LEARNING TO FIGHT BACK IN AN ASYMMETRIC WAR
Nice work, Elizabeth Edwards.
As a lot of you know, Ann Coulter was on Hardball with Chris Matthews and Elizabeth Edwards called in and lambasted Coulter for ugly remarks about John Edwards and his family over the years. Think Progress has a transcript and the video.
I have to confess that I didn't enjoy this as much as I would have if Mrs. Edwards had been nasty and sarcastic and vicious -- you know, a taste of Coulter's own medicine. But that's not what was called for. Dignity was surely the right approach for Mrs. Edwards -- "I'm making the call as a mother. I'm the mother of that boy who died," for instance, in response to an assertion in a 2003 Coulter column that John Edwards has a bumper sticker that reads, "Ask me about my son's death in a horrific car accident." Mrs. Edwards came off well -- and she clearly got under Coulter's skin, which was quite satisfying. I suspect most of the junkyard dogs of the right would be similarly unsettled if they were challenged. Democrats and liberals, take note.
At one point -- it doesn't show up in the transcript, but it's audible on the video -- someone in the audience asks a question that Coulter echoes:
Yeah, why isn't John Edwards making this call?
I have to say I think there's something to this. It would be nice if candidates personally confronted the right-wing pit bulls. I think it would have been a good idea for John Kerry to challenge one of his Swift boat nemeses to a one-on-one televised debate. And yes, a call from John Edwards might have been a good idea in this case.
The conventional wisdom is that you don't want a candidate to do anything like that because it raises the attack dog to the candidate's level (or lowers the candidate to the attack dog's level). But that way of thinking just makes the work of the attack dogs a lot easier -- they never have to fear attacks, and their own attacks seem all the more audacious for their apparent David-fells-Goliath quality.
It's asymmetric guerrilla war. It's insurgency. Coulter's columns and the Swift boat book are IEDs; Coulter's TV appearances are terrorist propaganda videos. The message is: "You're the great power and we're small and subterranean, but we can hurt you and you can't even retaliate."
Direct face-to-face attacks by candidates (or other high-profile politicians) on Ann Coulter or the Swift boat liars or Rush Limbaugh would be a way of forcing them out of hiding and making them fight a conventional war. If counterattacks came from candidates themselves, they'd be page-one news and network news; the attack dogs wouldn't be able to hide themselves on radio and cable, where they get free publicity and little scrutiny. People who've paid no attention to these sleazebags would learn the ugly things they now say exclusively to fans.
That's a key point: The attack dogs spend their days launching ugly attacks, but they're rarely exposed to criticism -- no one challenges them on the radio or at their public appearances, and on cable they usually get love taps at worst. As a result, I think they have glass jaws -- and Elizabeth Edwards made that clear when she shook Ann Coulter up. A few candidates should follow suit.