to Ann Coulter's World
By Mark Harris
"We need to execute people like John Walker [Lindh]
in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them
realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will
turn out to be outright traitors."
Ann Coulter, speaking to the Conservative Political
Action Conference, January 2002.
Coulter is this summer's publishing equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger's
latest Terminator movie. In her most recent best-seller, Treason:
Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terror
(Crown Forum, 2003), the cable TV commentator turned author
reveals herself as an almost robotic fabricator of lies, distortion,
and insult toward any and all things not right-wing Republican.
With Coulter, it's the honest, rational discourse that's consistently
In Treason, Coulter has discovered what is apparently
either the scoop of the new millennium, or evidence of her
own budding inner fascist emerging from the closet of her
mainstream Republicanism. How else can you characterize someone
who seriously believes that tens of millions of Americans
now are literally "traitors," guilty of treason? But who exactly
are all these traitors? Are we talking sinister Stalinist
spies in positions of high influence? Evil drug cartels pushing
poison in America's schoolyards? Not quite. In the world according
to Coulter, the subversives are none other than—take a deep
If the thought of Hilary Clinton in a Che-style beret, rifle-in-hand,
leading the League of Women Voters in an armed assault on
the Bush family ranch has Coulter's fans in a panic, they
should relax. This writer upon whom conservative groups like
to bestow various journalist of the year awards has just the
antidote for the spreading plague of liberal subversion. Yes,
it's none other than the historic figure of Senator Joseph
McCarthy (the fellow who gave us McCarthyism!). The old mid-century
red-baiter emerges now from the smoke and vitriol of Coulter's
rhetoric as an action hero for our age, a renegade brawler
of vision and courage who in his day feared not the term witch
It's revealing that a leading Republican commentator, a woman
whose photo appears on the front page of the web site for
the American Conservative Political Union (along with Vice
President Cheney) chooses now to resurrect McCarthy's anti-democratic
legacy. It's as if Coulter wants to proclaim to anyone within
earshot that the Republican right plays by its own rules now,
"respectable politics" be damned. Here's rule number one:
"We Republicans Alone Stand for God, Moral Virtue, Love of
Country and All Things Righteous, and a New Generation of
Tactical 'Bunker-Buster' Mini-Nukes!" Praise Be to Osama Bin
As for all other unfortunates, Coulter offers nothing but
unrelenting insults, signifying nothing but her own pathological
hostilities. Liberals? Democrats? They believe only in themselves,
or at most the New York Times. They're also a pathetic posse
of liars, weaklings, cowards, drug abusers, girly-boys, buffoons,
and moral degenerates. And they hate their country. Despise
it, actually. They're also wrong about everything. You almost
wonder why the Democratic Party didn't long ago just come
clean and rename itself the Shining Path of Revolutionary
International Liberation Democratic Party. Or something like
Treason itself is a slurapalooza of personal vindictive
and abuse, page after unrelenting page of wild hatred toward
all evil liberal-doers, which in Coulter's world view appear
to be defined as anyone slightly to the left of Ivan the Terrible.
On that score, Coulter's embrace of the old persecutor McCarthy
at least makes a kind of twisted sense. But what should we
expect from a woman who refuses to condemn the assassination
of doctors who perform medical abortions, as Coulter told
a student audience in December 2001 at the University of Washington?
Or who thinks "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh should
have been executed, if only to scare liberals. Or who seriously
believes Jimmy Carter could be tried for treason for accepting
the Nobel Peace Prize on the eve of the Iraq war! (the reasoning
having something to do with a prize committee member's remark
that Carter's award was an implicit rebuke of President Bush).
Naturally, that's aid and comfort to the enemy!
Most of Coulter's liberal critics are content to dismiss
her as a malevolent side show on the loopy track of contemporary
politics. To large degree that is just what she is. She's
an intellectual fake and a bully, a media "entertainer" fond
of using insulting references to her own gender as attention-grabbing
soundbite. Liberals in general are a "womanly" bunch, she
taunts, obviously unfit for the kind of he-man behavior Coulter
drools over, like rogue invasions of Countries Run by Dictators
We Once Supported and Armed But Have Since Discovered to be
Evil Monsters. This is a woman who studies the history of
the Vietnam War, with all its blood and lies, anguish and
allegory, only to conclude that the single lesson of this
entire monumental chapter in mass human suffering is that
"Democrats lose wars."
Such narrow partisan "scholarship" would be laughable, were
it not for the insidious totalitarian logic at work here.
If the Democratic Party is a traitor party, then what will
Coulter and her friends on the far Republican right advocate
next? A one-party system? An ever more draconian series of
Patriot Acts? Will the FBI soon not only be able to conduct
clandestine searches of library records, but detain citizens
on the basis of "pre-emptive concerns" about suspect book
habits? Perhaps the United States will finally have to launch
a full-force invasion of Cuba, if only to turn the entire
island into an expanded version of Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray,
a dumping ground for the legions of vile liberals and subscribers
to The Nation who will need to be put away for the duration
of our endless "War on Terror"?
Last year, when Phil Donahue interviewed her on his MSNBC
show, Coulter got miffed because Donahue didn't want to focus
on her latest book, instead grilling her more generally over
various views she's espoused. Coulter's irritation implied
the attitude that Donahue was somehow obliged to play his
role in her publicist's marketing agenda.
Unfortunately, that's how it is in these jingoism-as-product-and-marketing-strategy
days. Rush Limbaugh rants to his radio listeners about why
the United States should invade Iran, and a moment later he's
giving you an 800 number to order delicious live lobsters.
As for Coulter, she's just one among a growing cottage industry
of highly paid right-wing celebrities used by the media conglomerates
as a form of perverse mass entertainment masquerading as political
commentary. Loud. Pushy. Snarly. Sarcastic. Egocentric. Bombastic.
Photogenic. Argument as 30-second, I Can Shout Louder Than
You, sound bite.
Undoubtedly, it's all a screeching assault on our nerves
and intellects. But it would be a mistake to dismiss Coulter
and her type as just cuckoo. The Bush Administration sold
its lies about an imminent Iraqi military threat to the American
public with great help from this new breed of media savvy,
right-wing totalitarians. The Coulter crowd are shock and
awe mouthpieces for the ramped-up, "With-Us-Or-Against Us"
propaganda of crude, triumphal jingoism otherwise known as
U.S. foreign policy. They not only manufacture reality, they
take it to the level of a drunken alley brawl. It's a place
where hysteria and hyperbole rule and all sorts of official
government nonsense is given a pass by distracted bystanders
too busy wiping the spit from their eyes.
Welcome to public discourse in Ann Coulter country, courtesy
of her many corporate sponsors on cable TV, Talk Radio, and
in big publishing.
Mark Harris is a Chicago-area journalist. You can write
to him at TheEditorPage@aol.com.