The “R” Word

Much has already been said about Ann Coulter’s ill-advised (and repeated) use of the word “retard” to describe Barack Obama after his debate with Mitt Romney. I will not add fuel to that particular fire, but would prefer to take a different turn and ask the question: what ever happened to respect and civil discourse in this country?

Ann Coulter, of course, reports “news” for Fox “News.” I put scare quotes around the words here because this is a show that just pretends to give us the news when in fact they are simply passing along right-wing propaganda. Most people know that. But apparently there are many people in this country who don’t know this and that is why the programming on that station is worrisome: these people mistakenly believe they are getting actual news reporting when they are not But I digress.

Coulter has borrowed the colloquialism that turned a perfectly good verb into a pejorative noun. Presumably it is vulgar slang for “mentally retarded,” which is not regarded as politically correct even in its extended form. Her comment is disturbing to those who feel the pain of people who are intellectually challenged, as we now say. And this is disturbing indeed — especially since Coulter has been alerted to the fact that the term is offensive and yet she continues to use it. But what about its use in describing the President of the United States? Does no one else find this disturbing? Is there no line that those in the public eye should not cross in voicing their political opinions? It would seem that those who hold the highest office in this country are deserving of respect just by virtue of their office — even though we don’t happen to agree with their politics, or even if we have a personal grudge against them for some reason.

There was a time when this sort of slur would be regarded as more disturbing than the fact that this woman used the “R” word, a time when mutual respect was the rule and there was a sense that certain types of comments are inappropriate. We have lost that sense of propriety. It went out the window with good manners and the other Victorian baggage we were convinced would cramp our style, such things as duty, honor, and respect. But civil discourse lies at the core of “civilization,” and is one of the key factors separating us from the apes. If we must live together in crowded social groups it’s not enough to know how to speak; it requires that we know how to speak civilly to one another as well.

It’s not just bad manners to shout at one another, interrupt, insult, and toss offensive words about at random; it’s offensive and at the very least disrespectful and it even hurtful. Mutual respect lies at the heart of our moral system. The lack of respect we show in the way we speak to one another very easily translates into abuse and even violence to others we regard as inferior to ourselves. We should respect one another enough to at least listen and reply to what the other person has to say, to let them finish their sentences, and to respectfully disagree from time to time. We can even ignore them…..politely. But to address your President as a “retard” takes the problem to a new level. And this is especially so for a newscaster on a public show that is watched by millions who mistake it for the news. I think we know who is the intellectually challenged person here.

19 thoughts on “The “R” Word

  1. Using such a hurtful term and refusing to cease and desist when asked is the hallmark of privilege and entitlement; Coulter is someone who doesn’t believe she should be held accountable for her words, and particularly not by anyone she disagrees with.

    I genuinely worry for people like Ann Coulter. When you’ve reached a stage in your intellectual ‘development’ where you don’t feel that any outside input is needed, you’re headed for a very self-absorbed place where no one can reach you. The fact that she’s in a position of power, as you point out, and is communicating what many consider to be news, is awfully worrying.

    • Indeed. If she kept her prejudices to herself it would be one thing, but to spread them to millions of others is most disturbing.


    • …”When you’ve reached a stage in your intellectual ‘development’ where you don’t feel that any outside input is needed, you’re headed for a very self-absorbed place where no one can reach you.”…

      Safe and free at last!

      “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
      That saved a wretch like me….
      I once was lost but now am found,
      Was blind, but now, I see.

      T’was Grace that taught…
      my heart to fear.
      And Grace, my fears relieved.
      How precious did that Grace appear…
      the hour I first believed.”

  2. These remarks were designed to show MAXIMUM disrespect and they served their function beautifully. We haven’t lost any sense of propriety! Mutual respect never lived at the heart of our moral system either.

    I think what you are remembering Hugh is a very small slice of the world that consisted of like minded, skinned and believing people who shared a culture. I remember those days too. But, they are gone. Duty, honor and respect went out the window because those things never ever had any meaning outside of culture anyway. We never dreamed of acting or speaking disrespectfully toward a President, but, we discussed the innate stupidity and bone laziness of niggers as well as the hopeless drunkenness of the Irish and the cold blooded and calculated money box that took the place of a heart in the chest of every Jewish businessman. Lets not kid ourselves Hugh. Once the Chinks had completed laying track for the Transcontinental railroad we wanted nothing to do with them. Back in the days when the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

    [I certainly agree with this:] “If we must live together in social groups it’s not enough to know how to speak; it requires that we know how to speak civilly to one another as well.”…

    But, I don’t see it happening because “if” I had respect for someone whose world view, religion, philosophy, or, what-have-you differed radically from my own I would be saying, in effect, “It doesn’t really matter.” Right and wrong are no big deal. Nothing is Holy to me enough to make any kind of a stink about it. Then where would I be? Bad enough we have to painstakingly construct a reality to inhabit out of myths and conjectures, now you expect us to do it without walls, a floor and a roof that are solid? Not going to happen.

    Besides Hugh, back in that time of “good manners and the other Victorian baggage” you refer to I think we both know how Ann Coulter and every other decent God fearing white person would have referred to a black President….. And it wouldn’t have been as “The white mans burden.”

    Good post
    Mrs. N.

    • I always relish your comments — even when I can’t agree. But you do always provide food for thought and that’s why I blog! I do agree that in the Victorian age there were deep prejudices and people were just as narrow — perhaps even narrower — than now. But I don’t agree that duty and respect were just words: they were principles a great many people tried (at least) to live their lives by. That’s no longer the case. They are now words that have a hollow ring. And I would argue that mutual respect (whether we acknowlege it or not) is at the heart of any and all religious and moral systems.


      • I agree with you Hugh. BUT, you must agree that ALL religious and moral systems are exclusive. One simply doesn’t expect a Fundamentalist Christian to respect the religious & moral system of a Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist. To do so would negate their own.

        Duty & respect were practiced because they were strongly enforced WITHIN a cultural group or framework. Outside of that, as the quintessential British Victorian General, serving Her Majesty in India, would be happy to instruct you….. “They are ALL niggers, Gypos and Woggs.” “WHAT?”

  3. Another great post, and further discussions. You do bring out the best in your readers, Hugh.

    Just to be clear. Coulter is not considered a newscaster for Fix News. She is a commentator, and editorial contributor known for her over the top comments. She’s Sarah Palin on Steroids, and for that she is well paid. Remember, she is the one who claimed the spouses of the victims of 9/11 were glad they were gone, and just after the money. She is Rush Limbaugh in heels.

    The likes of Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity and O’Reily must continue to push the envelope, to say ever more extreme things today than they did yesterday, or they will fall by the wayside. Their value is shock value, and once that’s gone, they become irrelevent. Beck went too far, too fast, and outpaced his audiences. So there is value is only pressing your case a little more each day. So we need to be sure we understand their roles on Fix and Clear Channel.

    There are places of continued respect for the office. The military comes to mind. Being an ex military officer, the respect accorded myself and other ranking officers was not necessarily to me, (gosh knows, there are as many idiots and fools in the military as in society!) but to the bars an officer wore on his shoulders. I totally believe that this level of respect belongs to the office of the presidency. Personally, I believe Clinton began the slippery slope downward when he took the question, “boxers or briefs” on MTV. Bush furthered the lack of respect for his idiotic statements of “I’m the decider” further lowering the respect for the office. As you state, I may not like the man, but the office deserves respect.

    I disagree with Mrs N on one issue. There was a time, even in my past, where Coulter’s behavior would not have been accepted by polite society. There would have been a loud chorus of “tsk tsk’s” all around and continued behavior would have seen her ostracized and not accepted. yes, some would still have cheered her, but not the majority of society. Thats why when I was younger, mothers all along the street kept an eye on all the kids, and were not afraid to correct bad behavior, and be sure the parents knew about the transgressions. I was not only afraid of my parents disapproval and perhaps punishment, but of the disapproval of the whole block.

    Thats whats missing today; societal expectations.

    Great post, Hugh!

    • Thanks for the clarification of Coulter’s role on Fox, Barney. And I appreciate your support of my memory of the past. I also remember a time when a comment like Coulter’s would have drawn considerable outcry. My point here is that we object to her use of an offending term, but not as it applies to the President of the United States. I thought it curious!

      • It absolutely would have drawn an outcry, even in the press, and well it should. Overall our standards have fallen so low. Personally, I think the Baby Boomer blew it!!

    • I don’t think we disagree on much Barney. There was a time in my past, too (and present) where the beastly likes of an Ann Coulter wouldn’t even be mentioned in a conversation concerning “polite company”.

      … And, what could be more of a closed cultural system than… the military?

      • The military example was to the point of respect for authority, like we grew up with you must respect adults, or the policeman, teacher, fireman, etc. You may not like them, (and frankly, no one really cared whether you did or not) but you did have to respect the place they had attained through age, experience, job, etc.

  4. I understand Barney. The military can enforce respect for authority. When we lived in a society with FAR LESS privacy a degree for respect for authority could be easily enforced, within the group. Today… who has a group? Multiculturalism is a nightmare for clever monkeys like ourselves. A sea of endlessly overlapping reality distortion schemes, none exactly alike, where everyones opinion must be treated with respect.

    What a hope!

  5. As a longtime newspaperman, thanks Barney for clarifying Coulter’s role at Fox. She’s not a reporter, but more like columnist in a newspaper, where they are allowed to inject their opinion. But in newspapers, most of the time, a columnist’s piece is labeled “opinion” or “commentary'”, gets a column logo (usually with the writer’s mug shot) or is placed on the paper’s opinion or editorial pages — there’s a clear delineation between straight reporting and opinion writing.

    But what has happened on cable news, and on the Internet, is that those lines have blurred so much that a casual viewer has a hard time knowing when the telecast has shifted from reporting the news to bringing one of its commentators in. There are no pauses, no voice-overs, that say “the following is an opinion commentary.” Granted, on full-length opinion shows such as O’Reilly’s, Rachel Maddow’s or Hannity’s, there is no need to run a disclaimer because the whole show is commentary. But, there should perhaps be a loud disclaimer at the beginning of each show.

    As for how President Obama should respond to Coulter’s remark, maybe he could take a cue from FDR. After an attack on some of his New Deal legislation, FDR simply said, “I’m glad these people hate me — it’s a good thing.” The point being, he knew he was correct and by painting it in such stark contrasts, his opponents were not only wrong, but hateful. What decent person would want to associate with a losing side that’s not only defined by being wrong but full of hate? If evil people don’t like you, good people will — “it’s a good thing.”

    • Good comment, Dana. I don’t watch Fox News except when I am in a public place and cannot turn it off. I had read about Coulter’s remarks and also read several opinion pieces — that were clearly opinion pieces.


  6. I think that all 24 hour “news channels” have served to further polarize our society, desensitize us to uncivil discourse, and make our nation more ignorant than ever. How little we know beyond the borders of our country. How little we know about anything going on at all. Only politics and celebrity gossip on any of the news channels. Ann Coulter should be at the far end of the dial on AM radio, not on a national news channel. But people watch, so there she is. She has probably gained more fans over her hateful comments. It seems clear to me that she is nothing more than an attention-seeker and a fool, but she is only one of many.

  7. Hugh, great post and comments. Amaya was the first one to alert me to these hatfuel comments, so I am glad she weighed in here. The weaker one’s argument, the louder one’s voice. Namecalling usually is the next step beyond the raised voice. Ms. Coulter’s column is not carried in my newspaper, but I catch it at my mom’s when I visit. I realize with these infrequent reads, that I am not missing much as her writing tends to be indicting rather than illuminating. Her verbal comments are actually more abusive. When I see or hear opinions that I don’t agree with, I want articulated arguments. That is why I like reading David Brooks, Michael Gerson and Ross Douthat. That is another reason those three appear on the PBS Newshour opposite Mark Shields and like-thinking progressive commentators. I would add Brooks, Gerson and Douthat actually tone down the rhetoric on the air, while Ms. Coulter tends to heighten it. When someone name calls, people will start to discredit the messenger, even those who were supportive. Thanks, BTG

    PS – Of course,I am still reeling from picturing “Rush Limbaugh in Heels” per Barney.

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