Saturday, June 10, 2006

Who's jumping whom?

Kathleen Parker critiques our current incivility, noting that "our nation has become a quagmire of insult and ad hominem." She then singles out Ted Kennedy, James Inhofe, Ann Coulter and James Dobson as examples of the offenders, engaging in her own "insult and ad hominem."

She doesn't like it that Dobson said recently that "marriage is under vicious attack ... from the forces of hell itself." What else would you expect from the head of Focus on the Family? Are preachers supposed to quit talking about sin, hellfire and brimstone because it's "insensitive?" Hey, it's what they do. This is more a case of PC liberals trying to silence critics of moral innovations through labelling them, than "insult and ad hominem." The gay marriage issue is not as clearly one-sided as Parker seems to think, and for now she's on the losing side, despite the Senate's inability to rescue it from activist judges. I see it as part of a larger problem, the devaluation of marriage and family life as the wellspring of our society and culture. We have accepted the idea that marriages are disposable, and so it seems natural that if gays want in on such a devalued institution, why not?

As for Ted Kennedy's penchant for getting his considerable mass up on that high horse and charging his opponents with "bigotry," well, that's hardly the worst that liberals are saying about conservatives. Still, the point is that such epithets are unlikely to win support or spur compromise and it's true.

As for Ann Coulter, the line from her latest book in which she criticizes the "Jersey Girls," four widows of the 9/11 attacks on the WTC, for using their personal tragedies as a club to intimidate conservatives and demand concessions, is really a minor detail. It was a throw-away line in a book about what she views as the liberal faux-religion abroad in the world. I think she has a good case. Her remark about the Jersey Girls "enjoying their husbands' deaths" too much is over-the-top, but it hardly describes her whole book. Coulter is a tough debater, with well-researched facts and arguments. I don't care for her style, or her nasal tone, but there's nothing wrong with the substance of her arguments. Parker's own meme is that all these people have "jumped the shark," but would Coulter have done better to use that phrase about the Jersey Girls? Her point is that liberals have a habit of giving people like them, who have lost loved ones, "absolute moral authority," in Maureen Dowd's words about Cindy Sheehan.

One can understand and allow for a cri de couer, even an angry lashing out, in the first experience of such loss, but it's harder to justify turning it into a political career. Max Cleland comes to mind, along with John McCain. They served this country heroically and suffered horrors becasue of it, but that doesn't make them infallible. That was Coulter's point, made bluntly to be sure, but it's an important point in light of the typical response that such people must be right in their politics because they were heroic in another field. She calls it the liberal doctrine of infallibility, and she's right. Jack Murtha is another beneficiary. Veterans seem to be so rare among liberals that they get instant credibility among those who never came near a military base. How else can you explain the nomination of John Kerry?

I probably won't read Coulter's book, because I don't care for her approach, but she hasn't jumped the shark. That implies that she doesn't have anything important left to say, and I think it's false.


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