Defending (gulp) Ann Coulter
No one knows who was the first to say “Anti-Semitism is disliking the Jews more than is absolutely necessary.” I have seen it attributed to Isaiah Berlin, George Orwell, and Jackie Mason. But if the quote lacks a definitive author, it doesn’t lack a definitive subject. I’m looking at you, Ann Coulter!
The conservative pundit raised a ruckus during the last Republican presidential debate when, after a lengthy exchange in which the hopefuls competed to be the most pro-Israel and anti-Iran, she tweeted, “How many f—ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?” The Internet went bananas. Foes called her an anti-Semite and fans said “right on!” and tweeted “#IStandWithAnn.” The Anti-Defamation League called her tweet “offensive, ugly, spiteful, and anti-Semitic,” and said her sentiments “give fodder to those who buy into the anti-Semitic notions that Jews ‘control’ the U.S. government [and] wield disproportionate power in politics.”
Defending herself, Coulter said her critics had it exactly backward: “I’m accusing Republicans of thinking the Jews have so much power,” she told The Daily Beast. “They’re the ones who are comedically acting out this play where Jews control everything.”
Weirdly enough, and perhaps for the first time as a sentient human being, I found myself giving Coulter the benefit of the doubt.
First of all, I suspect that Coulter stuck in the f-bomb for comic, not bigoted, effect, but didn’t have any place better to put it in the sentence. Certainly not between “these” and “people” or (God and Ronald Reagan forbid) before “the United States.” That she was careful to use dashes in place of three letters (what you might call the “uck” factor) suggests she wrote the tweet with some care. What she didn’t count on is that, no matter your intent, you can’t put “f—ing” and “Jews” together in a sentence and expect it to go well with anyone outside of a neo-Nazi compound or Jim Baker’s house.
Secondly, in the context of her other tweets, Coulter doesn’t sound like an anti-Semite. “I like the Jews, I like fetuses, I like Reagan,” she tweeted at one point. “Didn’t need to hear applause lines about them all night.” Putting Jews in the same sentence as fetuses and Ronald Reagan is, for a conservative like Coulter, the equivalent of a love letter.
That leaves two possibilities: Coulter doesn’t like Jewish power, or she doesn’t like GOP strategy. Here’s why I think it’s about GOP strategy. When a conservative is heard complaining about pandering to the evangelical and pro-Israel vote, it doesn’t sound very conservative. In fact, it sounds quite liberal. If Michael Moore or Ralph Nader were to have tweeted such a thing, I’d have figured that, well, they might be bigots but at least they’re consistent. Coulter is no liberal. She must know that pandering to the Christian Right, who tend to be passionately pro-Israel, and the Jewish Right, who tend to be very generous campaign donors, is good strategy. So what else would explain her frustration with “these people”?
Maybe at some level Coulter suspects — like Jim Baker — that the GOP candidates’ pro-Israel stance, which she seems to share, doesn’t win them all that many votes — or any more votes than they already have. Jews still mostly vote Democratic, despite the partisan gap when it comes to Israel. Read her tweets in context and Coulter seems to be saying, “We’ve got the Evangelicals and all the Jews who are going to support us. Let’s stop stating the obvious and work on winning more voters than we already have.”
The problem for the GOP candidates is that they haven’t quite figured out how to reach a lot of other constituencies — and when they do, the conversation, especially in a debate format, can get toxic. Trump’s success has turned GOP outreach to Latinos and women into a minefield. Talk of the “middle class” — or worse, the “working class” — sounds like “class warfare.” Race relations are a no-fly zone. They might champion the “taxpayer,” but here too Trump mucks things up by saying he would raise taxes on certain corporations or tax the “carried interest” on long-term capital gains. Agree and you violate the party’s anti-tax orthodoxy, disagree and you sound like, well, Mitt Romney.
The Republicans’ challenge in reaching beyond its base hints at the answer to the perennial question, “Why do Jews still vote Democratic?” Many Jews agree that the GOP may be fundamentally more pro-Israel. They might acknowledge that fiscal conservativism may be in their best economic interest. But they are still a tiny minority in a mostly Christian country, and identify with a host of issues that are more likely to be embraced by other minorities and women.
And we know that Coulter doesn’t like the GOP’s outreach to minorities. “The way Republicans win is by driving up the white vote,” she told Bill O’Reilly last June. “It is not by appealing to women or Hispanics or blacks. In fact, those groups are going to start fighting among one another…. How about, for once, appealing to your base?”
Apparently, Coulter feels that base doesn’t include enough “f—ing Jews.” And she’s probably right.