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McCarthyism Sells: Ann Coulter’s War on Dissent
A nn Coulter was this summer’s publishing equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 3 . In her recent bestseller, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Crown Forum, 2003), Coulter reveals herself as a fabricator of lies, distortion, and insults toward all things not right-wing Republican. With Coulter, it’s rational discourse that’s consistently terminated.
How else can you characterize someone who seriously believes that tens of millions of U.S. citizens are “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 U.S. schoolyards? Not quite. In the world according to Coulter, the subversives are none other than the Liberals.
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, on 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 old mid-20th century red-baiter emerges 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 “witchhunt.”
It’s revealing that a leading Republican commentator, a person whose photo appears on the front page of the website for the American Conservative Political Union (along with Vice President Cheney) chooses 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.”
As for all other unfortunates, Coulter offers unrelenting insults, signifying her 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 everyt hing.
Treason is a slurapalooza of wild hatred toward all evil liberal-doers, which in Coulter’s worldview appear to be defined as anyone slightly to the left of Ivan the Terrible. On that score, Coulter’s embrace of Joe McCarthy makes twisted sense. But what would we expect from a person 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 should 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.
Most of Coulter’s liberal critics dismiss her as a malevolent side show on the loopy track of contemporary politics. To a 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 soundbites. Liberals in general are a “womanly” bunch, she taunts, obviously unfit for the kind of he-man behavior Coulter drools over. This is a person 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. 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? A more draconian Patriot Acts? Will the FBI soon be able to not only conduct clandestine searches of library records, but also to 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, but instead grilled her more generally over various views she’s espoused. Coulter’s irritation implied 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 Lim- baugh 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 com- mentary.
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, but they also 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.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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