Monday, June 12, 2006

Victimizing the Victims

Ann Coulter exploded back on the scene last week with her despicable comments about anti-war 9/11 widows. She said, amongst other awful things, "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

I'm sure you'll be shocked and amazed to learn than this line comes from her brand new book, Godless, which accuses liberals of being, well, godless, and which currently sits atop the Amazon.com bestsellers list. The above link is to a Howard Kurtz column in the Washington Post in which he argues that perhaps the media ought to stop feeding this ravenous publicity beast. She might just go away.

Kurtz is entirely correct to point out, however, that there is a tiny nugget of a valid point secreted beneath all those layers of Coulterian boilerplate. Here's how he puts it: "...once widows turn themselves into political activists, their personal tragedies should not shield them from rebuttal..."

As Matt Lauer rightly noted on the Today show, Coulter disproves her own argument by attacking the widows, as many a right-winger has done to Cindy Sheehan as well. The animus directed at Coulter in this case comes not from her temerity in challenging the widows' political views, but from the inhuman callousness of her attack.

Every American has the right to enter the political debate—for any reason. The 9/11 widows and Cindy Sheehan—not to mention Terri Schiavo's parents—have as much right as anyone else to their political views. But, and this is crucial, they have no special right to influence public policy. Their stories may be compelling, even tragic. That might give them a bigger soapbox or a louder megaphone, but it should never give them an extra vote.

Their experiences may well give them a special understanding of the issues. Most people with thankfully never know what it's like to have a loved one die in a terror attack or in battle, but public policy, as the name implies, affects everybody, and no one, regardless of private pathos, has a special right to dictate how other people should feel. This is why the sentencing of criminals is done by a dispassionate judge rather than by the victim's family. Justice is supposed to serve the public good, not the frayed emotions of those personally affected.

Whenever a victim of a tragedy willfully takes to the public stage to advocate policy, they open themselves up to legitimate criticism. If they choose to open up their private tragedy to public scrutiny, they have no right to wear the unimpeachable mantle of the victim. That said, their critics have a responsibility to criticize their ideas without belittling their pain. Ann Coulter serves as a handy reminder that this is not always borne out in practice.

The irony is that Coulter goes ballistic about these women profiting from their pain and bereavement despite the fact that she is doing exactly the same thing, but in an even more underhanded manner. Even if you violently disagree with the political views of the terror widows and Cindy Sheehans of the world, you can at least understand that they are motivated by their pain and grief. Coulter, on the other hand, is motivated by nothing other than greed and vindictiveness. And she's cashing in big-time.
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