Sunday, June 11, 2006

the Jersey Widows

If you haven't been trapped in the cellar for the last week, you probably have heard about Ann Coulter's rough words about the Jersey Widows, four women who lost their husbands on 9/11:
These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process....

These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparazzies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.
Naturally, leftists in the media and blogosphere are reacting as if Coulter had sicced a pack of rabid pit bulls on the defenseless women and stood laughing while they were ripped limb from limb. Unfortunately, many on the right are piling on as they often do when they smell the chance to demonstrate non-partisan principles.

The impulse is laudable. Fair-minded people feel a responsibility to be impartial in their criticisms; if they criticize Michael Moore for being a big meanie, then when Ann Coulter is mean, they have to criticize her too. But admirable as their motivations are, they are playing into the hands of the leftist grief machine as Big Lizards explains so carefully and thoroughly (link from xrlq). He writes:
Coulter argues — and I completely agree — that by using their grief as a club to batter their opponents into silence, they have willfully and irrevocably forfeited the right ever again to use it as a shield.
If this sentiment isn't obvious to you after reading his post, then I suggest that you are working from sentimentality rather than from moral principle.

The only remaining defense of the attack on Coulter, as I see it, is from commenter Patterico (who on his own blog called Coulter "the Ted Rall of the right" over this incident). Patterico writes
None of this justifies the line about enjoying their husbands' deaths.

That's a cheap shot, pure and simple.
He is right in his implication that even if the Jersey Widows have no legitimate claim to special treatment, they are still entitled to basic decency. Where I think he is wrong is in his judgment that the comment about enjoying their husbands death crossed the line of basic decency. I know this is a tough claim to defend, but please bear with me as I make the effort.

First of all note that "she is enjoying her husband's death" is not the same as "she is glad her husband died". I can enjoy eating a sandwich that fell on the floor without being glad that it fell on the floor, and someone can enjoy the perks of having their husband dead without being glad that he is dead.

Second, people often do enjoy the perks of grief. Some people enjoy it a great deal. Women have deliberately harmed and even killed their own children because they enjoy the perks and attention of grieving. In fact, this practice is common enough to have a name: Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy.

Third, it isn't that outrageous to look at a woman's behavior after her husband's death and conclude that she is enjoying herself. Imagine a woman who starts out poor and marries a rich older man for his money but the man turns out to be a miser and never lets her spend money. When her husband dies, she starts spending money wildly on shoes, clothes, and exotic vacations. She takes a young good-looking lover and is seen with him all over town gushing over him. Wouldn't it be fair to say that this woman is enjoying her husbands death? It might not be polite to say it, but it would be a reasonable conclusion to draw from the evidence, would it not?

The case for the Jersey Widows is even stronger than it is for the gold digger. The Widows became rich and famous, not merely because their husband's death released them, but by directly exploiting the circumstances of their husband's death. They used their husband's death to get attention, to get invited to all the right parties, and to get fawned over on TV.

Any unbiased observer would have to agree that the Jersey Widows do seem to be enjoying their husband's death, but that doesn't justify saying so. There are codes of proper conduct, and just because something is true, that doesn't justify saying it. I've written before about how cruel it is to call famous women ugly, for example, even if they are ugly. Just because it is true, that is no excuse to say it. And certainly it is wrong to say it if your purpose is to deliberately hurt them. That's what the left was doing in their terrible remarks about Linda Trip and Katherine Harris. If Coulter were doing something comparable to that, she should be taken to task for it.

But that is not what Coulter is doing. Coulter isn't out to personally hurt or attack the Jersey Widows; she has a point that she is trying to make --a point that she thinks is vitally important (and I agree with her). The Democrats exploit people like the Jersey Widows to score unanswerable political points. They are, at the same time exploiting the basic decency of Republicans to keep the Republicans silent --no one wants to be mean to a grieving widow. Coulter wants people to understand what the Democrats are doing, and she wants us to understand how heinous this strategy really is. How better to express that than to point out one of the awful consequences, that these four Widows have been led into exploiting and enjoying the fruits of the deaths of their own husbands?

That is a pretty awful thing, but it is the thing itself that is awful, not the act of pointing it out.

UPDATE: John Hawkins at Right Wing News also defends Coulter. I wonder if that's how he got the interview with her? Of course I defended her and she didn't give me an interview...

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