For the political Left, probably only Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh rank higher than Ann Coulter as “The Person You Most Want To See Silenced,” and that’s only because Rush is on radio for three hours, five days a week and Palin…well, I still don’t understand the Left’s vitriolic hatred for the former Governor of Alaska.
As a conservative, even I find Coulter to be a little over-the-top at times. She famously (in political geek circles) had a small contretemps with National Review about ten years ago when her article about 9/11 included the advice that we go to the Middle East, kill their leaders, and convert them all to Christianity. Somehow this got past the National Review editors, one thing led to another, and Coulter was dropped as a columnist for the prestigious conservative magazine. She responded by calling the NR editors “girly men.”
But that is Coulter’s style. She is amazingly (and amusingly) brash, never backs down from a fight, and takes no prisoners. Hers is a scorched earth policy as far as liberals and liberalism goes. Just the titles of her books about liberalism say it all: Treason, Godless, How To Talk To A Liberal (If You Must), Slander. Now comes her latest: Demonic.
Subtlety is not Ann Coulter’s forte, but I’m sure that she would defend that by saying that subtlety doesn’t work when talking about cloven-hoofed minions of the Devil.
Despite her sometimes abrasive rhetoric (even to someone like me who essentially agrees with most everything she says), Coulter is much more than simply a provocateur. The Left discounts her as an extremist, hate-filled, enfant terrible, but Coulter backs up the acid that drips from her tongue with genuine smarts and a lot of research. Rather than rail about the political maneuvering of liberals on the issues of the day—subjects that grow tiresome and dated—Coulter fills her books with examples of liberal rhetoric and actions from history and ties them in to the present time. It’s a style that works well. Coulter’s books are more cohesive and coherent than many of her weekly columns, which have an unfortunate tendency to spin apart as Coulter tries to pack in as many asides, jokes, and insults as she can.
In Demonic, Coulter discusses the history of Left wing mobs, drawing an unbroken line from the French Revolution to protests staged at private homes by SEIU goons. The “mob” is not a collection of individuals, it is an organism unto itself. Individuals can be swayed by reason, by rhetoric, and by appeal. Mobs can not, and this groupthink allows the mob to alter their perception of reality in order to achieve its goals. Coulter is at her best when she writes about how the viciously racist Democrats of the old South managed to assume the mantle of “the party of civil rights” when they were no such thing. She gleefully pokes holes in the nonsense that the segregationist Left simply switched party affiliation from Democrats to Republicans. Her arguments are bold, convincing, and often very funny.
She also excels in her dissection of the French Revolution and how it compares to the American Revolution. The French Revolution, and the horrors that followed it, are the Ground Zero for Left wing mobs, and it is still the playbook they use (consciously or not). You can see the echoes of the French Revolution in 1917 Russia, in Weimar Germany, at the Kent State campus in 1970, in the shattered storefronts of Seattle in 1999, and in the burning buildings of 2011 London. Coulter’s argument is that mobs and riots, the thirst for violent change, is a distinctly Left wing phenomenon. The violence is real, yet whenever two conservatives get together with a cup of tea and a sign saying “Taxed Enough Already” it is the Left that warns us of encroaching violence, furrowing their brows and warning us in worried tones that fascism is right around the corner. It is a mark of the Left’s success that they have convinced generations of people that fascism is a political philosophy of the extreme Right when, in fact, it is nearly as far to the Left as Communism. Coulter will have none of that nonsense. With her trademark bluntness, she hits liberals and the Left where it hurts: she does not try to convince them of anything because she knows that the Mob can not be reasoned with. Instead, she uses humor and wicked wordplay to mock the Left. Coulter puts red noses and clown shoes on the Mob, rendering them objects of ridicule and scorn. It is a very effective tactic because the Mob is also humorless. Many conservatives I know watch and appreciate The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but I can not imagine any of the many liberals I know watching a similar show targeting the Left.
One of the hallmarks of liberalism is its self-seriousness. The Left is convinced that the world is perfectable and that they have the brain power necessary to make all things good for all people everywhere. Such tendentious self-righteousness hates to be mocked, and Coulter knows it. It is the very reason she takes such unabashed glee in skewering the Left.
The biggest issue I have with Coulter is her use of absolutes when engaging in these discussions. “Liberals always…conservatives never…liberals will do this every time….” By phrasing things this way she immediately calls to mind the personal instances everyone knows where liberals or conservatives did not act according to the stereotype she promulgates. The fastest way to lose an argument is to say that someone always or never does something, because it is rarely true…especially when discussing groups. One senses that she does this precisely because it burrows like a tick under the Left’s skin, but to the wider audience it only takes one crazed anti-abortion zealot to kill a doctor or blow up an abortion clinic to disprove the line that violence is always from the Left. Coulter’s desire to paint with the largest brush possible weakens her argument and allows her ideological opponents to cast her as an extremist. Saying that mob violence is a Left wing tactic going back hundreds of years is not an extreme statement, but her insinuation that the desire for violence is baked into the DNA of all liberals is a) extreme, and b) simply not true. Coulter makes no distinction between the guy who lives next door to you who genuinely believes that the Federal government needs to be taking care of the citizens and the guy throwing a brick through the front window of a nearby Starbucks. To Coulter, they are all part of the Mob. For me, the distinction is between “liberal” and “Left.”
The Left underestimates Coulter at their peril. They dismiss her as a crazy Right-wing bomb thrower. But her prose, while at times unruly, is convincing, and the smile and laughter that comes from her so readily in her TV appearances and on her book jackets belies the caricature of her as someone who is filled with hatred. When Coulter connects, she hits towering home runs. Demonic is a home run.