Remember this maxim: when a liberal says something outrageous, it’s a courageous embrace of First Amendment freedoms, intended to catalyze discussion; when a conservative does the same, it is hate speech. This is the lesson liberals at the University of Connecticut (UConn) were attempting to teach students until last Wednesday, when they went too far by repeatedly interrupting Ann Coulter’s remarks. Now, students are rebuking their liberal counter-parts.
“I wasn’t irritated in the least, inasmuch as this happens at every campus,” Coulter told TAS, adding, “except the prestigious ones in the northeast and campuses in the south, interestingly.” She wasn’t long into her speech before UConn’s sound system interrupted her, belching out the lyrics to cartoon show South Park’s song, “Kyle’s Mom is a Big Fat *****,” as well as the theme song to the classic Nintendo game, “Super Mario Brothers.” Coulter’s biting humor has elicited heckles before, most notably at University of Arizona, where assailants with terrible aim attacked her with a pie.
In one letter to UConn’s Daily Campus, student Douglas Hamel described his disappointment in the way liberal students conducted themselves:
It isn’t often that they get the opportunity to ask pressing questions of some whom they so strongly oppose. I can guarantee you that the conservatives on campus would have taken advantage of such an opportunity if we were able to see Michael Moore or Al Franken give a speech and answer questions.
In fact, they did take advantage of their opportunity only a few days earlier, at a university-sponsored speech by Cindy Sheehan. Several conservative students protested outside the speech and then quietly joined the audience. Of those protesters, Benjamin Woodard noted that “as much as they were against her, they knew how to respect her.” If anything, the College Republicans benefited from the poor behavior of their liberal cohorts, eliciting not only frustration and outrage by moderates on campus, but also prompting interviews with conservative students on The O’Reilly Factor and mentions by Neil Cavuto on Fox News. Meanwhile, liberal agitators got national press for being incapable of listening to an alternative viewpoint, and proffering a reactionary view.
This should come as a disappointment to those who protested her appearance at UConn, claiming Coulter’s jocular and satirical tendencies represented “hate speech.” Once news hit that Coulter would be coming to campus, a group called “Students Against Hate” was immediately formed by Eric Knudson, a sophomore journalism and social welfare major, who said of her previous comments, “we encourage diverse opinion at UConn, but this is blatant hate speech.”
How Knudson could substantiate that was uncertain — particularly since he didn’t attend the speech to hear for himself. Tom Gaffey, editor-in-chief of the Daily Campus student newspaper agreed that she promoted vile ideas. “It’s not that she’s a Republican. It’s her reputation as a hate promoter,” Gaffey said. “If Michael Moore or a crazy, radical liberal who would bring just as poor of a reputation to campus came here, we would be against that too. Can’t we bring a more intelligent speaker to campus? Can’t we spend our money more wisely?” Gaffey raised no complaint, however, of Cindy Sheehan’s appearance.
Though the University of Connecticut does not have a policy specifically defining “hate speech,” the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is skeptical about the university’s embrace of free speech. For example, the university’s student handbook has a loose definition of harassment, consisting of:
…abusive behavior directed toward an individual or group because of race, color, ethnicity, religion, age, sex, martial status [sic], national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation, genetic information, physical or mental disabilities (including learning disabilities, mental retardation, and past/present history of a mental disorder), prior conviction of a crime (or similar characteristic). The University…forbids harassment that has the effect of interfering with an individual’s performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.
Ann Coulter may be guilty as charged for offending politically correct sensibilities, but whether the students who claimed to feel threatened by her “hate speech” had a right to prosecute, or rather, to persecute her as bizarrely as they did during her speech is clearly in question. Showing that the complaining students weren’t the only ones without a sense of humor, an AP report claimed that she “reversed” a previous position, when stating that denying women the right to vote was a joke. “Liberals cried and cursed and stomped their feet and we had a lot of laughs at their expense,” smirked Coulter.
Emily Salisbury of the College Republicans who initially had the idea of bringing “the #1 Conservative Woman” to campus told TAS, “Part of what we were trying to achieve was to bring out a larger audience who wouldn’t normally attend a conservative lecture. We got 2,500 people. Next time we have a speaker planned, hopefully we’ll draw a larger crowd.” Salisbury also indicated that the high turnout negated the initial criticism of bringing Coulter to campus, which was directed at the “self-serving” nature of bringing a high-priced speaker who only represented one political viewpoint. Not only did the misplaced complaints and protests look bad and earn nationwide attention, they also helped the College Republicans advertise their speaker and justify the event.
THOSE ELEMENTS that have helped Coulter remain in the spotlight, her dry, cutting wit and her theatrics were only proven effective by the outrage. “Reagan used theatricality. What’s wrong with theatricality? Any good speaker has to be theatrical,” she observed. “I don’t know why people always emphasize it with me.” Perhaps because college students aren’t used to a speaker who takes such jabs at her own audience. When asked what her thoughts were on pre-marital sex, she replied, “That’s got to be the worst pick-up line I’ve ever heard.” When asked what she would say were she to find out her child was gay, Coulter suggested, “Did I ever tell you that you were adopted?” When made aware that she would not be able to complete her comments, she skipped the rest of her speech to go into Q&A, explaining, “I enjoy engaging in repartee with people stupider than I.”
It was Coulter’s coolness which earned her the respect of the audience — as soon as they understood she was engaging in pointed satire, they saw the rabblerousers, who were calling out throughout the Q&A, as being the most hateful. One student remarked, “You know, by calling Ann Coulter’s remarks ‘hate speech’ they’re showing how little they have to offer by way of ideas. The speaker was making her point through humor, while the humorless just didn’t have a point.”