Andrew Sullivan weighed in against Ann Coulter today. How cute: “CoulterKampf”. By using a German sounding word, Sullivan gets to call Ann Coulter a Nazi, without actually saying it. He gets to throw a sucker punch at a woman while maintaining deniability. Maybe he’s afraid she’ll take off one of her stilleto heels and slap him around with it. And this is just the insinuating and underhanded start to a piece where Sullivan tries hard to suck up to the kind of people who routinely call anyone who disagrees with them a Nazi. (The fact that Ann Coulter is not a fan of Sullivan’s pet causes like “gay marriage” may have something to do with it, too.)
Sullivan’s great fear seems to be the taunting of liberals: “…when liberals taunt conservatives with being McCarthyites, conservatives now have to concede that some of their allies, namely Coulter, obviously are McCarthyites – and proud of it.” Trust me, liberals don’t care if they are taunted by Conservatives. They expect nothing less from fascists. That outrage is feigned. It is a tactic. And they counter-attack. Sullivan takes Coulter to task for “making huge and sweeping generalizations about all liberals.” Liberals do this all the time. Conservative? You’re a racist, a fascist, you want women to be barred from the workplace, to be illiterate, you want to poison the Earth. Please. This crap is so common it is taken for granted. It is the air we breathe. It is taken for normal. It’s like the Matrix, an all-pervasive cocoon of lies. If you are in favor of abortion, for example, you are a moderate, but if you are opposed you are a right-wing religious extremist. Coulter’s return fire leaves everyone appalled. But not me. I find it very refreshing to have at least one conservative who slaps them around in the fashion they so casually dish out. Turnabout is fair play.
And I am happy to join Coulter as being, at minimum, an anti-anti-McCarthyite.
I suppose I should say just whom I refer to when I use “liberals” as a noun in the foregoing since I am being so mean to them. Do I refer to my neighbors in the socialist village of Oak Park? No. My colleagues who are Democrats? No, not really. People who work in the real world, especially in commercial businesses with customers and clients are exposed to too much ordinary human variety every day to become prisoners of a truth-defying ideology. What I mean by “liberals” in this context is people who have a professional and public stake in liberal and leftist causes, the types of people who are drawn to that type of work, and the type of mindset that flourishes in that milieu. Specifically, people who work at think tanks and public interest groups, at activist liberal law firms, university departments especially in the humanities and social sciences, people who work in the senior ranks of government bureaucracies, most Democratic politicians and their professional staffs and consultants who work for them, people who work in entertainment media and publishing, and most especially at the major media operations like television and newspapers. People in these settings rarely meet anyone who serioiusly disagrees with them. They are free to demonize an imaginary “other”. They think Archie Bunker is social realism. They think George Bush is an idiot. They think people who go to church are pathetic, deluded simpletons. They think there is such a thing as “the global justice movement “. And such people have an enormous amount of control over what is and is not discussed or taken seriously since they hold the “commanding heights” of the media, the academy and the entertainment industry. This loose commuity is more or less whom Coulter is referring to, too, when she says “liberal”. Sullivan works in this world, and he has to maintain some liberal street cred as a matter of professional prudence. Attacking the religious right no doubt makes him some useful friends, as does being forthrightly gay, probably. Attacking Ann Coulter will also help him professionally. One does what one must, doesn’t one? If this seems too tough on Sullivan, note that his piece presumes that Coulter is motivated by money. A base charge indeed.
Critically, Sullivan, like Rabinowitz fails to say just what factual assertions, about McCarthy or otherwise, in Coulter’s book are wrong. He just says her book is “crude and inflammatory.” So what? What is wrong with that? Being crude and inflammatory is not per se bad in my book. I thought the whole idea of free speech was to shock the bourgeoisie? Unless they are liberals, I guess.
I hope Ronald Radosh and the other scholars Sullivan cites will tell us in detail where Couler is wrong about any historical fact. Radosh refers to inaccuracies. Show me. If she’s wrong, let’s hear it. Let’s get this whole thing aired out. Here’s what will happen. Someone with good-sounding credentials will write an article nitpicking around the margins of the book, and it will then be reported that Coulter has been “devastated” and that will become the conventional wisdom. But watch, it will be in the non-essential details. Her larger case is unassailable.
Sullivan notes that Ronald Radosh “is appalled at the damage Coulter has done to the work he and many others have painstakingly done over the years.” What damage, exactly? If she is wrong, show how she is wrong. That should end it. Their work should withstand merely being misused or misquoted. No. What he means is that it was possible for these academics, by working on these matters quietly, not to alarm the liberal-academic monolith too much, and not to suffer utter social and professional ostracism. And the bargain these guys have apparently struck with their liberal colleagues is that they can do this work without being persecuted too much if they don’t say anything which has present-day political significance. Now Coulter has outed Radosh and the rest of them. Well, ideas and facts have consequences. In particular, ideas and facts have political consequences outside the faculty lounge or the seminar room or the academic conference. Saying Coulter is no good because she does not use “bona fide historical methods of research and argument” is a red herring. She’s not a historian, she’s a polemicist. She takes the work of the historians and draws conclusions from it and applies them to current politics. Michael Moore is not a historian, either, he is just a hero to the Left and an Oscar nominee whom no one on the Left criticizes. There is only one Ann Coulter, where Moore is the tip of a vast iceberg. Give me ten more Ann Coulters and I’ll start to think maybe it’s not a fair fight. OK, five more, and it would still be a walkover. The big difference between Moore and Coulter is that Coulter is basically right and bases even her shrillest pronouncements on some kind of foundation of facts.
Sullivan is right too that there were and are some sensible liberals, well-intentioned liberals, patriotic liberals, liberal Cold Warriors, liberals who are honest historians, liberals who do civic-minded things, liberals who are pleasant and well-read, liberals who have good taste in wine, liberals who have lovely children who can play the piano, liberals who are nice neighbors who will loan you a cup of sugar or a power drill, liberals who really shouldn’t be lumped in with the ones who protected their traitor friends and colleagues by means of vicious lies for decades.
Nonetheless, when push comes to shove, the gloves come off, and all conservatives and all Republicans get demonized as “primitives” in Dean Acheson’s memorable phrase or far, far worse. The full-time liberals I referred to above know they are right and virtuous, in their bones, and that those who disagree with them are immoral and that absolutely any means whatever are appropriate to defeat them. Sidney Blumenthal, for example, simply says aloud what is thought in the secret hearts of most such liberals. The other side is totally wrong, we are totally right, and they are evil so do and say what you have to do to beat them, and destroy anyone whom you have to destroy, because anything is better than having them take over. Hey that’s a pretty ugly set of rules. But, OK, fine. They are simple rules and I guess that’s life in the big city. But we all get to play by those same rules, like it or not. So let’s go. I have been told that “both sides do this”. I haven’t seen it. My lifelong experience has been that conservatives are too nice, too naive about their opponents, and too interested in work, family, golf or other activities to fully appreciate how rabid their foes are. Conservatives are only recently learning how to play it the “Blumethal” way. But they are getting better at it.
Ann Coulter is not our Maureen Dowd, nor our Michael Moore. She is our Malcolm X. She says what a lot of people really think. She creates a new “moderate” position by staking a position out on the margin of what had previously been “acceptable”. Good. She is also our Winston Smith — whoever controls the present controls the past, and whoever controls the past controls the future — and she is trying to wrestle the past from the claws of the people who are committed to building and maintaining a framework of lies.
Coulter freaks out all kinds of conservatives who deep in their hearts wish they could be accepted by liberals and be respectable and just fit in and not have to be fighting all the time and be weird because what they hear on the news is wrong and makes them cranky. They’d like some peace. They’d like to avoid even the possibility of being subject to the hammer of liberal criticism. They saw what happened to Ken Starr, for example, for just doing his job, and they are afraid. And they see that the people who stand for everything they hate went to Harvard or Yale and are very smooth and well-connected and quick-witted and have such great resumes — like Alger Hiss did. And they are afraid all over again to go up against such guys. So they shut up. And the liberals win by default.
But Ann Coulter simply doesn’t give a damn about any of that. And she will not shut up. She says things that you just are not supposed to say. And it is a relief and gust of bracing air to hear her say them. Free speech not exercised is no free speech at all. Moderation in the defense of liberty is no virtue. Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.