The closing session of Day 1 at the Values Voters conference had the feel of an emotional roller coaster. The evening kicked off with stand-up comedy by Steve Bridges, whose impersonation of President Bush is uncanny – every shrug, eyebrow raise, hand gesture, whisper, squint, smirk, and laugh were instantly recognizable. The performance had people rolling in the aisles, even though there was a lot of good-natured humor playing on the very-popular-in-this-crowd president’s difficulties with the English language and his reputation for not being, as he said, “the brightest bulb in the knife drawer.”
The tone shifted dramatically darker with the next two speakers, Religious Right strategist and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and notorious pundit Ann Coulter. Bauer focused on “two wars”- the war against “Islamo-fascists” and the battle over values. Coulter’s theme was “two evils” to be fought – Islamic terrorists and the Supreme Court. Both mocked concerns about mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo. Bauer particularly seemed to take offense at the very notion that detainees would be treated humanely, which he said sends a signal of weakness to our enemies. He derided Republican Sens. McCain, Warner and Graham for trying to ensure that the U.S. retained its commitment to the Geneva Convention’s requirement for humane treatment of prisoners of war. And he slammed the “left wing of American politics,” which he said “appears to hate you and me and George Bush more than they hate the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.”
Bauer described the values battle – over abortion and marriage – in equally pugnacious terms, insisting that Roe will soon be overturned and declaring that “we are putting the radical gay rights movement on notice. You will not defeat us. We will defend marriage.”
Bauer closed by invoking the memories of people in the twin towers who called loved ones in their final moments, and of the passengers on flight 93 who sacrificed their lives to prevent another terror attack. He called on the image of those passengers charging up the aisle to shame anyone who stays out of the culture war or doesn’t find time to vote. Bauer, of course, gave no sign of recognizing that among those callers and passengers were gay Americans with their own loved ones and families.
Coulter, while extremely popular with the crowd, seemed a bit off, rushing through her speech in order to get to the book signing table, but not so quickly that she didn’t throw out some tradmark outrageousness designed to delight right-wing audiences: liberals don’t want to go to war with Islamic fascism, and the killing of doctors who provided abortions was basically the fault of the Supreme Court’s decision in Casey. She derided Supreme Court decisions that “read like newsletters from NAMBLA” and asked when the other branches of government would finally start ignoring “absurd” Supreme Court decisions. (She suggested that Bush and Congress should have ignored decisions on the rights of detainees.)
Without a trace of irony Coulter declared the war in Iraq a “magnificent success,” made light of the massive looting that took place there (“broken pottery”) and dismissed concerns about the conditions in Iraq raised by the “treason lobby.” Now let’s sell some books.