THOLOS OF ATHENA

Friday, October 10, 2003

FROM SLANDER TO TREASON by Copeland Morris

Pundits on the abrasive side of political discourse are driven by the heat of emotion, pushed by compulsion, toward personal attacks against their partisan enemy. American talking-head and author, Ann Coulter, is a very focused sort of character, who transforms the otherwise banal and scurrilous war of words into something far more methodical and dangerous. She is pleasing to the eye, telegenic, always elegantly dressed and poised. It is George Gurley, in his interview, who describes the look of her: "The cab stopped outside the Empire State Building. Her long, skinny legs stretched to the sidewalk,"..."I looked up at her from the taxi. She seemed very tall against the sky." Despite reports of her high-riding mini-skirts and her own admission - "I've dated every right-winger" - the fact remains that Ann Coulter is not a cheap woman. It's illogical to confuse her commitment with promiscuity. She is considered to be something of a thoroughbred. Born in Connecticut, she emulated her father by pursuing a Law Degree. Her course of study led her to Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School. After the Newt Gingrich Republicans took power in 1994, she came to Washington to join the staff of the then Senator Spencer Abraham. Ms. Coulter intervened with advice and suggestions for Paula Jones and Linda Tripp, with respect to those witnesses and America's long national melodrama. And her first fully matured obsession was concentrated on the President, her visceral dislike for Clinton and anything to do with him, and of course his sexual scandal, and anything likely to lead to his impeachment. But to understand Ann Coulter, you must take into account her rapid rise to notariety in television interviews and especially in book sales, in the aftermath of 9/11. It is disconcerting to consider the avid readership of a book like Slander, which came out shortly after the catastrophe in New York. Treason, a book every bit as strange as its cousin, is now released in hardback.

It is important to look at the virulence that is embedded in Ann Coulter's language, and to examine how it has been trivialized and made to appear harmless in some establishment press, The Wall Street Journal, for example. Consider Melik Kaylan's column (WSJ, Aug. 31, 2003) and his flippant treatment of Coulter's post 9/11 article, which appeared in the National Review. It was the harshness of her language, and her subsequent refusal to accept moderate advice from her editors, that led to her departure from that online magazine. In this widely quoted column she wrote...

"We know who the homicidal maniacs are.
They are the ones cheering and dancing now.

We should invade their countries, kill their
leaders and convert them to Christianity.
We weren't punctilious about locating and
punishing only Hitler and his top officers.
We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed
civilians. That's war. And this is war." (NRO)

And some time later she was quoted in an interview with George Gurley. She asks Gurley to turn on the tape recorder, and makes this statement:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he
did not go to the New York Times Building."

But Kaylan's comment is more than just deficient in addressing her violent streak. His commentary is filled with celebrity and entertainment buzz-words. She is described as the "celebrity firecracker" ..."She surprises at the most basic level, by her effortlessly guilt-free flights of extroversion, her fierce--but never humorless--conservatism." Kaylan goes on to compare her to funny and not-so-funny people: Reverend Farakhan, Angela Davis, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce. And indeed there is no intimation that American virtues must include killing people. But Kaylan thinks there are killjoys among us who are suffering from "a lazy assumption". The Black Panthers played for keeps; but according to Kaylan, Ann Coulter is a very funny woman, she's a kidder. "Why would anybody even pretend to believe that Ms. Coulter wishes any real harm to the New York Times or wishes to convert all Muslims forcibly to Christianity." But then of course, Ms. Coulter's ethic belongs to a society without any fragility, without "rifts" or "flaws". Yes, hers is a "sturdier America", "self-confident", "unapologetic", "centered somewhere in the heartland". It's journalist, David Neiwert, who offers the most telling critique of this article and others like it: "This kind of meshing of mainstream corporate interests with right-wing thuggery is in fact a hallmark of incipient fascism. A compliant media that portrays this kind of phenomenon as unremarkable is also important in its development." We don't have to read between the lines in Coulter's harsh column: she is saying we should kill indiscriminately, just as we carpet-bombed those cities in World War II. She is saying convert them to Christianity by the sword; she is saying invade countries, kill leaders. And that business about Timothy McVeigh going to the New York Times Building; it's just eerie that she asked her interviewer to turn the machine on, to get it on tape.

In her new book, Treason, Ms. Coulter maintains through her thesis that Democrats [liberals] are naturally disposed to be traitors. As she puts it, "Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason." She goes even further by saying, "The only patriotic liberal in the world is Tony Blair, and he's in England." She expands her thesis into three main points:

(a) Liberals are disposed to be traitors.

(b) Unlike conservatives (who are pious) liberals worship Man, and consequently betray both God and Country.

(c) In the final analysis, liberals consider that they themselves are gods.

This constitutes the entire arc of Coulter's design and must represent a kind of core belief in her avid readers. She is in a hurry to leave the realm of history, fact, and rational inference; since few Democrats, living or dead, seem excluded from the rigor of her conclusion.

Joe Conason expressly reminds us that her strange book omits any reference to conservatives who are opposed to the Iraq War. Why? "Their existence can't be acknowledged--because if they do exist they are traitors too." Unsurprisingly, if Pat Buchanan, Cato Institute people, Congressman Ron Paul and other like-minded conservatives are opposed to Bush's War, it becomes an unwelcome distraction from her thesis. Moreover, it's no small comfort to liberals to know that there are conservatives who also oppose preventative war. Coulter, on the other hand, insists that you hate your country if you hold to this principle.

But her most sinister ambition is aimed at historical revision and the rehabilitation of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Her center of gravity seems to reside in his personality. She takes her reader back to the 1950's. McCarthy was mentally ill and he drank to excess; history is not wrong about that. His process in the Senate was described as "red-baiting" and he held the door open for a kind of hysteria. The accused were marginalized, demonized, stigmatized. In the end McCarthy was censured by the Senate, having been cornered by the Army-McCarthy Hearings. "McCarthy was brought down by his own televised misconduct during those hearings--and by the outrage not of Democrats but of Republicans, including President Eisenhower and a caucus of courageous GOP senators"(Conason). Ann Coulter tries to impeach this history with dishonest scholarship, counterfeit logic, and illegitimate power.

Her hero, Senator Joe McCarthy, means everything to her.

"The rote smirking at McCarthy by conservatives is
linked to their psychological compulsion to snobbery.
McCarthy was a popularizer, a brawler." (Ann Coulter, Treason, p. 70)

"The Communists may have had patricians like Franklin Roosevelt.
They may have had the diplomats, the Supreme Court justices,
the scribblers, the ponderers, and the Smith College girls. But
McCarthy had the hearts of American workers." (Ibid, p. 70)

"Normal Americans could not believe their fellow countrymen
could be so dastardly as not to love their country. For them,
McCarthy was a poet." (Ibid, p.69)

"In 1954, when the liberal loathing for McCarthy had reached
a fever pitch, CBS ran a vicious, deceptive hatchet piece on
him viewed by millions of Americans. It was produced by
Edward R. Murrow, friend of Soviet spy Laurence Duggan.
Other organs of establishmentarian treason followed suit.
The Senate voted to hold a censure resolution against McCarthy." (Ibid, p.120)

An essay written by Joseph Wershba, a colleague of Murrow's at CBS, describes the atmosphere of the McCarthy Period:

"Murrow did not kill off McCarthy or McCarthyism, but he helped halt America's incredible slide toward a native brand of fascism. Unbelievable. You had to live through the times to know how fearful--indeed, terrorized--people were about speaking their minds. The cold war with Russia, and the threat of a hot war with China, security programs and loyalty oaths--all had cowed the citizens of the most powerful nation on earth into keeping their minds closed and their mouths shut."

"When we looked at the near-final cut of the McCarthy broadcast" (for CBS's SEE IT NOW)..."and the staff showed fear of putting it on the air, Murrow spoke a line that landed like a lash across our backs: "The terror is right here in this room.""

But it's best to take a look at the transcript of SEE IT NOW from the television broadcast of March 29, 1954:

"Edward R. Murrow: Senator McCarthy claims that only the left wing press criticized him on the Zwicker case. Of the 50 large circulation newspapers in the country, these are the left wing papers that criticized. These are the ones which supported him. The ratio is about three to one against the Senator.

The Chicago Tribune: McCarthy will better serve his case if he learns to distinguish the role of investigator from the role of avenging angel.

The New York Times: The unwarranted interference of a demagogue--a domestic Munich.

The Times Herald, Washington: Senator McCarthy's behavior toward Zwicker is not justified.

Milwaulkie Journal: The line must be drawn and defended or McCarthy will become the government.

The Evening Star of Washington: It was a bad day for everyone who resents the bully boy tactics which Senator McCarthy often employs.

The New York World Telegram: Bamboozling, bludgeoning, distorting.

St. Louis Post Dispatch: Unscrupulous, McCarthy bullying. What a tragic irony it is that the President's political advisors keep him from doing what every decent instinct must be commanding him to do.

Well, that's the ratio of a three-to-one, so-called "left-wing" press."

Five decades ago, Edward R. Murrow said "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty"..."We will not walk in fear. We will not be driven into an age of unreason"..."No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices."

"If none of us ever read a book that was 'dangerous', nor had a friend who was 'different', or never joined an organization that advocated 'change', we would all be just like the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants."

Ann Coulter, who has called herself "an open controversialist", metes out charges of treason on the likes of former President Carter, for his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway, in December of 2002. The Pope, of course, is not an American, but don't be surprised if Coulter holds him up as a traitor; after all, he agrees with Carter and opposes the Iraq War.

Historian Anne Applebaum says "whatever side this woman is on, I don't want to be on it." But we are left with Coulter's alarming words, and so we ought to reflect as carefully as possible on her methods, and judge her simply by those words.

"What the country needed was Joe McCarthy. His appeal was
directed to a sturdier set - the mass of ordinary Americans." (Ibid, p.69)

"When Republicans ignite the explosive energy of hardhats,
liberals had better run for cover." (Ibid, p.69)

Ann Coulter must be in some spellbound meltdown with the late Senator Joseph McCarthy; like him she's capable of brutish, menacing language, and a sudden flippancy and laughter, that tries to brush it off as a joke. She is half-condescending, half-manic. She inhabits a world of ludicrous victimhood, and an avenger's world, where the deviant and the treasonous are one class of objects. What would her All-Republican America look like? It would be seamlessly patriotic, to be sure. No protest, no demonstration, just good little girls and boys. The streets would be swept clean of strangers.

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