Ann Coulter and the Cult of the Sacred Cow

Ann Coulter went on the Today Show yesterday (June 7, 2006) to promote her latest book. While interviewing her, host Matt Lauer quoted from it an attack Coulter made on a group of women who lost their husbands on 9/11. Coulter accused them of cashing in on their husbands’ deaths by using that notoriety to criticize the government. What apparently made her angry was that these women were also using their status as widows of 9/11 to deflect any return criticism for their actions. In effect, they made themselves into sacred cows, people or objects that you cannot attack without incurring public censure. An attack on them is taboo.

But people respect taboos because breaking them creates all sorts of problems. Coulter may have been angry to see the 9/11 widows set up as sacred cows, but what really made her angry (and she didn’t hide this very well) was that they were sacred cows that opposed her own political views. If they had supported her brand of Republican values, she would have praised them for their courage and sacrifice.

One of the consequences of the current political climate is that people on each side too often excuse the excesses of their own members while castigating people on the opposite end of the spectrum for doing the same things. Political morality has become totally partisan. It’s not the first or last time this has happened, but it’s not healthy. Would Ann Coulter have had any problem with the 9/11 widows if they had been pro-Bush? Not at all. Would she criticize Gulf War veterans who used their status as war heroes to attack the peace movement? Hardly. She would have egged them on. Her main problem with the 9/11 widows isn’t that they are sacred cows, but that they aren’t on her side.

Unfortunately, Coulter’s highly-charged invective encourages her opponents to lob tomatoes right back at her-and they have some doozies. She’s been called a slut, a psycho, a bulimic and a secret transsexual. Comedian Kathy Griffin, coming on after Coulter, referred to her as a “nut-bag”. Because Coulter breaks the rules of polite discourse and gets away with it to the tune of millions of dollars, her opponents see no incentive to follow those rules themselves. She responds by playing the Political Martyr, but since she is so clearly not a sacred cow, this always backfires. This increasingly concentrated hostility directed at her might explain why she looks thinner and more drawn on every book cover even as she continues to flash her trademark “Bite Me” grin.

Does anybody not on the political fringe enjoy the way American politics has been reduced to a Roman arena? Not really. So, how do we get back to the realm of polite discourse? Well, one thing we might try is rediscovering the usefulness of sacred cows.

Sacred cows are taboo for a reason-ideally, they shouldn’t get a free pass through life. However, they are there to put speed bumps in front of hot-button discussions. They force someone who maybe feels a little too passionately about an issue to stop and think about it from the opposite view, if only for a moment. John McCain may be a Republican, but he’s a Republican who lost body parts serving his country in Vietnam. This gives him the right to be heard on issues like war and sacrifice before a Democrat tries to shout him down. Similarly, the widows of 9/11 have already lost family members in the War on Terror. This gives them a different perspective from those who haven’t lost anything except maybe the ability to afford the gas for an SUV. It also gives them the right to be heard before a Republican shouts them down.

What’s sad is that since 9/11, only those critics of the Bush Administration who are sacred cows have been able to exercise with impunity the right to free speech that every American is supposed to have. And now, by declaring war on the 9/11 widows, Ann Coulter is declaring open season even on sacred cows. It would be bad enough if her main source of power was that amazing ability of hers to shout down even Attila the Hun. But her real power is her unswerving support for the Bush Administration, which apparently gives her carte blanche to run roughshod over her opponents. She uses this political groupy status as freely as a baseball bat. Not only is this impolite discourse, it’s downright political bullying.

I’ll take a sacred cow over a bully any day.

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