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June 26th, 2009
08:16 AM ET

Avlon: 'Wingnuts' scream partisan talking points

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/26/wingnuts.schultz.coulter.cnn.getty.art.jpg caption="Ed Schultz (L) and Ann Coulter (R). CNN and Getty Images"]

I call it the ‘split-scream’ – partisans screaming talking points at each other on your television screen. Usually it’s so predictable that you can figure out what they’re saying with the sound off.

But sometimes the epidemic of political infotainment gets so extreme that it veers into cruelty, callousness and the near-justification of violence. That’s what we see in this week’s "Wingnuts" – Anne Coulter on the right and Ed Schultz on the left.

On Monday night, author and conservative commentator Anne Coulter went on Fox News’ "The O’Reilly Factor" to talk more about the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller. A trip to Crazy Town ensued.

When O’Reilly asked why conservative male commentators had been silent about Dr. George Tiller’s murder, as opposed to Coulter and some of her female conservative colleagues, Coulter replied: “I’ve noticed there haven’t been a lot of people talking about it. I’d like to think it’s because they’re hungover from the ‘Hooray George Tiller is dead’ party, but I think that’s not it.”

But Coulter was just getting warmed up. “I don’t really like to think of it as murder,” she said. “It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester.”

After that line, O’Reilly tried to bring Coulter down to earth with a reality check, saying “But you can’t diminish what that killer did or you have anarchy.” Coulter did not take the bait, offering this clarification: “I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don’t want to impose my moral values on others.”

This, of course, a dry parody of the position that most Americans have on abortion – they are personally opposed to it, but believe that individuals should make up their own mind on this most difficult personal decision. Her final shot of self-justification? “There have been only five abortion doctors killed in 35 years.” Only.

Coulter’s tirade was seen by millions of people and yet provoked little outcry. What’s news is what’s new – and with Coulter, nothing’s shocking anymore. She trades in outrage – that is her game. People expect her shtick, always delivered with a cold Connecticut lockjaw. But whether it’s a conservative con-job or a genuinely unhinged demonization of people who think differently than she does, she has succeeded in making herself into a caricature of a wingnut.

The Mark Sanford scandal was the big political news of the week if you don’t count a democratic uprising in Iran and a trillion dollar health care reform bill. Some folks tried to deal with the human side of the family tragedy amid the inevitable horse race coverage. But MSNBC’s Ed Schultz decided he would just pour fuel on the fire in the cause of pure partisanship.

“I have no mercy here and I’ll tell you why – South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford falls, from grace, I guess you could say, admitting to an extra marital affair,” Schultz said before switching his delivery to a southern accent that was half Foghorn Leghorn and half Colonel Sanders. “Deep in the heart of Dixie where the Bible Belt is the birthplace of the conservative Republican movement and culture we find yet another example of southern hypocrisy.”

For the record, Dixie was the heart of the Democrat’s conservative movement and culture from around 1860 to 1960. And Sanford’s been associated with a more libertarian wing of the Republican Party, with his main focus being fiscal conservatism, not social conservatism. For example, he took the risk of backing McCain over the Bob Jones University-boosted Bush in 2000’s pivotal South Carolina primary – but if it breaks the stereotypical narrative, its best to ignore it in the world of the wingnut.

Ed could have taken a cue from another strong Democratic partisan with a genuine southern accent, James Carville, who expressed compassion for the governor as a man in pain over his human frailty. But Ed Schultz was on a ‘no mercy’ mission.

“I think the people of South Carolina should stand up and call for the resignation of their Governor Mark Sanford,” said Schultz. “Now this is a guy who has fought President Obama on the stimulus package. He’s made it a big issue; they’ve got deficits in South Carolina. He’s hurt a lot of families and I’d go as far to say that this guy can’t even run his own family.”

Okay, aside from the low blow about the family, Schultz seems to be saying that the reason the people of South Carolina should kick Sanford out of office is not because of the adultery, but because he opposed President Obama’s stimulus plan. That’s a serious litmus test – policy opponents should be kicked out of office.

But he ended on a comparatively high-minded note: “As the public, if we allow our public servants to get off just scott free, without personal accountability, then as I say we deserve a lousy government.” It turns out Schultz took the same stand during the Bill Clinton impeachment, so you’ve got to give him points for consistency. But even that highlights the larger point – this was not about partisan politics. Neither party has a monopoly on virtue or vice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.


Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Maria

    Maybe you left wing nuts can be just as concerned about what the liberal media has done to Palin's handicapped child. Posting a picture on line with the child looking like Micheal Jackson in one picture and an alien in the other. If we did that with the President's daughters you would raise hell. You'd have Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton all bent out of shape but where is your outrage when you show disrespect for others? You think it's appropriate and funny when you do it to others but when it's done against your belief, you think it's terrible.

    July 2, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  2. Suzan in South Carolina

    I do not understand why everyone is up in arms about Sandford's adultery. Who cares. If your ambition in life is a career in politics, well then you are most likely an ego-maniac. Not to disparage ego-maniacs, they serve their purpose – like for instance in politics. But I digress, the part I don't understand is why people are not irate about the fact that he left his job, apparently not telling a soul where he was, for nearly a week. I can't think of ANY job where you wouldn't get fired for that. What a brilliant move by Sanford, creating all this noise with the admission of an affair, it has distracted everyone from his real transgression – incompentance. Bravo Sanford.

    June 30, 2009 at 1:48 pm |
  3. Fides

    Did the writer just honestly make an equivalence between joking about / cheering on a murder and urging people to ask Mark Sanford to resign?

    This is moronic at best, but is typical of MSM cocktail party circuit type reasoning. These are the folks who claim to be centrists but never seem to honestly balance the facts. Putting Schultz next to Coulter is dramatically unjust.

    June 30, 2009 at 1:45 pm |
  4. Hank

    Susan, dead on. Your comment encapsulates the difference between the republicans and Democrats. One side condemns hypocrisy, one promotes murder. You choose America.

    June 30, 2009 at 12:56 pm |
  5. Aaron in SC

    I used to be a hardcore right wing supporter, but became a moderate when I realized what kind of wingnuts ran the party! Ann Coulter is absolutely insane, and so are all of her liberal counterparts! I've read her book on how to talk to a liberal if you must, and the title says it all! The extreme wings of the parties don't care about the common good, they only care about their party and how to fight the other party. The American people are fed up with it. The party system needs to be abolished and every politician be independent. This way, they will have to stand on their own principles instead of just the party line. Pres. Washington warned us about party politics, and until we stand up and say "No more!" we will continue to have a very ineffective gov't.

    June 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm |
  6. Roger in Raleigh

    Perhaps, news outlets should try to get some more thoughtful and intellectual guests rather than their current wing-nut selections. There are plenty of people who are available, but I guess that would not bring in the viewers who want to see the NASCAR wrecks and hockey fights. If no one watched this garbage, it wouldn't be on the air.

    June 30, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  7. Susan

    So as Wingnuts go.....lets see........Ed Shultz thinks Sanford should resign over adultery vs. Ann Coulter basically promoting vigilante MURDER to right the country's moral wrongs, as she sees them. This says it all.

    June 29, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  8. JackieQ- Brea -Ca

    Anne Coulter sould be boycotted until she gains some weight.

    Doesn't the New Media feel any guilt talking to a woman who looks like she is dying?

    June 29, 2009 at 4:53 am |
  9. Sam S Singh

    After seeing and listening to the views of Ms Coulter for a long time I have concluded that she is in dire need of psychiatric attention and CNN should insist that she gets it before she is allowed on in future.
    She does not believe that abortion doctors should be killed, but will not saddle anyone with the burden of that belief.
    I suppose that is "American Fredom " in action.

    June 28, 2009 at 11:19 am |
  10. frank keel

    coulter is a complete idiot all you need to do is listen my God the entire bunch of repubs in congress shpuld be thrown out creating term limits this would truly help with honesty issues instead of how much $ can i make before voted out !!!

    June 27, 2009 at 1:24 pm |
  11. Bernice

    I want all 3 of the above to GIVE thier opinions to the American people! I want to see ALL opinions of American, who are just holding a deep love for thier country! The three people mentioned, along with MANY others, give thier thoughts to OUR countrys people to give you the "other side". (The part that this administration does not want you to hear! I am one of the MANY Americans who want this! Freedom of Speech is such a gr8 thing, and those requesting that these 3 not say a word is only suppressing thier rights to those freedoms! I was a democrat when I voted. I will no longer be! If this administration keeps on the destuctive path in which it is going, we will become bankrupt as a country! THEN, where do you think your rights are going to go? Right out the window, because you voted for a "progressive govt" to take over! We are headed straight towards communism! Heck, this pres. even tried, as the others down south did, to take the presidency for a period lasting 40 years!! HA!!! Just like Chevez! We are NOT COMMUNIST! Maybe all of us should be closely listening to ALL sides, UNBIAS, and then we as a people can figure out the right thing to do for our people! The 3 mentioned, are three who just love thier country, what it stands for, and the many freedoms that we have to enjoy! Lets, as a people, look at ALL of the sides, then we can make decisions knowing all of the facts. (just not one sided) The republicans, I am afraid, have the right ideas! Maybe you should look..

    June 27, 2009 at 8:47 am |
  12. Bernice

    I have tried to put a message up 3 times!!! No point!! CNN?? U stopping the Americans here from leaving thier REAL opinions??? You delete it the moment that I send it to you! There is not one word wrong with my statements! Its a shame that this blog has SO MANY areas that just do not work and great American opinions are not added!

    June 27, 2009 at 7:12 am |
  13. Mike O'Brien

    Ann Coulter, Dick, and Rush.., do us all a favor and go away. Mike in Montana

    June 26, 2009 at 2:40 pm |