Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Friday, July 12, 2002
The Ann Coulter Experiment

No, it isn't an alternative/progressive rock band. I wanted to join in the efforts by TAPPED, Scoobie Davis, and others to fact-check or just generally eviscerate Ann Coulter. I couldn't check the entire book - I'm not about to buy a copy and it's checked out or still in shipment at local libraries. And besides, that would involve reading the whole thing, and in the immortal words of Buffy Summers, "Raise your hand if eww."

So I decided to open the book, read one random page closely, and report on the outright falsehoods, fake arguments, and assorted dishonesty found therein.

I read page 152, the second page of a chapter which claims the liberal media inflates the intelligence of Democratic politicians. One page turns out to be more than enough to catch Coulter in direct lies and much more.

It was blindingly obvious... that Stevenson was a boob - certainly clear to the American people who continually rejected him for President - only later was Stevenson discovered to be a lowbrow who rarely read books. When he died, only a single book was found on his nightstand: The Social Register.

Here we have several propaganda techniques. A sweeping statement - Stevenson was a boob - is 'proven' by one piece of marginally relevant evidence, what he read on the last night of his life. In her footnote, Coulter mentions that in the entire Nexis database, only she and George Will cite this factoid. Possibly because they're the only ones silly enough to think it means anything.

Also notice that the fact that Stevenson lost two elections 'proves' that everyone except the media noticed he wasn't as smart as he was claimed to be. Or maybe, just maybe, the 1952 and 1956 elections were not exclusively referenda on Adlai Stevenson's IQ. Could be people actually thought that Ike would be a good President, and figured four years later they had been right

Proof by inadequate evidence and proof by wholly irrelevant evidence. Two Coulter trademarks, and we haven't even gone past the first paragraph yet.

The second paragraph cites several instances of press reports describing Bill or Hillary Clinton as intelligent. Since Coulter cites these as evidence of media bias, presumably she thinks this is untrue. So I am curious on one point: Coulter and her allies generally assert that the Clintons were guilty of criminal acts in Whitewater, Waco, the Travel Office, campaign fundraising, futures trading, the Madison S & L failure, Paula Jones, technology transfer to China, selling pardons, obstructing probes of most of the above, and a lot more I didn't get around to mentioning. Okay, you're entitled to believe that. But if you can successfully commit all those crimes, get caught only getting a blow job after years of multiple aggressive investigations, and still find time to be the first President since Truman to balance the budget, don't you have to be a little smarter than the ignorant hillbilly Clinton haters like to portray? In fact, don't you pretty much have to be Professor Moriarty?

Other Democrats alleged to have been disadvantaged by their oversized intellects include... every other Democrat you've ever heard of.

Every Democrat? It seems you just can't pick up a paper without reading yet another story on the magisterial intellect of Ted Kennedy or Joe Biden. The sweeping generalization; another rhetorical trick and another Coulter trademark.

The next paragraph goes for some gratuitous personal nastiness, raising Kitty Dukakis's diet pill addiction on the theory that Mike Dukakis being allegedly unaware of it proves his stupidity.

Okay, we've had various propaganda tricks and miscellaneous personal attacks. But in four whole paragraphs not a single outright lie! Is something wrong?

Don't worry folks, we're getting there.

Walter Mondale cleverly informed the voters in the middle of a campaign that he was going to raise their taxes. He also deftly sent his media strategists out to explain that the guy who had just walloped him in a debate was a senile old weakling.

What do you call it when a politician speaks out for policies he actually believes in during a campaign, even if it is likely to be unpopular? Ann Coulter has the answer: she calls it stupid.

Some of my readers are doubtless too young to remember the 1984 campaign, but I can assure you: Ann Coulter is the only human being alive who thinks Reagan 'walloped' Mondale in the first debate. (Since the debates were held on Oct 7 and Oct 21, and the reference she cites for this is the San Diego Union Tribune for Oct 12, this has to refer to the first debate.) Every newspaper and every pundit agreed that Reagan was horrible in the first debate. Coulter will of course attribute that unanimous verdict to liberal bias - and never mind that most of those same biased liberals said Reagan won the second debate. It might be a little harder for Coulter to dismiss this assessment of the first debate:

I have to say I lost.
-Ronald Reagan, An American Life, p 328

I don't happen to have at my fingertips a copy of the Union Tribune for Oct 12, 1984, but Coulter does quote from it in the footnote: "Democrats are saying President Reagan's performance in the presidential debate may be a sign of increasing age..." This quote fails to support either the claim that Democrats said Reagan was senile (or a weakling), or the claim that Mondale instructed them to say so.

In fact, I remember that debate quite well, because the events struck me at the time. It was held on a Sunday. Everybody believed that Reagan, already known as the Great Communicator, would wipe the floor with Mondale. Instead, Reagan was dreadful. The news reports praised Mondale for an upset victory and said Reagan seemed 'confused' or 'uncertain', but when we talked about the debate in my office lunch room on Monday, both Democrats and Republicans said what the media had scrupulously not said: Reagan had sounded senile. On Tuesday, that celebrated far left agit-prop publication, The Wall Street Jounal printed an unsigned paragraph on the front page which, while giving no names, admitted that money managers on Wall Street were saying the same thing.

That opened the floodgates. On Wednesday, the media was openly speculating on whether Reagan was still mentally competent and in the next few days his lead shrank significantly. It went on until the second debate, when Reagan was directly asked about his health. Reagan deflected the question with a lame and obviously prepared joke and the Republican crowd in the room laughed loudly. Through the rest of the debate, Reagan was his usual self: confidently making assertions that were true mainly in his imagination and certain, correctly so, that he wouldn't be called on it. This was decreed by the punditocracy to close the senility question and it wasn't discussed in mainstream media for the remainder of the campaign.

In the debate, Mondale had no comment when asked to respond to Reagan's joke. Through the whole campaign, he stayed scrupulously away from raising the issue, never discussing it in public even for the week it was the dominant theme of media coverage of the race.

So we have our first lies: Reagan won the debate and Mondale orchestrated a campaign to say he was senile.

In the next and fortunately final paragraph of my reading assignment, Our Lady of the Smear Job turns to Jimmy Carter, who is also stupid because he "claimed to have been attacked by a killer rabbit during the 1980 campaign." You can find accounts of that incident here, or here, or here. All agree on some points: it was Jody Powell, a Carter aide, who made the story public. Carter discussed the incident only with his staff. And Carter never used the phrase "killer rabbit", which ran all through the stories that dominated the media for a month or so.

This sounds silly, mostly because it is. But there is a reason why Coulter raises and misuses the killer rabbit incident. Those who were around at the time remember that the story actually had a devastating political impact on Carter. The symbol of a President battling it out with a rabbit resonated with the real story that dominated the period, the hostages being held in Iran, and produced an image of a leader too weak to take on anything more dangerous than a bunny rabbit. To this day, conservatives who want to mock Carter are still pulling that killer rabbit out of their hats.

The example works strongly against Coulter's thesis: a significant factor in the election of her political hero was the 'liberal' media blowing up a ludicrous and trivial incident into major political damage to his opponent. By distorting the facts of this story, Coulter has slickly transformed a true tale that underemines her thesis into a fictionalized one that supports it.