Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don’t Ignore Them; Laugh at Them

(Welcome C&L readers! Glad you found the place. I hope you’ll come back often – MB)

Leonard Pitts warns us that ignoring people like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin only allows them to grow and fester in the dark.

Last week, Coulter said that in her perfect America, everyone would be a Christian. She said this to Donny Deutsch, who was hosting her on his CNBC program, The Big Idea. Deutsch, who is Jewish, expressed alarm. Whereupon Coulter told him that Jews simply needed to be ”perfected” — i.e., made to accept Jesus as savior. Which is, of course, one of the pillars (along with the slander of Christ’s murder) supporting 2,000 years of pogroms, abuse and Holocaust.

I suspect the reason some people believe that kind of ignorance is best ignored is that they find it difficult to take it seriously, or to accept that Coulter — or those who embrace her — really believes what she says. After all, this is not 1933, not 1948, not 1966. It is two-thousand-by-God-oh-seven, post-Seinfeld, post-Gore-Lieberman, post-Schindler’s List. We no longer live in the era when open anti-Semitism could find wide traction. This is a different time.

But time, Martin Luther King once observed, is neutral. Time alone changes nothing. It is people who make change in time. Or not. So you have to wonder if this determined sanguinity in the face of intolerance is not ultimately an act of monumental self-delusion.

While some of us are cheerfully assuring one another that They Don’t Really Mean It, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups in this country has risen by a whopping 40 percent in just the last seven years. If you had spent those years, as I have, jousting in print the agents of intolerance, you would not be surprised. It would be all but impossible to quantify, but I’ve noted a definite spike, not simply in the hatefulness of some people, but in the willingness to speak that hatefulness openly and without shame. What used to be anonymous now comes with a name and address.

[…]

And if some of us are laughing that off, not everybody is.

So this is not about bashing conservatives. It is, rather, about challenging them, and all of us. Within living memory, we have seen Jews in boxcars and blacks in trees and silence from those who should have been shouting. They pretended it wasn’t happening until it already had.

So, what about Ann Coulter? What about the push-back against diversity, pluralism and tolerance, that she represents? I keep hearing that we should just ignore it.

My point is, that’s been tried before. It didn’t work.

Anybody who’s read this blog for any length of time will know that I agree with Mr. Pitts’s advice wholeheartedly; to ignore the bullies like Ann Coulter is dangerous, but I also don’t believe in giving them the credibility that they think they’re entitled to because they can get a gig on Hardball. I’ve always said that the best way to deal with them is the Mel Brooks approach: make fun of them. The quickest way to deflate pompous and self-important people is to laugh at them and let the limelight point out how ridiculous they are. Sure, it will sell their books for them, but the more people who read them will discover that they are screeds of bilious crap, and there has to be some subconscious shame in collecting a royalty when you know that some of it is being paid for the express purpose of making a mockery of you.

As I’ve also noted, it takes a certain skill to make a mockery out of people like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Michelle Malkin. It’s easy to take cheap shots at them and speculate about Ms. Coulter’s gender identification or her scanty clothing choices, Mr. Limbaugh’s weight and addiction to pain pills, and Ms. Malkin’s ethnic heritage. But that’s counterproductive; all it does it make it about irrelevancies, even when their hypocrisy about gays, drug use, or interning immigrants begs for the comparison. In order to truly make a mockery of these clowns, you have to go after their outrageous opinions and statements and turn them back on them. You can’t shame them; they have no sense of shame, or if they did, they long ago gave it up as a part of the deal. You can’t shout them down because they don’t allow people to speak their piece; on a TV pundit panel they constantly interrupt and talk over their host or the other people, either because they never learned any manners or they’re deathly afraid of someone actually making sense and leaving them gasping for air. This was proven with amazing alacrity on Real Time with Bill Maher last week when Tucker Carlson was constantly interrupting Paul Krugman and Joy Behar. He was just plain rude.

The response to these people shouldn’t be scolding or flaming rage; all that does is prove that someone is actually taking them seriously. The Mel Brooks approach of bare-knuckle mockery and burlesque laughter is the best weapon. If you want proof of that today, look at how the right wing is completely thrown off the track by Hillary Clinton’s laugh. They’re baffled that she’s laughing at Chris Wallace of Fox News and his furrowed-brow questions about “hyperpartisanship” on the part of the Clintons, which is a question you’d expect from Stephen Colbert. Suddenly the pundits are analyzing the hell out of Senator Clinton’s laugh, and the subtext is a worrisome concern that she’s not taking them seriously. “But we’re pundits! She has to take us seriously!”

This isn’t to dismiss Leonard Pitts’s point, either. We shouldn’t ignore the Ann Coulters and Tucker Carlsons, but we don’t have to give them credibilty they crave. We should just laugh them off the stage.