Convenience is Coulter's m.o. Dismissing the claim that echoes of the rationale for the Oklahoma City bombing can be heard on conservative talk radio, she neglects to mention G. Gordon Liddy's comments on how to effectively kill federal agents. A list that is meant to demonstrate that "liberals have been wrong about everything in the last half-century" includes the Civil Rights Act. She's not against it, but she labels the segregationist Southern Democrats who opposed it as "liberals." She omits the fact that the act was pushed through Congress (as was the Voting Rights Act a year later) by a Democratic president, a product of those segregationist party politics, who understood the moral necessity of the measures and fought like hell to achieve them.
Coulter cites numerous examples of conservative books described as "surprise bestsellers" in the press to demonstrate the media's inability to imagine anyone would want to read them. But what surprised people about the success of "The Closing of the American Mind," "Illiberal Education" or "The Bell Curve" was that the bestseller lists are not usually the province of dense, academic cultural studies, policy discussions or scientific (or, I should say, junk-scientific) theory. After all, no one expected Michael Harrington's "The Other America" or Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae" to become bestsellers, either.
Coulter isn't wrong about everything. She scores some real hits when it comes to left-wing condescension toward the working class and the religious. In one of several examples, she cites a 1993 Washington Post report saying the "Gospel lobby" is made up of the largely "poor, uneducated, and easy to command" (i.e., dumb Southern "white trash," a phrase John Waters has rightly called "the last politically correct racist phrase"). She calls Michael Moore's dodgy documentary "Roger & Me" on the carpet for setting up the people it supposedly sympathizes with as hicks and rubes and fools.
And though she goes too far, she's got a point when she says, of the left's reaction to Sept. 11, "Here the country had finally given liberals a war against fundamentalism and they didn't want to fight it." The Taliban enacted the left's worst nightmare vision of the American religious right, yet waging war on them was denounced as xenophobia. With a few exceptions, Michael Walzer in Dissent prominently among them, the left's intellectual reaction to Sept. 11 was embodied by those two quislings Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag, whose implicit view was that America is too morally dirty to ever be justified in defending itself or retaliating against attack.
This inability to come up with new political frameworks to deal with new political realities was, Coulter points out, embodied in liberal complaints about "flag-wavers." It was as if showing solidarity with your country after 3,000 of your fellow citizens had been killed was equal to the worst, love-it-or-leave-it chauvinism. (At the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., a faculty member who was a friend of Todd Beamer, the man killed in the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, was prevented by her department members from placing a flag outside her office.)
Of course, Coulter can't leave one of her few cogent points alone. She has to push it to an absurd extreme and say that if Islamic terrorists had devoted as much energy to hating America as American liberals do, "they'd have indoor plumbing by now." (But, then what would swarthy males want with indoor plumbing?)
Toward the end of "Slander" comes a passage that can stand for the limitations of Coulter's intellect. "Between 1995 and 2001, the New York Times alone ran more than one hundred articles on Selma alone. [This sentence copyrighted by your Department of Redundancy Department.] I believe we may have revisited this triumph of theirs [emphasis added] sufficiently by now. For anyone under 50, the 'heady' days of civil rights marches are something out of a history book. The march on Selma was 35 years ago."
"History," in that passage, means the same thing as "dead." The triumphs of the civil rights era didn't occur in Coulter's lifetime, so it's past, done with (she may as well be saying, "Oh, not that tacky old Negro stuff again!"). That's a very strange notion for a conservative to espouse, one that goes against the very meaning of the word "conservative." And funny that an affirmation of the American principles of liberty and justice for all is "their" triumph (meaning, I assume, blacks and liberals) instead of a triumph for all Americans.
It's a definitive moment, the essence of the shallowness and insularity that the CFs epitomize. It's politics and history and culture as a clique, a coffee klatch, a night spent mooning with your girlfriends over "An Affair to Remember." And it's fatal to Coulter's efforts to represent herself as a thinker. Even those in opposition to a culture have to be able to engage it rather than shut it out or sarcastically dismiss it.
We all know that liberals hate Ann Coulter and her sisters. But what about conservatives? Do they really want to be represented by this nonthought, this conscious shunning of history? There's no reason conservatives shouldn't be as susceptible to media glitz as everyone else. So it's no surprise and no sin that the notion of young, glammed-up women touting conservative ideology holds some appeal for them. But the smugness and conspicuous lack of experience and seasoning in these telebimbos should give conservatives pause. Coulter and her brood could benefit from a little conservative ideology themselves. Arguing with them is like paying attention to disobedient children. They should be treated like spoiled brats who mouth off. Put them over the knee, paddle their fannies, tell them to wipe that smirk off their face and to speak up only when they've learned something about the world.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Maya Angelou reads from "The Heart of a Woman"
Reproduction of material from any Salon pages without written permission is strictly prohibited
Copyright 2002 Salon.com
Salon, 22 4th Street, 16th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103
Telephone 415 645-9200 | Fax 415 645-9204