How 'bout that title?

Oct 3, 2002 (Updated Jun 27, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good for fire kindling, rolling cigarettes, etc.

Cons:Hatred and misconstrual

The Bottom Line: A truly pernicious, intentionally deceptive book

New! From the concocter of such charming comments as "We should invade [the Muslim countries], kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" and "My only regret about Tim McVeigh is that he didn't bomb the offices of the New York Times" - a tome that - surprise! - lacks anything of substance, throwing out-of-context quotations, innocuous-seeming paraphrases, and ad hominems onto the windshield of the public consciousness, blocking any real intellectual progress they might make.

Her thesis, not to put too fine a point on it, is that liberals control everything. Forget the fact that she never really offers a definition of "liberal", other than nebulous mentions of those who are pro-choice, or pro-affirmative-action, or anti-censorship. For Coulter, it's clear that "liberal" is what I like to call a "sliding definition" - one of the favorite rhetorical techniques of such pundits as George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Tim Lahaye, and oh-so-many others: Anybody you dislike falls under the category of "[insert favorite kneejerk term, such as "Axis of Evil", "Feminazi", "secular humanist", or in Coulter's case "liberal" here]". Is this device of "sliding definitions" powerful, effective rhetorical fodder? Most certainly - but it's not at all substantive; in fact, it's one of the underpinnings of the superficiality of recent public discourse.

The point of the book is to expound on Coulter's thoughts with regard to the government, the media, and just about every major societal institution. It's organized, thus, in chapters that pertain to each of these institutions. And when I say "organized", I mean it - its flow of thought - not difficult to follow - and its easy style make it an attainable read for just about anybody. But that's one of its dangers: so dramatically dumbed-down and superfically cogent that it seems to be nothing but sensible, it actually lapses into logical error and outright misinformation.

Ms. Coulter begins her book with, "Political 'debate' in this country is insufferable. Whether conducted in Congress, on the political talk shows, or played out at dinners and cocktail parties, politics is a nasty sport. At the risk of giving away the ending: it's all liberals' fault." (1) Hey Ann - has it occurred at all to you that by such egregious smears, you're adding nothing whatsoever of substance to political life? It doesn't surprise me that she'd offer such a singularly hilarious, misguided observation as her thesis - but surely, considering her endless ranting about the low levels of thought in politics, you'd think that she might have something more to offer?

Dangerously, Coulter associates legitimate concepts with nonsensical ones, in a further example of her intellectual sloppiness. Early on, she states that "We wade through preposterous news stories of Enron, global warming, Tawana Bradley, 'plastic guns,' the melting North Pole, the meaning of the word 'is' - until you can't keep up with the wave of lies." OK - so does she mean by this that the tragedy of Enron, and the imminent dangers of global warming are hoaxes and deceptions on the order of the Tawana Bradley incident, or Clinton's linguistic antics? And if so, where's the documentation? Let's have some precision here!

And hey - speaking of documentation, many people have enthusiastically praised this book for its abundance of footnotes. I wonder how many of her readers have actually taken the time to check out the sources? One particularly appalling example I stumbled across of Coulter's decontextualization: she asserts in her introduction that "Time magazine columnist Barbara Ehrenreich gives two thumbs up to 'The Communist Manifesto' ('100 million massacred!')." (2) In the footnotes, Coulter cites the actual passage from Ehrenreich:

"...its message is a timeless one that bears repeating every century or so: The meek shall triumph and the mighty shall fall; the hungry and exhausted will get restless and someday - someday! - rise up against their oppressors. The prophet Isaiah said something like this, and so, a little more recently, did Jesus."

Any of Coulter's readers might nod in mindless agreement with her assertion - but I wonder, if they actually checked the passage that Coulter is so dramatically spitting fire at, would they be able to refute what Ehrenreich says? This is the danger of "Slander" - that instead of opening doors to reasonable, unbiased discourse, it instead implicitly tells its readers to put black check marks through certain names in their mental databases. The result will be that few readers, after having been subjected to swill of this type over long periods of time, will actually be capable of methodical thought.

She goes on to rant, throughout the rest of the book, about such diverse topics as the media, the religious right, and Clinton. I swear, this woman needs help - she's clearly got a hopelessly-unfulfilled, desperate crush on Clinton; kind of reminds me of Beatrice's deriding of Benedick in "Much Ado About Nothing" - which, incidentally, wouldn't have been a bad alternate title for "Slander".

Coulter, early on, claims "In the wake of an attack on America committed by crazed fundamentalists Muslims, Walter Cronkite denounced Jerry Falwell. Falwell, it seems, had remarked that gay marriage and abortion on demand may not have warned the heart of the Almighty." (5) Well, no - Falwell's actual words were, "The ACLU's got to take a lot of blame for this...throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen'." What a unique and imaginative paraphrase of Falwell's charming comments Coulter has dreamt up!

Coulter: "Conservatives can't even pin down liberals on the word 'abortion.' That's a 'choice' - not school 'choice' or pension plan 'choice' or arts funding 'choice.' 'Choice' refers to one lone medical procedure that will never cross the lips of a liberal: 'abortion'". (14) Well, yes - of course people refer to it as "choice" when the actual choice of the procedure is placed in jeopardy by those who don't know that it is and should be a choice.

"Using the same words to describe school vouchers as to characterize the Holocaust tends to leave the impression that you forgot your point." (20) Oh? Please show me where this has happened, Ann - put up or shut up.

Then, of course, there's Coulter's completely uncritical fawning over Phyllis Schlafly, and hissing at Gloria Steinem. "The feminist movement failed" (37), she spits out with such glee that you can just imagine her in jackboots with a whip, driving women out of offices and back into the kitchens and bedrooms where they belong! This theme of generally disturbing prejudice is continued in her tallying of "conservative best sellers" (98-99), which includes "The Bell Curve". I'm sure she enjoyed that particular read...Oh, but she also mentions such books as "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Closing of the American Mind" - OH NO, I READ AND LIKED THESE BOOKS! I'm not keeping with the party line of the Evil Liberal Conspiracy...excuse me, there's a knock at the door...

Oh, and her salvos on the entertainment industry! "Today TV tells us that true fulfillment is abortion, lesbianism, and prostitution." (39) Please! Please! I'm dying to see your evidence, Ann! She goes on to say, "Among the actresses to have been nominated for Oscars for the devilishly challenging task of portraying a prostitute are Julia Roberts ("Pretty Woman"), Kim Basinger ("L.A. Confidential"), Jane Fonda ("Klute"), Jodie Foster ("Taxi Driver"), Elisabeth Shue ("Leaving Las Vegas"), Sharon Stone ("Casino"), and Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite"). (39) Without going too far with suggestions as to the unintentional irony of this particular passage, I wonder if Coulter could possibly explain why she thinks these actresses shouldn't have won the coveted award for their portrayals?

Coulter finishes up this section on the evils of Hollywood, with babble about how "In the bright new feminized Hollywood, the female divas are Britney Spears, Madonna, Pamela Anderson, Elizabeth Hurley, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Jenny McCarthy." (39-40) Oh, please - these women are perfectly respectable...and what on earth has Madonna done lately to merit such scorn, other than displaying some intriguing new spiritual leanings (in Coulter's warped universe, such atypical religious thoughts are an indication of pure evil - as indicated by her much-condemned comments about U.S. policy in the wake of the September 11th incidents)? As for Britney - all one needs to do is look in the fashion section of just about any newspaper to see scathing critiques of her unfortunate, risque choices of attire.

Coulter, at one point, states that "Liberals don't try to win arguments, they seek to destroy their opponents and silence dissident opinions." (91) This, from Miss "Invade/Kill/Convert the Muslim countries"! Speaking of which, I especially love the chapter on "The Religious Right", where Coulter cites various critics of "organized religion" in quite a denigrating fashion, not actually making the effort to refute any of their comments. Now, what was that about trying to win arguments, dear?

Later, she attempts to silence her critics thus: "Another infantile trope of the left is to deny the relevance of analogies and categories, so you can never trap them." (122) I can imagine Coulter's line of thought, on being informed that such categorization really isn't appropriate or relevant: Oh no - it's not okay to pigeonhole people into preconceived categories? Better deny this, simply by calling it an infantile trope - that way, I won't have to get rid of any of my rhetorical tools!

Would this book appeal to any reader, even one who considers himself or herself to be conservative? I think that though it presents a great deal of seemingly-intelligent argument for those who aren't willing to do a bit of background research and check up on Coulter's "facts" and "arguments", it will be seen as an infuriatingly-dishonest read by anybody willing to use an iota of logic. Though I do agree with points that Coulter makes here and there, she makes them in a dishonest fashion, trying so hard to shout down anybody who might disagree with her that she ends up distancing even readers who might agree.

In a recent letter to the editor of my local paper, I spewed forth thus: "Critics and proponents of vouchers alike are branding their opposites "conservatives" or "liberals," as if putting labels on people will somehow reduce their motives to mere ideological thrusts that can be easily countered...Trying to put simplistic labels on a wide variety of humans, all with their own motives and ideas, will do nothing more than polarize them even further." Expanding the issue beyond just vouchers, we tend to see such name-calling, and lack of focus on real issues, in much of modern life - and even more so, in this book.

Over the last few months - beginning, really, in September of 2001 - I've observed something of a paradigm shift. "Liberal" and "conservative", I think, were legitimate labels in the past. Now, things aren't so simple. Now, it's more a split between "moderates" and "extremists". In a way, "thinkers" and "demagogues" are also useful shorthand for the public figures we've seen of late - that is, if we have to use labels at all, if we can't focus on arguing against ideas, rather than the sexual acts people have committed, or what scores they got on their SATs, or how many books they've sold.

At one point, Coulter addresses this topic - or pretends to: "Liberals also refuse to acknowledge the meaning of 'labels,' which are nothing more than truths liberals don't like. They especially hate the word 'liberal.' Everyone knows it's an insult to be called a liberal, widely understood to connote a dastardly individual. [Ann Coulter: liberal! You heard it here first] Consequently, liberals are constantly insisting that the word is utterly meaningless. (In contradistinction, evidently, to phrases like 'right-wing,' 'ultra-conservative,' and 'religious right,' which are treated as terms of near-scientific accuracy.)" (123) Here's a suggestion, Ann - why not stop second-guessing people, and being disingenuous, and erecting elaborate strawmen? Why not actually focus on refuting arguments? I submit that it's because Coulter is simply too stupid and bigoted, steeped in her own preconceptions, to do so! No, I'm not engaging in what Coulter refers to as "the joy of arguing with liberals: You're stupid!" - rather, I've looked at the wide variety of human opinion, in all its diversity and range of intellect and quality of argumentation, and concluded that the word "liberal" simply doesn't suffice. Neither do any of the terms that Coulter cites; thus, I don't use them either.

So - are Ann Coulter's claims of an overarching liberal conspiracy true? Yes - if you accept the definition of "liberal" as "anybody who disagrees with Ann Coulter". This conspiracy consists in the all-too-rare recognition that this lunatic woman has purposely aligned herself with bizarre, inhuman ideology. Thus, my call to arms: let's make sure that Ann Coulter is allowed to stay on the air and in print, spewing her lies. I have confidence that reason will prevail, and that this talking head will collapse under the weight of its hate.

In certain quarters, Coulter has been praised for her "one-liners". I'll say this much - she knows her audience.

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