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 . . .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.
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. "
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.