Tarzan, Jane and Cheetah
I think that one of the reasons the conservatives are mostly hanging tough with Coulter is at least partially due to what she specifically said. She used the word "faggot" to describe a Democrat. This is the premise that forms the entire basis of the Republican claim to leadership and lies at the bottom of the media's continuing ridiculous assumption that the Republicans are more natural leaders than Democrats. For forty years the Republicans have been winning elections by calling liberals "faggots" (and "dykes") in one way or another. It's what they do. To look too closely at what she said is to allow light on their very successful reliance on gender stereotypes to get elected.
Rick Perlstein recently noted that Saint Ronnie went for it early on:
...he got the tribal stuff right, the us-versus-them stuff--as when he confronted young people harassing him with make love, not war signs. He said it looked like they were incapable of doing either.
Reagan also used to say the hippies "look like Tarzan, walk like Jane and smell like Cheetah." That's not so different than Coulter saying, "my pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention."
A lot of the shrieking aversion to the dirty hippie came from all that "feminine" hair on men's heads and "masculine" hair on women's bodies, if you'll recall. My brother was constantly harrassed about "looking like a girl" in 1966 Mississippi for having hair below his collar. In those days, hair was a political statement and even though forty years have passed and most of those people can only dream about all that hair they no longer have, the right successfully parlayed that gender role anxiety into a political narrative that continues to powerfully effect politics today.
Coulter is somewhat desperate so she's articulating this stuff in a crude and obvious fashion in order to keep her stale schtick going. But this concept is so ingrained in the political culture by now that the only thing that really stands out about it is the fact that she used an obvious epithet that is out of public fashion, even at a rightwing event. Suppose she had used the silly word "girlyman"? Nobody would be calling for the smelling salts. In fact, I would imagine the press corps would have told us all to "get over it."
As Somerby pointed out earlier today, Maureen Dowd does exactly the same thing Coulter does without the vulgarity. He also recalls that Coulter recently called Al Gore a "big fag" on Chris Matthews show and nobody said a peep. This is because it's so internalized that unless people are paying close attention, it just slips through. After all, she even said Bill Clinton is gay and it barely made a ripple:
DEUTSCH: Before we’re off the air, you were talking about Bill Clinton. Is there anything you want to say about Clinton? No?
Ms. ANN COULTER: No.
DEUTSCH: OK. All right. Did you find him attractive? Was that what it was?
Ms. COULTER: No!
DEUTSCH: You don’t find him attractive?
Ms. COULTER: No. OK, fine, I’ll say it on air.
DEUTSCH: Most women find him attractive.
Ms. COULTER: No.
DEUTSCH: OK, say it on air.
Ms. COULTER: I think that sort of rampant promiscuity does show some level of latent homosexuality.
DEUTSCH: OK, I think you need to say that again. That Bill Clinton, you think on some level, has — is a latent homosexual, is that what you’re saying?
Ms. COULTER: Yeah. I mean, not sort of just completely anonymous — I don’t know if you read the Starr report, the rest of us were glued to it, I have many passages memorized. No, there was more plot and dialogue in a porno movie.
Hillary too. Here's Coulter again:
Q: Does Hillary Clinton have a good chance in 2008? What are her strengths and weaknesses? What did her reaction to your "Jersey girls" comments tell you about her as a potential candidate?
A: Good chance of what? Coming out of the closet? I'd say that's about even money.
It may seem odd to you that she would call the most notorious womanizing president since JFK and his wife gay, but there you have it. Coulter is so coarse that she has to make the claim literal in order to keep her career going, but it's actually a mainstream view.
Here's just a small sampling of how this has played out in just the last six years:
Al Gore needed to be taught how to be an "alpha male." He doesn't "know who he is."
John Kerry "flip-flops" like a flaccid penis.
John Edwards is "the Breck girl."
Howard Dean was "hysterical."
Barack Obama is "Obambi."
Bill Clinton was "a pervert."
Hillary Clinton is a lesbian.
The underlying premise of the modern conservative movement is that the entire Democratic party consists of a bunch of fags and dykes who are both too effeminate and too masculine to properly lead the nation. Coulter says it out loud. Dowd hints at it broadly. And the entire press corps giggles and swoons at this shallow, sophomoric concept like a bunch of junior high pom pom girls.
Here's the NY Times just a few weeks ago:
In other words, liberal moment or conservative slump?
Both, presumably, for reasons that could be explained in part by the 'mommy party/daddy party' cliché -- that is, that voters typically favor Democrats ("mommy party") on social issues and Republicans ("daddy party") on national security.
This frayed old trope is just another version of the same thing. The leaders of the Democratic party (men up to now) are "mommies." And cleverly, that makes the women daddies. But they are daddies like Melissa Etheridge is a mommy and that makes all the scared little boys and girls of the Republican rank and file either feel all icky and confused --- or angry and hostile. (These gender stereotype issues seem to affect some people in a very odd emotional way.)
Coulter stepped over the line because she used a bad word. But nobody on the right and most people in the media don't blink an eye at the implication of what she said. All this Claude Rainsing among certain rightwing bloggers and the press is just a little bit overdone, if you ask me. Being a "faggot" in common braindead GOP locker room parlance simply means being a Democrat and everybody knows it.
*Of course,it goes without saying that none of this is to say that actually being gay or being called gay is a bad thing. It's just another dogwhistle they use to tease the lizard brains of their bigoted and repressed base (and peel off a few old people.) It's a silly construct that is not going to work for them much longer as both gays and women take and open and equal place in the leadership of the nation. Coulter's sad, campy threadbare show has the feel of a final tour to me.