Meaningful Lives

Ann Coulter, to use one of her favorite words, is an over-40 smart "broad" who makes a ton of money out of being controversial. She laughs all the way from her Palm Beach, Fla., mansion to the bank when Democrats and liberals get outraged by something she says or writes.

A former corporate lawyer, she’s a regular on Fox News and collects big fees for speaking engagements. She’s at the height of her fame. In a way, she’s the Republican equivalent of Michael Moore, who, despite his costume of working man’s clothes, also lives in a mansion. If you play your cards right, you can get rich being a polemicist for the poor or a polemicist for the rich.

Calling some of the 9/11 widows harpies and witches who enjoy their husband’s deaths is no more tasteless and cruel than many of the other things Coulter has said or written. She is, after all, a verbal exhibitionist. The fallacy of her vituperation is that the widows did not choose to become celebrities. The media chose them. And who is surprised that people from New York City and the New Jersey suburbs are liberals? Most people who live there are.

The prize for the dumbest remarks, however, goes to Sandy Rios, described as a Fox News contributor, who said that just because the widows lost their husbands to an accidental bombing "does not give them license to then criticize their commander in chief."

Error No. 1, it was not accidental; error No. 2, it was not a bombing; error No. 3, George W. Bush is not their commander in chief (he’s commander in chief only of the armed forces, not of the civilian population); and error No. 4 is that nobody needs a license to criticize any public official. That’s the right of every American citizen.

The real question is, Does all of this vituperation and nasty name-calling contribute to anyone’s understanding of the issues facing this country? I think not. People who are inclined to substitute vituperation for argument — whether from the left or the right — are people who already have their minds made up and believe either no explanation is necessary or that the truth will collapse their position.

The whole talk phenomenon, which includes television and radio, has more to do with entertainment than with either politics or public enlightenment. One establishes oneself as a "personality" and plays the role. Who knows what these people really think, or if they think at all about the topics they are so bombastic about? I suspect they think mostly about book contracts, book sales and ratings.

Argumentum ad hominem, which is what name-calling is, is a dead giveaway that the person wishes to avoid a rational discussion. We would all do better to ignore the entertainers and concentrate on civil discussions. After all, good people can disagree, and on most issues there are pros and cons. It’s all right to skewer your opponent’s arguments, but personal attacks only reveal you to be a yahoo.

Of course, there has always been a yahoo element in the population, but at least in the past, most of them did not become rich and famous. We have reached a point in our present culture in which if anybody can make money, it’s OK, no matter how the person makes it. That’s probably inevitable in a society in which leadership has nothing to offer but materialism.

Materialism is no good as a life’s philosophy. In the first place, most of us will not accumulate that many toys, and even those who do have to turn them all in at the cemetery gate. Being acquisitive is a poor substitute for a life with meaning.

I suspect the widows who have been motivated to correct the political errors that led to the 9/11 attacks will have much more meaningful lives than Ann Coulter. Fifteen years from now, nobody will remember Coulter.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.