Ann Coulter and Conservatism's Continuum of Hate
On the House floor Thursday, Democratic Congressman Rahm Emmanuel threw down the gauntlet and challenged his GOP colleagues to repudiate the bilious words of Ann Coulter. But as should be clear by now, they simply can't. Whether the issue concerns gay Americans, 9/11, abortion, judicial appointments or political corruption, a seamless continuum of hate runs from today's governing conservatism through to its most extreme proponents. And that means the Congressional GOP differs only in degree - not in kind - from the cartoonish and sometimes criminal likes of Ann Coulter, Fred Phelps or Eric Rudolph.
Emmanuel's comments on the House floor laid bare the Republicans' hypocrisy:
"I must ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Does Ann Coulter speak for you when she suggests poisoning Supreme Court justices or slanders the 9/11 widows? If not, speak now. Your silence allows her to be your spokesman."
When it comes to the rights of gay Americans and the battle of marriage equality, for example, it is only a short hop from President Bush to crusading homophobic Kansas minister Fred Phelps. Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, you'll recall, organizes virulent anti-gay protests at U.S. military funerals, complete with signs such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for IEDs," deaths it deems divine punishment for America's tolerance of gay lifestyles.
President Bush may have signed an executive order on Memorial Day outlawing Phelps' desecration of our soldiers' funerals, but he shares Republican responsibility for bringing that Frankenstein to life. After all, Bush cynically used a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage to rally his base in both 2004 and 2006. With 11 state measures passed and Bush wins in battleground states such as Ohio, the GOP was wildly successful in 2004. (The prospects aren't as promising for Bush's 2006 effort.) And years before the American people were treated to the spectacle of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe declaring on the Senate floor that his family never had "any kind of homosexual relationship," GOP culture warriors such as Rick Santorum and John Cornyn decried gay Americans whose simple desire for marriage equality would lead to "man-on-dog" and man-on-box turtle coupling.
Ann Coulter's swift boating of a group of 9/11 families is just a particularly egregious example of the demonization of legitimate political opponents by the GOP and its amen corner. Coulter libeled 9/11 widows such as Kristin Breitweiser and Mindy Kleinberg, calling them "harpies," "witches," and "millionaires" who "enjoyed their husbands' deaths", because they had the temerity to call for a September 11 commission and needed reforms of the American national security and intelligence communities. But their real crime was supporting John Kerry for President in 2004. (After all, Coulter was silent on Bush water carrier and RNC convention spokesperson Debra Burlingame and Flight 93 widow-mother turned author Lisa Beamer.)
Coulter follows in the modern GOP tradition of John O'Neill and Saxby Chambliss. In his 2002 Senate race, Chambliss slandered Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, a Vietnam hero who lost three limbs in combat, as a security weakling in league with Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. And O'Neill, a GOP hatchet man going back to his dirty work for Richard Nixon in 1971, led the Swift Boat smear against John Kerry. (Kerry continues to fight to clear his name against the lies of O'Neill's jihad.) It should come as no surprise that the Swift Boat PR mastermind Barbara Comstock now heads up a similar effort for the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Fund.
On issue after issue, the Republican ideology of hate runs smoothly from the heart of the party to the most radical conservative extremists. For example, on the GOP culture of corruption, conservatives decry liberals' supposed "criminalization of politics." (How ironic it is that on the very day a disgraced Tom Delay left the House to the sound of applause from his Republican colleagues, the Democratic leadership insisted that ethically-challenged Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson step down from his Ways and Means Committee post.)
Or look at abortion and reproductive rights. On Capitol Hill, freshman Republican Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has advocated for the death penalty for abortion providers. The logical leap is a short one to Olympic and family planning clinic bomber Eric Rudolph or James Kopp, killer of doctor Bernard Slepien.
And don't forget the conservative war on judges. Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were right to speak out about threats to judges from extremist and not-so-extremist conservatives. After all, both faced death threats. No wonder Ginsburg blamed lawmakers for encouraging "the irrational fringe"; Senator Cornyn excused violence against judges with whom one disagrees. The once-and-future exterminator Tom Delay concurred during the Schiavo affair, warning that "the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." Ann Coulter was apparently just reflecting mainstream Republican thought when she pronounced, "We need somebody to put rat poison in Justice Stevens' creme brulee."
To date, the Republican Party and its more goose-stepping brethren have yet to pay a price for the their ideology of hate. (In fact, as I've argued elsewhere, the blurring of news, politics and entertainment creates a fertile and receptive media environment for conservatives' repeated morality plays.) Perhaps with Ann Coulter's recent comments, though, the right finally crossed the Rubicon; even the milquetoast conservative mouthpiece Tucker Carlson was outraged. But I for one doubt it. With its dismal standing in the polls, hate may be all the right has left.