Monday, March 12, 2007

Coulter and the F-Word Redux

Sorry to come late to the party, but a dust-up by Glenn Greenwald in Salon on Ann Coulter's latest attention grabbing device deserves to be picked up on and amplified.

He argues that the importance of Coulter's use of the "F-Word" to describe John Edwards lies more in what it says about Republicans than Coulter or Edwards. Greenwald goes beyond the standard observations that this is scarcely the first or the worst obscenity to come out of Coulter and yet she was still greeted warmly at the Conservative Political Action Conference and was introduced by presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with the words, “I’m happy to learn that after you hear me, you’re going to hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing.” Romney's campaign later called the remark "offensive." So we can only surmise that he was hoping she'd joke about poisoning a Supreme Court Justice or insult the widows of victims of 9-11 again. What a hoot!

Instead Greenwald points out, I think correctly:
Coulter plays a vital and irreplaceable role in this movement. The reason I linked to that Bob Somerby post on Maureen Dowd yesterday is because he makes the critical point -- one which Digby, among others, has been making for a long time, including in a great post last night -- concerning how the right-wing movement conducts itself and the rhetorical tool they use not only to keep themselves in power, but more importantly, to keep their needy, confused, and scared base feeling strong and protected. As Digby put it:
The underlying premise of the modern conservative movement is that the entire Democratic party consists of a bunch of fags and dykes who are both too effeminate and too masculine to properly lead the nation. Coulter says it out loud. Dowd hints at it broadly. And the entire press corps giggles and swoons at this shallow, sophomoric concept like a bunch of junior high pom pom girls.

Coulter insisted last night that she did not intend the remark as an anti-gay slur -- that she did not intend to suggest that John Edwards, husband and father, was gay -- but instead only used the word as a "schoolyard taunt," to call him a sissy. And that is true. Her aim was not to suggest that Edwards is actually gay, but simply to feminize him like they do with all male Democratic or liberal political leaders.

For multiple reasons, nobody does that more effectively or audaciously than Coulter, which is why they need her so desperately and will never jettison her. How could they possibly shun her for engaging in tactics on which their entire movement depends? They cannot, which is why they are not and will not.

The converse of this is equally true. As critical as it is to them to feminize Democratic and liberal males (and to masculinize the women), even more important is to create false images of masculine power and strength around their authority figures. The reality of this masculine power is almost always non-existent. The imagery is what counts.

Coulter is more than just another right-wing hit-person. Greenwald is right. She plays a vital role for them. She presents herself as a hyper-feminized sexual object. Hair dyed, anorexic looking build, she is usually pictured in something tight fitting and low cut. This is part of the appeal. She says to the soft and flabby chickenhawks and yellow elephants: Democrats are bunch of sissies. You're the real heroes. And she offers herself up as an idealized sexual prize.

Liberals are sometimes fond of pointing Coulter's Adam's apple and joking that she's not really a woman. I think they correctly picking up that she is in female drag, an overdone version of herself. But they are also playing into the same gender schema. One liberal site has even claimed that Coulter is a lesbian. All of which just reaffirms Coulter's subtext that gender inappropriate behavior is bad.

It's a game Democrats cannot win if they accept those terms. Democrats will always be the party of women who can be strong and men who can sensitive - which should be a good thing. Democrats will be the party that supports, or at least doesn't actively bash, GLBT people. They cannot tacitly accept that traditional gender roles are somehow inherently better.

John Edwards got it right not by being "offended" at being called gay but by attacking the implicit attack on gays.
Ann Coulter's use of an anti-gay slur yesterday was un-American and indefensible. In America, we strive for equality and embrace diversity. The kind of hateful language she used has no place in political debate or our society at large.

I believe it is our moral responsibility to speak out against that kind of bigotry and prejudice every time we encounter it

Had he puffed his chest out and acted macho or gone after the masculinity of the likes of Rush Limbaugh, he'd have simply invited the national conversation to focus on gendered behavior of the parties and their people.

In response to Edwards' call for people offended by Coulter's remarks to help raise $100,000 in "Coulter Cash" to show that he would not be intimidated by "bigoted attacks", Coulter responded, "I'm so ashamed, I can't stop laughing!" I'm sure it's true. Coulter can't be shamed. And her followers think it's all hy-larious.

But Coulter isn't the point. It's Giuliani who called her "completely inappropriate." And McCain who said the remark was "wildly inappropriate." Watch. They're so offended, they won't stop campaigning with her. What a hoot!

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