Politics could be smarter without Coulter, Franken

Last fall, Ann Coulter left USF with a bloated $35,275 speaking fee and a lot of controversy. Too bad she didn’t use any of that money for some lessons in tact.

In what should come as no surprise, Ms. Coulter is busily stirring the pot again. During a speech at the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on March 2, she said, “I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot.'”

To be fair, Coulter’s explanation is that it was only a “schoolyard taunt” that was apparently a loose reference to a Grey’s Anatomy actor’s use of the slur.

While Coulter’s comments are certainly not shocking, coming as they do from someone who makes headlines as well as a living spouting over-the-top insensitivity, they should be denounced all the same.

But the real issue isn’t really Coulter, but the state of political discourse in this country. No matter the political ideology, the assassination of someone’s character seems to make headlines more than any substantive, issue-related argument. Political pundits on both sides are pervasive in their misinformation and ad hominem attacks, including those fierce opponents who denounce Coulter with insensitive comments of their own.

But in the case of Coulter, her defenders are not without blame. They seem to be quick to accuse any detractor of having a double standard. In their line of reasoning, anyone critical of Coulter’s indefensible one-liners is somehow always quick to defend other ideologues’ right to freedom of speech.

Frankly, I don’t recall attempting to stifle anyone’s freedom of speech. On the other hand, I am quick to recognize that this same freedom is not without consequences – consequences that should be invoked when any political pundit uses words or phrases purely with the intent to degrade a candidate’s character.

Whether it is Ann Coulter or Al Franken – who, speaking of ad hominem attacks, wrote Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot – makes no difference. The real problem is the enablers of such speech. People buy their books, read their columns and watch them on cable news networks as they interrupt and deride opponents at every turn.

Rest assured, these pundits and the many others like them have no intention of making a positive contribution to America’s future. They preach their messages to those who are already sold on their particular mantra or personality. Rather than thinking through controversial issues, it is easier for many people to reaffirm their beliefs daily through venues such as talk radio or the nightly television sound byte.

But remember that these ideologues don’t have answers to the most pressing domestic and foreign policy issues of our times. After all, their vitriol is ill suited to proposing solutions, but very well suited to promoting personal agendas.

As the presidential primary season grows closer, enablers of such ideologues have an opportunity to contribute positively to the political process. They can take the opportunity to research the candidates, watch the debates and decide who best represents their ideals.

If such a rarity actually occurred, Ann Coulter and those like her would eventually fail to draw an audience. Book royalties would decline, exorbitant speaking fees would dry up and perhaps tact – and dare I say, a modicum of intelligence and reasonableness – would return to American political discourse.

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.