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April 27, 2005

What I think about Ann Coulter: A reflection

Posted by Phil on April 27, 2005 3:31 PM

Cindy got circumspect on me when I said I was canceling our subscription to TIME and, while that's fair, I still haven't had time to read the whole profile and prepare a defense of my wish to cancel that is based upon that reading.

I went ahead and climbed on the Daily Howler's bandwagon this past week because I think Bob Somerby's tireless excavation points out the indefensibility of Coulter as either a "public intellectual" or as a "naughty wag," regardless of how she chooses to present at a given time.

Because she tries to have it both ways, she deserves to have it neither way. Occasionally one of her blasts of invective will be so scathing that it's obviously absurd--as absurd as the vicious broadsides Hunter S. Thompson delivered, to my delight. I have wondered, briefly, if on that basis I might have a difficult time condemning her without impugning him.

But Thompson had the courage of his convictions, and one never doubted whether he was leveling a serious charge, or indulging in a ridiculous ad hominem attack because, y'know, it's funny. Ann Coulter strives mightily to be a moving target, responsible neither to comedy nor serious discourse. Her inconsistency blurs the line, intentionally and in bad faith, between "humorist" and "pundit," so that when she fails as one, she can claim to be the other.

I might, one day, read one of her books, but I won't pretend I have or will read all of them. So I could be wrong, but I believe the example dissected at length by the Howler is representative of her craft. It fails in either of the categories to which she may be said to aspire because it is amateurish and it is misleading. It is dishonest. Whether or not it's funny is something I can afford not to address, although it isn't, and presumably isn't intended to be, unless spraypainting "F#CK" in a public place is funny.

Read the examples. These are attacks supposedly based upon, and supposedly proving, an ideological position. Except they're frequently lies. And so they serve no one and nothing except Ann Coulter's career, whatever it may be called.

The best that can be said of her, since she is not a serious writer striving in good faith to accurately inform her readers, is that maybe she gets off a zinger now and then. I'll grant her a certain George-Costanza tenacity, because it can't be easy to find and patch together strings of examples and accusations, even clumsily, in such a way as to mislead casual or unknowing readers.

I'll also grant that she's unflappable and quick in public, in the way attractive children of privilege often are. Her claims that she identifies with the people and mores of the heartland are something I can afford not to address, although she doesn't. In fact, the misleading nature of her "work" constantly and implicitly insults them; doubly so if they think that upon reading her books they are informed and armed for the political fray; and triply so if part of her schtick is that she's getting away with something naughty rather than standing up for something proper. It's all a game, you see. Can't you take a joke?

Ann Coulter is a political hair-metal act, valued only for being loud, vulgar, and shameless. Granted, hair-metal was once quite popular, but the popularity of horseshit is no argument for its worth or even a reason to discuss it--as Time's editors would no doubt condescendingly explain if you ever asked why they never put Poison on the cover. In the case of Ann Coulter, though, they pause to wonder, "Wut's wrong with being secksy?"

As an intellectual, she's a dilettante, and as a humorist, she's a sitcom actress. If she can be said to be "smart," that only makes her less sympathetically useless than Anna Nicole Smith. She's used her curious combo of reactionary gall and feminine attributes to be a goon and a bully and make herself some money. Good for her. She contributes nothing constructive to entertainment, politics, or the culture at large. She deserves to flame out in a public nadir of her own creation.

(Tinkered with on 4/29.)