2006 has been billed as the end of the conservative movement. This is due largely to the mistaken idea that conservatism is the same as Republicanism. What the voters rejected was corruption and good-ole’ boy politics. The election clearly showed the divide between conservatives and Republicans. However, there is one additional distinction that needs to be made.

The voters were also turned off by the campaigning style of the Republicans. Namely, the only GOP platform that was heard was why we should vote Democratic. Sure, some nuggets were tossed in like tax cuts. By and large, the GOP used scare tactics to convince conservatives to vote for them. We didn’t buy it. Not because we’ve become liberals, but because we realize if we don’t “throw the bums out”, the GOP will be less and less honest.

The biggest problem remains that many of the prominent voices of the conservative movement aren’t conservatives. Take Ann Coulter for instance. Sure, she’s pro-life and if asked would support conservative causes. She doesn’t earn a living by advancing conservatism. She earns her living by being an anti-liberal.

In her latest column, she advocates for no position. She is arguing against them. No, scratch that. She’s basically doing a comedy routine against Democrats. Much of opinions journalism has become more about pejorative than persuasion. That’s what sells columns and books. People turn on Ann Coulter on Fox News to see the fur fly, not to be informed. She does entertain. She does not advocate.

Good thinkers need to both point out flaws in opposing positions and advocate for their own. The aloof don’t engage other ideas and their thought atrophies. The unthinking mindlessly attack ideas they disagree with. The childish simply carp on political opponents.

Even when Ann Coulter isn’t selling columns, she still does her comedy routine. Recently she was asked several questions by students. She responded with her usual battery of jokes. Ted Kennedy jokes are no longer funny because of her tired repetition of “inflatable dirigible” cracks. At least Rush Limbaugh intersperses advocacy between his jokes and changes them up every now and then.

Having seen Ann Coulter give a speech, her talks are no different. Largely it is a stand-up comedy routine. I’m not sure why people drop the kind of money they do on her. The jokes aren’t even funny.

There is a real temptation to engage in the constant political mudslinging that masquerades as “thought” in the press. The problem certainly isn’t confined to the right either. For every Coulter there is a Franken. Most people don’t think about politics anymore. The media can’t even cover political debates without the mudslinging template. We’ve moved from a society that discusses ideas to a society that discusses people.

Knowing what you are against is one thing. It is more important to know what you are for. In all of Coulter’s books, columns and speaking engagements, it’s hard to know what she’s for.

It is imperative that true political debate become the norm. There will likely always be mudslinging pundits and C-list bloggers muddying the waters. A little needling back and forth isn’t a bad thing either. In fact, it’s quite healthy. That should not translate into wholesale abandonment of ideas. The Ann Coulters of the world need to be moved to the background.

John Bambenek is the Assistant Politics Editor for BC Magazine and is an academic professional for the University of Illinois. He is a syndicated columnist who blogs at Part-Time Pundit and the executive director of The Tumaini Foundation which helps AIDS orphans and other children in Tanzania to get an education. He is the current owner of BlogSoldiers, a blog-only traffic exchange.

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