[7 January 2008]
The open secret about Ann Coulter is that, despite her partisan pronouncements, she’s really just looking out for number one. Her newest book, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans, is a self-glorifying greatest hits compilation, composed of barbed quips and commentary on an A-to-Z index of subjects: airport security, Hillary Clinton, Iraq, “liberal patriotism”, Ronald Reagan and so on. One chapter is even subtitled “My Quotes About Me”. The intent is transparent—moving units. Drawing on a readership that devoured her previous bestsellers including Slander, Treason, and Godless, Coulter has rightly calculated that a healthy dollop of GOP-championing and Dem-bashing can bait true believers into a bookstore. And now the presidential election season is in full gallop. Naturally, talking points are a hot currency.
The self-styled “illegal alien” of punditry weds her provocations to the broader cause of GOP ascendancy. Unless wildly naïve, Coulter must realize that this shtick is a great asset to her ideological enemies. In her role as a political shock-queen (like Howard Stern in a marketable, pop-tart form), she energizes Democrats and hamstrings Republicans. At last spring’s Conservative Political Action Conference, she alluded to former U.S. Senator and current presidential candidate John Edwards as a “faggot”. The Left swiftly pounced on this indiscretion while White House aspirants for the GOP were awkwardly put on the defensive. John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney all hastily issued statements in protest. Like most contrived non-events, the fracas faded. But the lesson was clear. Coulter wasn’t going to allow the PR sensitivities of her party’s presidential campaigns to inhibit her appetite for petty incitements. Despite being a no-win issue for the Right and a rallying point for the Left, Ann would defiantly remain Ann.
But a consensus has not formed on who Coulter actually is or, more precisely, what the nature of her commentary is. Is she a jokester or a serious observer of politics? Perhaps a satirist? When, if ever, should her words be accepted at face value? In her newest book’s chapter on the manipulation of language, Coulter admonishes that “you’d have to be either retarded or work for the Soviet thought police not to understand that much of what I say is a joke”. Despite the patina of self-definition here, she’s still hedging on the issue. “Much” is hopelessly vague, and probably with good reason. At her convenience, Coulter can simply deploy the defense that “It was just a joke” while the joke in question still gets its essential message across.
Not that the proudly shameless Coulter minds the umbrage. But her apologists often end up in a problematic spot: how to defend words and a personality so erratic and undefined. After 9/11, Coulter famously penned a piece for National Review which outlined her unvarnished vision of future US foreign policy in the Middle East: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity”. National Review promptly dropped her column which was then picked up by conservative webzine Frontpagemag. Its editor, David Horowitz, an ex-leftist writer and activist, interpreted his new contributor’s literary method, in this instance, as irony: “I regarded Coulter’s philippic as a Swiftian commentary on liberal illusions of multi-cultural outreach to people who want to rip out our hearts”. Ironically, Horowitz’s view put him at odds with Coulter herself. In 2004’s How to Talk to a Liberal If You Must, she reaffirmed her advocacy of the “kill and Christianize” policy, asserting its relevance “now more than ever”. The article clearly was not ironic, a joke, or a send-up. Coulter doesn’t traffic in such subtlety. Thus her chameleon dance between comic and commentator misled even her boosters while assuredly keeping her brand name in the headlines.
Indeed, the media, along with her partisan foes, have proven unwitting allies in Coulter’s relentless campaign of self-promotion. Their penchant for taking offense and crying foul has achieved a caricaturish extent. In the introduction to If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans, Coulter notes how frequently she has, from the vantage of her detractors, “gone too far”, “sunk to a new low”, and ventured “beyond the pale”. The skirmishes are manifold: disparaging Vietnam veteran and former U.S. Senator Max Cleland, questioning the sorrow of the 9/11 “Jersey Girls”, and, most recently, calling Christians “perfected Jews”, etc. etc. Yet the media, Democrats, and wary Republicans have managed, as Coulter writes, to “summon fresh outrage for each new offense”. Such an approach is self-fulfilling. They are feeding her bloated ego and essentially communicating to the public that she is significant enough to warrant pious gnashing of teeth. Certainly she commands an audience. But her following is not a fluid demographic. They are stalwart occupants of the political Right who may actually believe that war criticism is a traitorous offense or that “all terrorists are Muslims”. Their views are entrenched. So why treat Coulter like a formidable opinion-shaper rather than an intellectually unserious huckster? Why credit the discredited?
If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republican is suffused with the triteness that Coulter’s naysayers should more pointedly highlight about her. This woman is not dangerous; she’s actually stunningly immature. Throughout the book, she refers to U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Barack Obama as “B. Hussein Obama” (his full name). She’s obviously trying to win smiles rather than craft a vile association. Either way, the attempt is grasping and cheap. She’s also preoccupied with the clichéd characterization of the left as unhygienic and with Monica Lewinski’s curvaceous body-type (“fat Jewish girl”, in her words). Like Al Franken with his childish screeds against Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, Ann Coulter should be smirkingly derided.
If these points of contention aren’t adequately critical, perhaps Coulter’s religious faith could come under stricter scrutiny. As an avowed Christian, she has acknowledged her sinful nature but must know that she is still under Biblical directive to act as an ambassador for Christ on earth. Has she succeeded in this task? In connection to former President Bill Clinton, Coulter rarely shuns an opening to reference fellatio, semen stains, and rape allegations. She has jokingly but coarsely suggested poisoning U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’ dessert and claims that the earth is ours to misuse and destroy. How does any of this bring honor to her Lord and Savior? As a commentator, Coulter has every right to bluster the way she does. As a Christian (and one with exceptional public exposure), shouldn’t her beliefs trump such distasteful shenanigans and compel her to strive to emulate Christ? Admittedly, this is sensitive terrain – a place, though, where Coulter delights in raising indignation.
Coulter has based her profitable career on this role as a scandalous rabble-rouser and hasn’t displayed major signs of abating. Her death as a relevant pundit has been falsely forecast many times already and to do so now would be glib. But the contents of If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans are so tired and dated that the anti-Coulter camp may have cause for hope. She continues to wage efforts in past battles against Bill Clinton, communism, US Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, and the New York Times. Little of the material is new and, as a whole, her book appears a desperate stab at staying in the public consciousness. But if her work still scales bestseller lists, why stop? And watch out if Hillary Clinton becomes the 44th President of the United States.
Ironically, perhaps the sole way Coulter could lose more credibility would be for her to renege on her racy public persona. If this is an act geared toward book sales, media spots, and lecture tours, she must remain all in for the duration. The art of provocation has been good to Ann Coulter. It only seems right that, in kind, she stay devoted to it.