by Jay Johansen | Oct 23, 2007
Last week, Ms. 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. Mr. Deutsch, who is Jewish, expressed alarm. Whereupon Ms. Coulter told him 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.
Leonard Pitts, Dallas News, October 19, 2007
There has been a deluge of similar commentaries criticizing Ann Coulter for this remark. Which leaves me wondering, What part os her statement is the least bit offensive or controversial?
Suppose you saw a commentary that said this:
Last week, Ms. X said that in her perfect America, everyone would be a non-smoker. She said this to Mr. Y, who was hosting her on his program ... Mr. Y, who is a smoker, expressed alarm. Whereupon Ms. X told him smokers simply needed to be "perfected" – i.e., made to give up smoking. Which is, of course, one of the pillars (along with the slander of second-hand smoke) supporting decades of abuse and murder.
Such a commentary would be laughable. So non-smokers are trying to convince smokers to quit. How do you get from encouraging people to quit smoking to oppression and killing?
Try it with "Al Gore said that in his perfect America, everyone would be an environmentalist". Would you assume from that that he believes all non-environmentalists should be killed? Or "a health official said that in her perfect America, no one would eat trans-fats". Or even, "a gay rights activist said that in his perfect America, everyone would be homosexual".
Of course people who believe in some political, social, or religious idea believe that the world would be better off if everyone agreed with them. This is hardly a startlingly concept. If someone doesn't think an idea leads to people to being healthier or happier or richer or safer, why would he be for it?
And of course Ann Coulter never said that Jews should be "made to accept Jesus", that is, she said nothing about forcing anyone. She just said that she thought it would be good if they did. And both Mr Deutsch in the original interview and Mr Pitts in this commentary leaped from "I'd like to persuade others to agree with me" to "pogroms and the Holocaust". Can you really not see a difference between trying to persuade people to change their opinion, and torturing them to death? Can liberals not even imagine the idea of trying to change someone's mind without resorting to force? This bizarre leap of logic tells us more about liberals than it does about conservatives.
Ann Coulter is a Christian. By definition that means that she believes that it is to someone's advantage to be a Christian, that Christians are better off than non-Christians. You may agree or not, but surely you can disagree without denying her the right to express her opinion. This is no different than a non-smoker saying that she believes that non-smokers are better off than smokers. Suppose a non-smoker said that she encouraged everyone to quit smoking in order to improve their health -- except for Jews, Jews can just go right on smoking. Surely that would be the anti-Semitic comment: You don't care about these people, it's just fine with you if they die young.
You don't have to agree with someone to acknowledge that they want the best for you. If someone told me that, say, the model car I drive is dangerous and I should get a safer car, I might or might not accept his assessment. But unless I have reason to believe that he has an ulterior motive in offering this advice -- like he owns a dealership that sells the model car he recommends -- I wouldn't resent him for the suggestion. I would thank him politely for his advice and give it as much consideration as I thought it was worth. If I disagreed strongly I might debate the matter with him. But I certainly wouldn't go screaming that he is a hate monger and accuse him of trying to kill me. That would just be stupid.
If someone made statements like Coulter's about a liberal ideal, the only thing newsworthy about it would be its mildness. "Mr Gore, are you now saying that you are not seeking laws to force people to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but you want to rely solely on persuasion?" That would be startling.
Conservatives say that the world would be better if more people agreed with us, and we encourage them to consider what we are saying, and this is called "hate speech". Liberals say that the world would be better if people agreed with them, and laws should be passed forcing people to do what they say, and this is called "tolerance".
© 2007 by Jay Johansen