Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Graceless: The high priestess of conservatism

Commentary by David Reinhard


David Reinhard

Why'd you have to go and do that?

I asked this question often while reading my first Ann Coulter book ("Slander"). I asked it again and again and again more recently while reading what will likely be my last ("Godless: The Church of Liberalism"). The "Slander" round of questions I asked as an admirer who wants a writer to be even more persuasive. Four years ago, I wrote, "A devotee of lively writing and robust argument, Coulter sometimes hurts her case by kicking off with an over-the-top pronouncement."

This past week's round of "Why'd you have to go and do that?" came from someone who's lost patience with Coulter's hyperbole and cruelty—and the unseriousness she manifests in their indulgence.

"Godless," to be sure, is full of good stuff—strong arguments, tart insights and snappy writing. It's all on display in chapters on Willie Horton, abortion and crime policy. In our hypersensitive and sentimental age, Coulter is more interested in telling (her) truth than making nice. It's instructive and fun to watch her take on liberal pieties. She not only has the skill to make potent arguments but also the courage to make them. You don't find that combo everywhere.

Yet, for a person who's spoiling for an argument, she goes out of her way to spoil her own. In the fifth chapter (Liberals' Doctrine of Infallibility: Sobbing Hysterical Women"), her point is that liberals have taken to employing "messengers whom we're not allowed to respond to"—widows, grieving moms, people with terminal illnesses or war wounds. "Democrats took the position that the spokesperson immunized the message from criticism, no matter how vicious or insane it was," she writes.

A fair point, but it's lost because of what she wrote about a small partisan group of 9/11 widows ("the Jersey Girls") who went about blaming the Bush administration for their husbands' deaths. Her words are now known by people who'll never read her book or confront her argument. They'll know she called these 9/11 widows "harpies" and "the Witches of East Brunswick." They'll know she wrote, "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

Why'd you have to go and do that?

There can be no answer.

Is there a more cruel, more calculated sentence in all of American letters? Could any point be worth making at the expense of widows? If her words are not themselves "Godless," they are at least graceless.

But Coulter's "Jersey Girl" cruelties are not the only problem with "Godless." Unkind or wild statements pepper the work. The result is that "Godless" is not a serious work. It is an embarrassment—or should be—to people who might agree with her on issues. Howard Dean is "a raving lunatic" and Michael Dukakis "a Greek midget." C. Everett Koop's "freakish appearance discouraged heterosexual relations in general."

And that's not the end of Coulter's unseemly focus on appearance. In the same chapter that she slams the Jersey Girl widows, Coulter focuses on New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's claim that Cindy Sheehan enjoys "absolute moral authority" on the Iraq war and immunity from criticism by virtue of her son Casey's death there. Coulter is demolishing this whole goofy notion when she writes, "The only sort of authority Cindy Sheehan has is the uncanny ability to demonstrate, by example, what body types should avoid wearing shorts in public."

I'm with Coulter on Sheehan and today's grief-based political posturing, but this was too much. It would be tasteless and mean if Coulter were one of "those body types that should avoid wearing shorts in public." Suffice it to say she's not, as anyone with a pulse will notice after seeing the blue-eyed blonde on a panel discussion, the hem of her signature black dress hiked up to mid-thigh. Coulter's stunning looks make her all the more cruel. She worries that sending out grieving women to make political points is degrading our public discourse. And then she uses the puerile technique of the lunchroom bully.

Actually, I wouldn't be calling attention to anyone's looks if I were Coulter, for here's another fact. She would never get away with some of this stuff were it not for her looks. She would never get away with this sort of stuff if she were a man, hunk or not. Alas, in our glitterati culture, Ann Coulter enjoys a kind of immunity that is, in some ways, stronger than Cindy Sheehan's and the Jersey Girls'.

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