Friday, May 6, 2005

Ann Coulter kerfuffle

Daniel Bonevac at Right Reason has a nice post on the most recent Ann Coulter kerfuffle, at the University of Texas at Austin.

The crowd greeted Coulter with a standing ovation. Her speech lasted for about 30 minutes. Protesters began shouting almost as soon as she began, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. They numbered a few dozen and were clustered in the back. Coulter’s supporters constituted most of the crowd, and interrupted her frequently (and more effectively) with laughter and applause.

Coulter’s real strengths emerged in the question period, which lasted for roughly an hour. Many questions were friendly; some were even thought-provoking. Others, however, were hostile—including the obscene one that led to a student’s arrest, which I will not dignify by repeating here. (Why, by the way, has sexually explicit profanity become so common among some leftists recently? And why do they delight in directing it toward women? Wouldn’t they term this behavior ‘sexual harassment’ if it were being done by anyone else?) The first “question” was a diatribe followed by flatulent noises. Sadly missing were informed and articulate questions challenging Coulter’s views.

The level of controversy surrounding Coulter’s appearances here and elsewhere surprises me. I recall similar outbursts against speakers during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, but those speakers tended to be administration officials whose actions constituted the supposed grounds of the protest. Coulter doesn’t hold a government position; she has no direct political power. She gives talks. She writes columns and books. The same holds of David Horowitz, William Kristol, and Pat Buchanan, all of whom, like Coulter, have been physically assaulted as well as disrupted while speaking on campus. That, it seems to me, adds new dimensions to the free speech debate. Protesters who try to disrupt speeches by administration officials can argue that they are protesting actions, not speech per se. The new protesters can’t make that claim. They are protesting speech qua speech, which is why they need to allege that the speech they condemn is “hate speech,” so threatening to the social order that it ought to be silenced. Hence the pies and threats of violence; threats, in their view, deserve to be met with threats.

I'm increasingly disturbed by the recent spate of mindless, content-less, sometimes obscene, and sometimes violent confrontations of conservative speakers by liberals in the audience. The first few occurences, toward the end of last year, I was inclined to write off as basically harmless antics by the more unbalanced fringe elements. As these incidents keep piling up I'm starting to wonder if we're witnessing something else entirely: the intellectual disintegration of the left. Lest you jump to a conclusion, I don't think that's good news at all — an alternative perspective, if based on some defensible intellectual foundation (as opposed to making vile and obscene remarks about Ann), and the resulting public debate, is an important part of a representative democracy.

Don't you just love that picture of Ann?

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