For the free exchange of ideas, there must first be an idea to exchange

Tomorrow, American conservative pundit Ann Coulter is scheduled to speak at the University of Ottawa. The campus student federation would like the speech to be moved off campus, citing her previous comments as hate speech. The university’s vice-president would like her to speak, but has written to her to warn of Canada’s laws regarding hate speech.

I have long held an assertion that Ann Coulter is not a conservative pundit but an incredibly convincing and dedicated performance artist for no serious commentator would hold the views that she does. Stephen Colbert’s act doesn’t even touch what she does.

But let’s go with the largely accepted view she actually means what she says. Is that a reason to ban her from a campus? So long as she does not violate any of our laws regarding hate speech, I’d say no. You can’t have a free exchange of ideas without also exposing ideas that most reasonable people would find repugnant.

That said, she doesn’t have ideas. She has a list of outrageous statements carefully chosen for their high impact shock value. She knows it will get her attention and anger people. But she brings nothing of value to the conversation.

So, the speech will likely go ahead as planned. There will be a protest. It will get ugly. She will say something awful. Everyone on Twitter will note the awful thing she said. She will smirk. The end.

So my question is to the University of Ottawa: Why bring her in the first place? Surely there are better American conservatives from which to draw. People who will carefully consider what they say before saying it.

Aren’t there?

*UPDATE* Oh, look. She said an awful thing. Oh, rather, don’t look. She doesn’t need the attention.


8 thoughts on “For the free exchange of ideas, there must first be an idea to exchange

  1. John, I disagree. Coulter does make it clear about her stances are on any political issue. Her speeches are all political, as are here columns. Where she causes the Left alarm is her penchant for unrestrained ridicule of them and their beliefs. Just as you and I probably would argue issues in ways that might not be “Senatorial”, Coulter is always in that mode–further, she enjoys getting a rise out of the Left.

    Do I find her abrasive at times? Sure. But does she face her opponents and defeat them often? Obviously. One can demean her knowledge and say she is nothing more than an act, but an act cannot argue with knowledge and win.

    Am I asking you to like her? From your perspective, heck no. But I think her 1st amendment rights should be protected just as much as a card carrying Communist. And those on the Left are rarely banned from college speeches.

  2. I’m not sure what part of my post you disagree with. The part where I said I didn’t support banning her from the University of Ottawa?

    You may feel that she uses knowledge to win her arguments but never have I read anything by her and felt that I’ve come away with a fresh and reasoned perspective on an issue. I just see vitriol. Why try to make an argument by “getting a rise out of the Left”? It’s for that reason that I just think there are better ambassadors for the cause of conservatism than her.

  3. It should be noted that there is a difference between requesting a speech be moved off campus and a “ban.” A “ban” implied outright censorship, as in, not allowed to speak anywhere. What the students are probably asking is simply that she not be allowed on campus. If they get their way there is nothing preventing Coulter from standing on the sidewalk just off campus and giving her speech, or renting a church hall, or any other venue, including TV and radio.

    I think the core of their argument is that a university is not an appropriate venue for a talk that holds no intellectual merit and is deliberately skewed in order to inflame and enrage some of its listeners.

    That said, I do agree with the general idea that unpopular ideas have as much right to be heard as popular ones. But at the same time, people have the right to express their displeasure at unpopular ideas. For that reason I would have preferred hearing that the students were organizing a protest or some kind of boycott or whatever. Ah, but kids these days… (actually, when I was a uni student I would have done the same thing).

    BTW, I think your “performance artist” thing is actually closer than you think. No intelligent person could be expected to believe the kind of venomous crap that she spits out, and she shows signs of being intelligent. Therefore, there has to be a performance aspect. My personal opinion is that she is somewhat sociopathic (not kidding — look it up) and that she goes as far as she does because she makes money from it. She would never be the big name she is, with book sales, high speaker fees, paid guest appearances, etc., if she tried to be reasonable. Stephen Colbert and John Steward make crazy assertions but they do it as comedians. Ann Coulter’s opinions are so vile that no humor can possibly live there, so she just amps it up and takes the psycho approach in order to boost her image and sell more books, etc.

  4. I’ve always thought of her as an attention hog who likely has a big chip on her shoulder.

    The unfortunate thing is that her extreme and often hateful speech detracts from the legitimate points on the conservative side of the spectrum.

  5. It might be a novel concept if the event went as planned and nobody showed up.

    And I really should learn my lesson about blogging on American politics. šŸ˜‰

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