I already know what's going to happen after I write this column.
Someone is going to say, why did you waste space condemning the latest drivel from the mouth of Ann Coulter? Don't you know she only says these outrageous things to promote her books? Why reward her with attention?
The argument is not without merit. Coulter plays the news media like Louis Armstrong once played his cornet. She is a virtuoso of stage-managed controversy. So there's something to be said for refusing to play along, for ignoring her in the hope that she will just go away.
But some things only fester and grow in the dark. Some things use silence as assent.
Last week, Coulter said that in her perfect America, everyone would be a Christian. She said this to Donny Deutsch, who was hosting her on his CNBC program, "The Big Idea." Deutsch, who is Jewish, expressed alarm. Whereupon Coulter told him Jews simply needed to be "perfected" - i.e., made to accept Jesus as savior. Which is, of course, one of the pillars (along with the slander of Christ's murder) supporting 2,000 years of pogroms, abuse and Holocaust.
I suspect the reason some people believe that kind of ignorance is best ignored is that they find it difficult to take it seriously, or to accept that Coulter - or those who embrace her - really believes what she says. After all, this is not 1933, not 1948, not 1966. It is two-thousand-by-God-oh-seven, post-Seinfeld, post-Gore-Lieberman, post-Schindler's List. We no longer live in the era when open anti-Semitism could find wide traction. This is a different time.
But time, Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, is neutral. Time alone changes nothing. It is people who make change in time. Or not. So you have to wonder if this determined sanguinity in the face of intolerance is not ultimately an act of monumental self-delusion.
While some of us are cheerfully assuring one another that They Don't Really Mean It, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the number of hate groups in this country has risen by a whopping 40 percent in just the past seven years. If you had spent those years, as I have, jousting in print the agents of intolerance, you would not be surprised. It would be all but impossible to quantify, but I've noted a definite spike, not simply in the hatefulness of some people, but in the willingness to speak that hatefulness openly and without shame. What used to be anonymous now comes with a name and address.
Like Coulter, many of those people find intellectual cover under the cloak of conservatism. It is a development thoughtful conservatives (the very need to use that qualifier makes the case) ought to view with alarm. For all that Colin Powell, J.C. Watts, the presidents Bush and others have done to posit a friendly new "big tent" conservatism, Coulter and others have done even more to drag the movement back toward open intolerance.
That will be read as criticism of conservatism, but I intend a larger point. After all, liberalism has had its own unfortunate extremes - the drug use of the '60s, the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army and the like. The difference is, say what you will about Michael Moore or Jesse Jackson, they are not pushing back toward that which has been discredited. Coulter is.
And if some of us are laughing that off, not everybody is.
So this is not about bashing conservatives. It is, rather, about challenging them, and all of us. Within living memory, we have seen Jews in boxcars and blacks in trees and silence from those who should have been shouting. They pretended it wasn't happening until it already had.
So, what about Ann Coulter? What about the push-back against diversity, pluralism and tolerance, that she represents? I keep hearing that we should just ignore it.
My point is, that's been tried before. It didn't work.