Monday, March 29, 2010

Sorry, But I'm 100% Right on Coulter

Being painfully objective requires a healthy dose of introspection, and frequently, I read posters' comments pleasantly surprised that they've provided either an angle I hadn't remotely considered or unseen data from sources previously unknown. I keep an open mind on policy debates, as nobody can be an expert on so many issues.

BUT...when somebody says I'm wrong on the media and political marketing, whooo boy, that's like telling your grandmother her cooking is terrible. Don't expect it to be pretty.

In response to my Ann Coulter post, I received the following reply:

Hey Chris,

I think using the term "utterly stupid" to describe those student protesters applies your assumptions, issues, and hangups as an American to a bunch of people who don't share them. I think you're wrong to assume that *Canadian* students should or do care all that much about "amplifying" American right-wing ideologues within American media markets. Those protesters, right or wrong, wanted to deny Coulter a platform in their community and in their country and at that they succeeded. As a result, her platform in *our country* got bigger, yes, but that is *our problem* not theirs. You might reflect on that before you call them naive, misguided, and foolish.

Now, although this person posted anonymously, (s)he started with "Hey Chris" instead of "Hey, douchebag" or a comparable phrase that now passes for repartee in our dumbed-down culture. I'm going to assume, accordingly, that this person is a friend of mine and somebody who I really respect, so I'll tell him/her precisely what I would say were we meeting at Barcelona for beers:


After assessing whether my speculation was right that you're a student, a professor, or a Vietnam era student activist - as only somebody connected to a college campus and protest politics could so mythologize the virtue of a student protest gone so horribly awry - I would ask you rhetorically, "You think these students succeeded in denying Coulter a platform in their community and in their country by engaging in this ill-conceived exercise?!?"

Well, allow me to retort, my friend.

The ten most populous cities in Canada are Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Galgary, Edmondton, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Quebec City, and London.

Guess who had stories about Ann Coulter after the "Ottawa incident?"

The Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Montreal Examiner, the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen, the Galgary Globe & Mail (headline: "Spurned in Ottawa, Ann Coulter Gets a Big Welcome in Galgary"), the Edmondton Sun, the Winnipeg Sun, the Winnipeg Free Press, the Hamilton Spectator, the London Free Press, the National Post (which I guess is Canada's version of U.S.A. Today), and a slew of Quebec papers I am ashamed I couldn't read despite a lot of high school French, though I'm pretty sure it's the same, given that most of the story leads include the phrase "La militante de la droite americaine Ann Coulter."

And that's just the print media, which tends to be more measured in covering controversy than blogs, radio, and TV.

From CTV:
Did Ann Coulter, that ‘blonde she-devil' to the left, the "American Voltaire" to the right, execute a checkmate on the Canadian media and public worthy of Garry Kasparov?

Whether on the television and talk radio airwaves, Twitter, or even on old-fashioned ink, it was impossible to avoid the firebrand conservative this week.
The story quotes Judy Rebick, a Ryerson social justice and democracy professor and prominent political commentator from the left, as saying that Coulter used the University's warning letter to "provoke a confrontation and it worked."' Rebick added that outspoken Canadian conservative political activits Ezra Levant and Coulter "set a trap and the University of Ottawa, its protesting students, and the media fell into it."

Levant admitted that the controversy caused by the letter raised their profile. "It proved our point, showing that censorship only draws more attention," the free speech advocate told CTV of the University of Ottawa's actions.

After bringing this information to your attention, I'd rebuke you for making me out to be some type of cultural imperialist when this has nothing to do with "my assumptions, issues, or hangups" and everything to do with the laws of media. I'd point out that the facts Canadians covered this more than America proves my point quite nicely, and then I'd lead you to the really messed up part.

Because the students vociferously protested, Coulter was able to pretend she was afraid and cancel. Had there been no student protest, Coulter would have had no choice but to bore the room and go home. One person who attended the Calgary event noted, "Her remarks were not intelligent enough to be offensive" - precisely the reaction you want).

Instead, Coulter is running wild in Canadian media (as well as U.S.) and even talking about filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

I would go on, but I would recognize I'd be beating a decomposed horse. Instead I'd just order us another round while muttering, "Dans son visage!" (In your face!)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lest anyone think I'm saying all college students or professors have a squishy attitude about the frail ears of their students, see the comment from Professor Rosenberg in my original post. The consensus seems to be that we can all call Ann Coulter an intellectually vapid blatherer, but the best way to prove it to a third party is just to let them see her.

UPDATE: I've just been advised by Erin Rosenberg that she is not a professor. I guess that's the kind of assumption you make about people who get "deep" on you in a scholarly way.



erin said...

Now Chris- I am NOT a professor! I take it as a very nice compliment though! This perfectly summarizes what I was saying in the other thread:

One person who attended the Calgary event noted, "Her remarks were not intelligent enough to be offensive"

That is exactly why I think people should listen to her!

To clarify, I am not opposed at all to protesting as well. But, the two don't have to be one or the other.

Anonymous said...

Consider me unimpressed with your response. If getting publicity for the sake of publicity is what matters, you would have a point. If, on the other hand, parlaying that publicity into meaningful policies is what matters your point is frustratingly obtuse. I'm well aware that the Canadian media is covering the story, but none of that coverage is using the protests *to vindicate Coulter's politics.* In fact, the very opinion piece you cite labels Coulter's views as "contemptible to Canadian values." In other words, most Canadian media is using the incident as a springboard to both (a) question how Canadians handle dissenting speech and (b) disavow and condemn Ann Coulter's politics. Let's be clear: Ann Coulter's goal isn't to get people to reconsider discursive ethics. It's to popularize her version of conservativism -- a particular brand that has virtually no purchase in Canada. I don't see that changing and while she may write about this event in her next book, it's a book that will sell very few copies north of the border.

Frankly, I'm also not willing to let you off the hook on the "cultural imperialism" charge. You did write: "They made Ann Coulter a First Amendment hero." Chris, walk through this with me: CANADA DOES NOT HAVE A FIRST AMENDMENT.

iPOPA said...


I get your point completely about the substance of Coulter's remarks not changing Canadians' minds, but that's an argument I wasn't having. What I was responding to was the comment that the students denied her a platform by protesting. They didn't. They gave her a springboard.

Also, (and walk through this with me now) sometimes an action can have two different effects on two different populations. It can:

(1) make Ann Coulter a 1st Amendment hero in America; and

(2) give her massive attention she doesn't deserve in Canada. That doesn't require me to believe Canada has a 1st Amendment.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. I still don't think the controversy has given Coulter a "platform" in Canada, so much as some media attention which hasn't done anything to substantively promote *her causes*, but has maybe made people introspective about some loosely related issues. (I wouldn't expect a repeal of the Canadian hate speech laws anytime soon, though.)

I'm sure you know that Canada doesn't have a 1st Amendment. You're a smart guy and you usually frame things in an intelligent way. But there you *framed* the key paragraph by referencing a uniquely and explicitly *American* legal term in an analysis of the rationality of a bunch of Canadians. And, sure, maybe you had "two different populations" in mind all along, but that seems like a pretty ex post facto justification, especially considering that the first mention of how Canadians might understand the controversy doesn't even come until the second post. In other words, it seems pretty clear from your rhetoric that you were interpreting the event like the physics of American political discourse applied, I called you on it, and now you're spluttering to come up with an explanation for how it still applies to Canada.

And, sure, in American political discourse this event will be coded as "Intolerant immature liberal fascists shout down conservative." But it's clear that that particular political narrative -- which does empower conservative politicians and contribute to conservative policies in the US -- has significantly less gravity in Canada. You might ask a different set of questions and try to figure out what the Canadian "narrative" is.

It turns out the primary result of the whole kerfuffle in Canada has been to shed some critical light on Canada's hate speech laws. But that's *a totally different issue* and arguing that the student protesters "fell in to a trap" requires that they were protesting in support of hate speech laws. But they weren't! They were protesting against Ann Coulter. It's perfectly plausible that some number of those protesters happen to despise both Ann Coulter's politics and Canada's hate speech laws. The two aren't incompatible at all.

Long story short: when you call a whole bunch of people stupid, naive, etc. you should understand the specific political context that informs their decision making process. If this had unfolded in the US, I would probably share your analysis. But it didn't. It happened in a country that has a very different political system, different attitudes with regard to speech, and a very different political geography. I don't think your analysis makes any effort to engage or even recognize those differences.

Anonymous said...

Hey Canadian Genius:
The post has nothing to do with Canada, it is only a case in point.
The question Chris addressed is whether it is better to protest a speaker you despise or just ignore it.
Chris argued, quite persuasively, that if the KKK wants to rally, you should not give them what they want: media attention.
That's what happens when 300 progressives have to be cordoned off by police to protect 12 toothless rednecks. It makes the tolerant look intolerant, the nonviolent look violent, and vice versa.
If you cannot understand that this is a victory for Coulter, you are, well "obtuse." As a result of the opposition to her speech, she will sell more books, become part of the wider debate on hate speech, and rise higher among the ranks of conservative figures.
You sure put her in her place...

Indy Student said...

Anon 3:36 said "If getting publicity for the sake of publicity is what matters, you would have a point."


"If, on the other hand, parlaying that publicity into meaningful policies is what matters your point is frustratingly obtuse. "

That is not the point. Many of the ilk of Coulter admit they are entertainers first and anything else second. Their goal is to make money. They do this by inciting controversy and gaining widespread publicity, which you can't deny because that's exactly what happened.

You also missed the point chris made concerning the media. It doesn't matter what the media is saying. Good, or bad, they are playing right into Coulter's plan. If there wasn't these protests, then none of these papers would be writing editorials about it, and few except the most local ones would even be reporting on it.

You miss Coulter's goal completely, anon. It's not to popularize her politics, but to make money and get promotion. And the Canadians protesting the event and the media covering it did exactly that.

Trust me, the students protesting are not giving Coulter second thoughts on changing her views.

Anonymous said...

Anon11:02: I don't have a big objection to that "general" point. In fact, I agree that protesting people you don't agree with usually isn't very productive. My posts, from the beginning, have been in response to the careless labeling of a few thousand people as "utterly stupid" and "foolish" who Chris has never met and using a set of standards obviously rooted in American rather than Canadian political conundrums. All I'm asking is that before Chris insults a bunch of people, he tries to understand their political context and decision making process. The way I read it – and your reading that the post had “nothing to do with Canada” only reinforces this – is an American scolding and insulting Canadians for not taking into account what the consequences would be for Americans. A sounder approach might try to convince those Canadians that their behavior was *bad for Canadians* – which, incidentally, is exactly what Chris tried to do in the next post (albeit unpersuasively in my opinion).

So, I agree that the original post had nothing to do with Canada, which is exactly the problem. In order to buy the claim that the protesters were being "utterly stupid" you have to buy the claim that those same protesters do and should care about whether Ann Coulter is received more sympathetically by American media. You prove my point when you write, “As a result of the opposition to her speech, she will sell more books, become part of the wider debate on hate speech, and rise higher among the ranks of conservative figures.” This is all true, of course, if you add the crucial words “ the United States” to the end of the sentence. Why should Canadians care about this or add any weight to it in a rational calculus of the costs and benefits of protesting? I'll repeat: That's *our problem,* not theirs. The protesters weren't stupid or na├»ve, they just didn't care about how the protests would play in the United States.

I would add, just because the American left and the American right are locked in a zero-sum competition for political power (there are finite votes, elected positions, political capital, policy options, etc.), doesn't mean that left-leaning Canadians can't have positive-sum interaction with figures on the American right. What I mean is this: I'll agree as an American leftist that a victory for Ann Coulter is almost certainly a loss for me. But a Canadian student protester isn't constrained by that calculus. For a Canadian student they can achieve a win-win with Ann Coulter if, by protesting, they can achieve their goal of not having her give a speech while, at the same time, externalizing the cost to the American left. In that scenario, Coulter wins – she sells more books and becomes more prominent *in the US* – but so do the student protesters. That we lose in the deal doesn't make them stupid, it just makes us losers.

Indy Student: You are confusing why I should care about something as a rational political actor with the subjective intentions and schemes of conservative actors. Why should I, as an American leftist, care about making Ann Coulter more money or garnering more media attention if it has no effect on policy or political decision making? Should I be filled with resentment because she's doing well? I don't know her and don't have personal animosity towards her.

I care about Ann Coulter – to the extent that I do care about Ann Coulter – only because she has gravity in American conservative politics and because her opinions may ultimately have an effect on public policy and political discourse in ways that will also effect me and my family. If her behavior and speech just enrich her and don't have any other effect, well, godspeed to her.

Anonymous said...

Ya but Tom John thinks she hot