Ann Coulter’s been paying attention to Elena Kagan’s SCOTUS nomination proceedings. She even read a profile of Kagan from the New York Times. Kagan’s aunt notes that the family was intellectually engaged:
“There was thinking, always thinking,” Joyce Kagan Charmatz, Robert Kagan’s sister-in-law, 71, said of the family’s dinner table. “Nothing was sacrosanct.”
That “nothing was sacrosanct” caught Coulter’s eye. She’s skeptical about whether in a liberal family that there could be a nothing’s-off-limits discussion. She first observes:
Really? Nothing was sacrosanct? Because in my experience, on a scale of 1-to-infinity, the range of acceptable opinion among New York liberals goes from 1-to-1.001.
And then she ponders:
How would the following remarks fare at a dinner table on the Upper West Side where "nothing was sacrosanct": Hey, maybe that Joe McCarthy was onto something. What would prayer in the schools really hurt? How do we know gays are born that way? Is it possible that union demands have gone too far? Does it make sense to have three recycling bins in these microscopic Manhattan apartments? Say, has anyone read Charles Murray's latest book? Those comments, considered "conversation starters" in most of the country, would get you banned from polite society in New York.
Coulter’s hypothesis is that Kagan’s family was actually a group of insular liberals, people who pretended to be open-minded, willing to hear out all the sides, and so on, but never actually met anyone who had an opposing view. Coulter knows all those New York liberals, and she knows just how dogmatic they can be:
Even members of survivalist Christian cults in Idaho at least know people who hold opposing views. New York liberals don't. . . . Even within the teeny-tiny range of approved liberal opinion in New York, disagreement will get you banned from the premises.
Seriously? Now, for sure it’d be easy to switch out ‘New York liberals’ with ‘Texas conservatives’ and all the right-wing talking points with lefty talking points, and you’d see just what a bigoted and ridiculous tirade that’d be about conservatives. Surely, we all know there are dogmatists on both sides. But they don’t define the sides, and they don’t define how parenting happens. One of the things that Coulter fails to observe is that Joyce Kagan Charmatz is trying to get across that the Kagan family was not one of those dogmatic families you might see on the liberal side.
The larger problem is that Coulter has the worst of the ‘New York liberals’ define them all. We’ve observed a number of times here at the NonSequitur that this is a form of straw-manning more precisely called weak manning. The basic trope is to find the worst and dumbest representative of a group you hold to be wrong, criticize this representative, and then act as though the group is wrong uberhaupt on the basis of this criticism. For example, we all have shut-in uncles who surf the web in their bathrobes who are just right of Ron Paul libertarians. When they say stupid things at family reunions, we don’t think this necessarily impugns libertarianism. Every time you’re inclined to think that libertarians are stupid, you must remember Robert Nozick was very likely smarter than you. Same goes for Coulter – every time she thinks she can define the class ‘New York liberal,’ their views and their parenting on the basis of the worst of the class, she should exercise some measure of judgment.