even the partially mitigating grace of originality. He was simply defrosting and reheating the far more complex questions raised by Hannah Arendt in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Study In The Banality of Evil of the extent of personal resposibility that individuals bear in the destructive acts that a nation perpetrates. Arendt's articulated point was that the face of evil was not the mustachioed madman or the corpulent Luftwaffe Reichsmarschall or even the skinny Gauleiter for propaganda but rather the faceless, bespectacled bureaucrat who never killed anyone, loved his wife and family, and held down a solid nine-to-five office job. But in that office, Adolf Eichmann planned train schedules, secured barbed wire, and ordered Zyklon-B poison gas, all for ends that he never witnessed nor apparently thought about very much. And Arendt's implication casts a much broader net to include the railroad employees and contractors and construction workers who never once committed direct acts of violence against Jews but without whose mute complicity the Holocaust could never have come into its apocalyptic reality.

Ward Churchill tries to apply an absurdly over-simplified version of Arendt's subtle and complex questions to the actions of the post-1990 American imperium. That Churchill cannot fathom the difference between Hitler's Germany and Bush's USA is indictment enough of his venal stupidity. But the very indecency of his attack all but eviscerates the possibility of asking hard questions about the effect on the poor of the developing world of the profit-motivated and U.S.-led forces of globalization powered by the overpowering engine of the American economy. Those questions deserve to be asked and discussed and debated - they are as old as "Am I my brother's keeper?" - and not to be spewed up from the sewer-mind of a man so steeped in self-loathing that he cannot be honest even with himself about who he is.

Coulter and Churchill serve the same masters and worship at the same shrines, apparent differences notwithstanding. Both butcher the language - "little Eichmanns" for stockbrokers and secretaries? "broads" - and from a woman, at that? - and both disrespect the logic of genuine political discourse. They both have deified their own egos, and their hymns are the discordant noises of their own rhetoric. Neither is really "liberal" or"conservative" in whatever integrity these terms have retained in the face of concerted assaults from the intellectual flatulence of their ilk. Their insensitive and indefensible extremism places them in exactly the same place: in the dead center of the outermost fringe of commentary in America, and oddly and hilariously in the same intellectual bed with each other.


Anonymous said...

Of course the most relevant difference between the two is that Churchill is a nobody whom no one supports or encourages. Coulter, meanwhile, is a superstar on the right, who is fed millions of dollars by adoring fans, no matter how outrageous she is; in fact, the more the better.

It comes down not to a question of why our political factions spawn such creatures - I am sure that all political movements spawn loonies. The relevant question is why the RW embraces and encourages people like Coulter, instead of ignoring them, as the left does with Churchill.

JK Moran said...

I couldn't agree more, the key point being the absolute anonymity of Churchill. It was in fact the Right that gave him his 15 minutes. His original comments were made on Sept 12, 2001 but didn't surface until early 2004 or so when someone over on the other side seemd to discover his ramblings in the Web and circulated them as an example of "liberals hate America" and similar clap trap.

Coulter's status grows out of the embattled bunker mentality of the right. I keep hearing about "liberal bias" in the MSM - yet our media landscape is littered with a small number of mega-corp media organizations that occasionally affect just enough left-leaning posture to keep that segment of the population quiet while feeding some red meat to hounds like Hannity and Limbaugh.

Anonymous said...

It is more than a little annoying to see the media do what this blog does, pair a legitimate right wing spokesnazi with a random screwnut presented as representative of the majority that the right wing wants to tag as unworthy of drawing breath. I understand your point, but on Fox News this lopsided presentation is what's called fair and balanced.

JK Moran said...

I know you understand what I was trying to do, and I'd guess you also know that I was well aware of the logical deficiency of my presentation. This blog post, though, grew as much out of reading my brother Rick's posting on the same topic and my comments on it over there as from the Coulter thing itself, as I don't pay much attention to her unless Rick mentions her.

I figured that if anyone ever read this, it would likely be someone from his "Right Wing Nuthouse" or some of the music boards I post on that are also populated by largely conservative folk. Just wanted to point out to them as logically and dispassionately as possible that screed isn't discourse, whatever its source, major or minor, left or right.

James said...

To be honest, I never heard Churchill's "Eichmann" bit in context, so thanks for that... Scary, though...

I also have to agree with the posters who noted the imbalance in the pairing... It's a shame that Coulter, who clearly can be just as nutty as Churchill can be, has managed to achieve the status she has... (& yet, both are rumored to be quite intelligent... Go figure...)

Took a more circuitous route, myself... A leftie blog referenced your brother's nuthouse post, who then referenced his leftie brother's blog... 8>)

They are indeed twins of different parents...
(I think it was Churchill that pulled a Coulter, myself, but I suppose it doesn't much matter... Either way, it's more about them than any kinda legitimate points.)

Brucenik said...

I think anonymous inadvertantly struck the key to what Jim is talking about when anon described Coulter as a "right wing spokesnazi". And Coulter is called "mean spirited?" From what I have seen in the last 6 years, too many pay too much attention to the extremes of both sides. It IS interesting, however to see those on the extreme left whine about anything said about them, but it's perfectly OK for the "L"'s to use words like Nazi, Hitler, Stalin, Gestapo, Gulag, etc, when talking about conservatives.

I also find it interesting that ANYone can condemn an author's words BEFORE reading the book the words are taken from. But, sadly, that's what happens when "it's all about me, me, me without any regard for you, you, you." Be careful for what you wish; it may come true.