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Daily Howler: Roger Ebert shows us the price we pay when we're too dumb to deal with the Coulters
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COULTERISM UNCHECKED! Roger Ebert shows us the price we pay when we’re too dumb to deal with the Coulters: // link // print // previous // next //

INVENTING DEMON JOE: As we’ve said, we think Joe Lieberman has pretty much earned his way out of office in the past few years. But progressive values can’t coexist with the stupid tools of our Coulterist Culture Wars. One such tool? The use of silly embellished anecdote to invent a pleasing demon. That in mind, we were intrigued by Ed Kilgore’s recent account of Lieberman’s work in Campaign 2000:
KILGORE : [T]he stuff about Lieberman "undermining Gore" is really bizarre. I will never forget watching the Lieberman-Cheney debate, and literally scratching the TV screen in frustration that Joe wasn't hammering Cheney on this or that point. But I also knew that this approach was totally scripted by the Gore high command, which erroneously expected Cheney to do his Darth Vader routine instead of playing the avuncular grandfather. Point B in the "Joe undermines Al" case generally revolves around the small incident during the Florida recount saga when Lieberman disclaimed any intention of challenging overseas military ballots. Again, Joe was totally doing what the Gore campaign told him to do; some of Gore's lawyers dissented from the decision, and later said so, but it wasn't Lieberman's fault.
Nor was that approach necessarily wrong, as a practical or political matter—although it feels good to insist that it was, and to revel in resultant victimhood. Meanwhile, did Lieberman throw the debate to Cheney? Some on the web have more or less said so, creating a soul-stirring Demon Joe. By happenstance, we re-watched that debate a few weeks ago, along with a chunk of the punditry, pre- and post-debate. Our impressions don’t align perfectly with what Kilgore writes, but they come pretty dang close. Tomorrow, we’ll offer some detail.

Progressive values will never survive the cosmic dumbness that constitutes Coulterism. Progressives will have to be smarter than that—and we’ll have to be more honest.

COULTERISM UNCHECKED: Kevin Drum has been on a roll of late, but we thought this post was especially intriguing. Let us summarize: A conservative friend of Drum’s confesses: “It’s hard for me to find any evidence that high minimum wages cause unemployment.” Kevin, being appropriately smart, suggests that the evidence isn’t perfectly clear. And then, the conservative friend e-mails back, offering a key observation:

CONSERVATIVE FRIEND: This is why your side is losing. If these data showed that the higher the minimum wage, the higher the unemployment rate, I can almost guarantee that it would be in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal.
In short: The other side fights these fights harder—and, perhaps, a bit more intelligently. For whatever reason—we’re not sure why—this made us think of the recent mass nonsense concerning cosmic lightweight Ann Coulter.

At Monday’s Tapped, Chaz Pierce tore his hair as he linked to the pathetic interview Beliefnet staged with Coulter. (Almost as bad: This interview in Sunday’s Baltimore Sun.) It’s much as we saw in that recent Hardball session (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/06); for whatever reason, when liberals, centrists and mainstreamers interview Coulter, they’re often unable to frame a sensible question or force an actual answer. And Coulter’s basic assumptions are quicky adopted. For a gruesome example, here’s a question from the Beliefnet session. The interviewer wasn’t named:

BELIEFNET: While I agree with you that the "Jersey Girls" turned themselves into political opportunists, one of your statements about them does strike me as over the top: "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." By contrast, you admit the genuine nature of Cindy Sheehan's grief, even though you're pretty hard on her—and you haven't been criticized for what you said about her. Is there anything you've said about the 9/11 widows that you wish you hadn't said?
The Jersey Girls “turned themselves into political opportunists?” But how exactly did they do that? By asking for a 9/11 commission? By voicing a perfectly reasonable view about the competence of the Bush Admin? That pitiful question helps us see the shape of our modern political discourse. Here’s how it works: Coulter—loud, stupid, incoherent, unyielding—emerges voicing some murky claim. And the weak boys and girls of our mainstream—of our center—quickly roll over and start to recite it. They’ll argue around the edge of her claims, but quickly adopt her basic assertions. We are simply too weak—too inept, too unable—to challenge her fatuous statements.

What happens when the center can’t hold? When the center is too morally weak, too mentally unprepared, to challenge even the silliest statements? We’ve been wanting to show you some sad material we stumbled upon concerning Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. It’s vitally important that we have an intelligent discussion of climate change issues. That in mind, Roger Ebert, a decent person, wrote this in the Chicago Sun-Times after seeing Gore’s film at Cannes:

EBERT (5/28/06): You owe it to yourself to see this film. If that sounds over-dramatic, I understand. I could not have imagined writing that before seeing the film myself. "An Inconvenient Truth" is not Al Gore's "opinion," or anyone's "political position," but a report on a process that the world's environmental scientists—almost literally every single one of them—are in agreement about.
That was factually accurate, of course. A few days later, Ebert published his formal review, in which he made similar statements:
EBERT (6/2/06): When I said I was going to a press screening of "An Inconvenient Truth," a friend said, "Al Gore talking about the environment!!" This is not a boring film. The director, Davis Guggenheim, uses words, images and Gore's concise litany of facts to build a film that is fascinating and relentless. In 39 years, I have never written these words in a movie review, but here they are: You owe it to yourself to see this film. If you do not, and you have grandchildren, you should explain to them why you decided not to.

Am I acting as an advocate in this review? Yes, I am. I believe that to be "impartial" and "balanced" on global warming means one must take a position like Gore's. There is no other view that can be defended. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, has said, "Global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." I hope he takes his job seriously enough to see this film. I think he has a responsibility to do that.

It’s sad to see that Standard Cant about how boring Gore is—the cant that people like Ebert’s friend have heard, from our fatuous press corps, for years. But citizens have heard worse things than that—and many citizens now believe the phony things they’ve heard for so long. Nine days after his review appeared, Ebert described the reactions he got in his “Answer Man” feature. First, we’ll show you what Ebert wrote. Then, we’ll make you sadder:
EBERT (6/11/06): Dear Readers,

I've received so many messages about my review of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" that, frankly, I don't see how the Answer Man can process them. I could print a dozen or a hundred, but that would lead us into an endless loop.

Many are supportive. More are opposed to the movie and just about everything in it, and are written by people who have not seen the movie and will not see it for a variety of reasons, including the theory that it is "liberal propaganda.” What I fail to understand is why global warming should be a liberal or conservative issue. It is either happening or is not, and we can either take action to try to slow it, or we cannot. That is why a great many conservatives have agreed with Gore on this.

When I am told "this is another one you're trying to blame on Bush and Halliburton," all I can say is, somebody is listening to way too much talk radio on which they are told global warming is being blamed on Bush and Halliburton. Actually, Gore blames neither and mentions neither. "It got worse on his watch as vice president." Yes, it did. "He flies around on a jet to warn against it." Yes, one of thousands of jet flights every day.

One person says that when Gore finds a "100 percent agreement" among scientists about global warming, that proves he is wrong, because 100 percent of scientists do not agree on anything. Then they quote scientists who disagree with Gore. What he said was, a random sampling of 935 recent articles published in peer-review scientific journals shows agreement with the basic findings reported in his film.

Many people inform me that they just read a story saying that the South Pole was tropical many eons ago. So it was, as reported in "March of the Penguins." I don't know what they want me to do with this factoid. Applaud our actions to bring that condition around again as quickly as possible?

I cannot get into a scientific discussion here. There will be no end to it. All I can say is, the Gore documentary made a deep impression on me. I urge you to see it. You will not be seeing a "campaign film," or "sour grapes," or “Gore still being bitter.” George W. Bush has repeated for six years that global warming "requires more study." If Gore has spent six years studying it, aren't his findings worthy of attention?

In fact, Gore has spent thirty years on these issues—but isn’t this statement by Ebert just sad? And of course, it’s a record of Coulterism run amok. It’s what we get when the center can’t hold—is too dumb to know how to deal with the Coulters. It’s what we get when our moral strength and intellectual skill don’t surpass the standards put on display in those recent sessions with Coulter. We simply have to be smarter than this.

It’s sad to read that Ebert post—but a letter in that day’s Sun-Times was even sadder. Here’s a tragic letter to the editor which appeared that very same day. For the record, we can’t imagine why the paper would have chosen to print it:

LETTER TO THE EDITOR, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES (6/11/06): Somehow, Roger Ebert missed the ''inconvenient truth'' that Al Gore is at best delusional and, at worst, clinically insane.

To wit: Suppose you got on a bus and sat next to some guy who immediately starts raving about how he invented the Internet and that he and his wife were models for the heroes in a popular novel from the '70s, and then he starts ranting about these gases he has discovered in the atmosphere, and how these gases are killing the planet, and that if you don't help him stop the gases, THE WORLD WILL END!

Time to start looking for another seat, right!? Not for Ebert. He just nods gravely and mutters, ''Yes, yes...all true, all true.''
Bernard Switalski, Riverside

There’s that magic word—“delusional.” It was first applied to Gore in March 1999, concerning his perfectly accurate comments about his youthful chores on his family’s farm. That family farm is on full display in An Inconvenient Truth. But the public was told, in 1999, that Gore was lying about this farm—and centrists and liberals were too weak and too dumb to demand that these misstatements stop. Over the past seven years, that term has been applied to Gore again and again—it’s a script—and people like Switalski don’t know that they’re being played for fools in the process. They also don’t know that they were played for fools with that other pair of history-altering scripts— “invented the Internet” and “inspired Love Story.”

And why don’t people like Switalski know that? In large part, because we keep refusing to tell them! As in 1999, so today; our centrists, liberals and mainstreamers are too weak—and too unskilled—to deal with rampaging Coulterism. Indeed, in some parts of our own liberal web, we’re slowly adopting its miserable standards—its love of tribal culture war; its casual standards of factual accuracy; its childish invention of demons and heroes; its love of embellished anecdote. Joe Lieberman threw the 2000 election! Good grief! We’re all Coulter now!

Kevin’s post involved a narrower point—but we tore our hair, as Brother Pierce did, when we read that Beliefnet transcript. And we thought of the price we pay when we let the dumbest and fakest define our most crucial debates. We liberals and centrists have been quite dumb in the way we’ve responded to Coulterism.

We’ll be more specific in future posts. For today, though, let’s gaze on Bernard Switalski. Switalski has been played for a fool—and we have sat by, weirdly silent.