Coulter and the right: they can dish it out, but they can’t take it

How the right responds to criticism: the shock, the horror! Below: Coulter (scary and creepy); Justice Holmes.

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Schenck v. United States, 1919

Friends of the notorious American hate-caster Ann Coulter have attempted to frame the controversies stemming from her continuing Canadian speaking tour as freedom of speech issues. This is, of course, baloney.

Indeed, it is more than passingly ironic that these same defenders of Ms. Coulter’s offensive views were so enthusiastic just a year ago in their support for the Canadian government’s successful and completely illegitimate suppression of the opinions of British Member of Parliament George Galloway, who was banned from the country on fatuous “national security” grounds for speaking out in defence of the rights of the besieged Palestinian people.

After all, Mr. Galloway and his strongly expressed opinions posed no threat whatsoever to the tranquility of our Dominion. Ms. Coulter, on the other hand, does present a danger that deserves to be considered in light of the absurd and self-justifying publicity being generated by her Canadian supporters.

God knows, Ms. Coulter has no shortage of opportunities in both Canada and the United States to broadcast her obnoxious opinions, so even if her attempt to hate-monger at the University of Ottawa Tuesday night had been put down by the authorities, it would not have amounted to much of a suppression of free speech.

In the event, of course, the authorities were nowhere to be found. Her rabble-rousing was in fact called off by her bodyguard on the questionable grounds a boisterous crowd of protesters posed a threat of violence. In reality, this was highly unlikely. It is much more likely, indeed, that the cancellation and its alleged justification were a ruse intended to generate additional publicity for this person’s risible claim that so-called conservatives are victims of persecution by the allegedly “politically correct.”

No doubt this street-corner Cromwell, to borrow a euphonious phrase, will receive a more respectful hearing at the University of Calgary this evening. Pity.

Be that as it may, the real question in this case is, rather, when do a speaker’s opinions (which she clearly has a right to hold and express, no matter how benighted they may be) stray into the zone of advocating actions that are both criminal and a threat to Canada’s peace, order and good government?

And here, given the kind of things Ms. Coulter frequently has to say, is where we find ourselves in the zone famously pondered by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. of the United States Supreme Court in 1919. To wit: even “the most stringent protection of free speech” does not protect a person who through their words actually puts other human beings in danger.

And so we have Ms. Coulter, for example, attempting to incite opponents of abortion to murder physicians who provide that procedure. “I wouldn’t kill an abortionist myself, but I wouldn’t want to impose my moral values on others,” she said, before absurdly denying that she’d just said what she’d just said.

Such outright appeals to criminality are in fact legitimate targets of the authorities who so far have been so conspicuously absent in the case of Ms. Coulter’s visit.

Meanwhile, don’t forget, our country’s profound commitment to the right of free expression also extends to Canadian citizens who want to protest Ms. Coulter’s most odious views, or even those that are merely silly. This does not amount to suppressing Ms. Coulter’s right to free speech, as is preposterously claimed.

Certainly, while it may have been tantamount to waving a red flag at a bull, it was hardly an assault on the rights we Canadians generously grant her as a visiting non-citizen for a University of Ottawa official to write a note cautioning her about the laws in this country. This action was more akin to advice to a well-known smoker that smoking is not permitted in the hall where she proposes to light up.

The fact is, right-wing foreigners like Ms. Coulter and their Canadian friends – including, one suspects, Ms. Coulter’s friends in the federal Conservative cabinet – are whiners who believe in their hearts that freedom of expression is for them but not for the rest of us.

They can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

This post is also found on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments on "Coulter and the right: they can dish it out, but they can’t take it"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Right on, Dave.

    Now, how about a few comments on Coulter event organizer Craig Chandler? I heard him on the radio last night saying (I paraphrase here) "we in Calgary are conservatives, and we believe in free speech, unlike people in Ottawa".

    Sounds like he was cut from the same cloth as Coulter, although he might take my here comment as a badge of honour.

  2. Holly Stick says:

    BigCityLib points out that the problem was bad management by the organizers; the venue was much too small for the 1500 people who showed up to hear her talk. He suggests about 100 protestors; some commenters at smalldeadanimals say there were 10 to 40 protesters.

    http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/2010/03/coulter-aftermath.html#links

    About Craig Changdler, here is a comment I made yesterday at another of BCL's posts:

    "OK according to Colby Cosh, Coulter has disinvited Craig Chandler. Meanwhile, just five minutes ago I heard CBC Calgary radio saying the talk in Calgary will go ahead, and introducing Chandler as one of the organizers.

    Will Craig appear at the talk, looming menacingly? Will Ezra have to defend Ann? Or will Ann defend Ezra? With three drama clowns together, something's gotta give!"

    http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/03/23/coulter-the-she-devil-in-her-own-words/

    http://bigcitylib.blogspot.com/2010/03/coutler-cancellation-alternative-theory.html#links

  3. NLAR says:

    I don't think people understand that news and current affairs in North America is more about entertainment these days, not the public interest. Coulter, is part of a group that entertain by way of their outrageous comments, and offer little to the public interest.

  4. NLAR says:

    CBC's Neil Macdonald did a great essay 'The poop on Ann Coulter:' http://bit.ly/90bgRh

  5. Anonymous says:

    Stop all the bedwetting you moral busybodies. You are acting like a bunch of old women in a small town with all your clucking.

    I will be the judge of who I listen to.

    Not you.

  6. deBeauxOs says:

    Wow.

    That last "Anonymous" sounds just like the crusty old fart caricature on Saturday Night Live.

    Why do Ann Coulter and her acolytes play such neurotic, lame-brained characters?

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