Last week, during an appearance on the CNBC program The Big Idea, right-wing shock-pundit Ann Coulter described her ideal vision of American society. It was, she said, New York City, as the city appeared in the midst of its 2004 Republican national convention: “People were happy. They’re Christian. They’re tolerant.”
When host Donny Deutsch asked the obvious question — “So it would be better if we were all Christian?” — Coulter said yes. When Deutsch, who is Jewish, told her he though this was anti-Semitic, she declared on behalf of Christians: “We just want Jews to be perfected.”
I’ll leave it to others to debate whether Coulter was being anti-Semitic or merely crude and flippant. That isn’t really the point. The real scandal isn’t what Ann Coulter said on CNBC. The real scandal is that she was on television at all, and that she has a syndicated newspaper column, and gives speeches all over the United States.
Ann Coulter is an embarrassment. And the people who should be most embarrassed are self-described conservatives. Whenever liberals want to make us look like bigots and mental cases, all they have to do is trot out one of Coulter’s whoppers, and the job is done.
This is an 800-word column, so I don’t have space to rehash every appalling thing Coulter has written or said. But the highlights include her description of Al Gore (“total fag”), John Edwards (“faggot”), Muslims (“ragheads,” “camel jockeys,” “jihad monkeys”), her suggestion that said monkeys should stick to “flying carpets” instead of traveling on commercial airlines, and her next-day reaction to 9/11: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”
She also had this charming riff on four women who became activists after losing their husbands in the 9/11 attacks: “I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much … How do we know their husbands weren’t planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they’d better hurry up and appear in Playboy.”
Coulter’s reaction when she’s called to account for this sort of thing is usually to claim she was joking. If true, this would peg her sense of humor at that of your average 8-year-old, who tends to find words like “fag” really funny. Even the prepared response she sent out after her comment about Edwards generated outrage — “C’mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean” — sounds like something made up in a schoolyard.
Coulter’s painful unfunniness distinguishes her from truly gifted political satirists such as P.J. O’Rourke and Mark Steyn, who can and do get away with saying outrageous things. Humour not only takes the defensive edge off their material, it signals to the reader that not every word is to be taken seriously. It also lends an aura of easy confidence to their writing. Coulter’s screeds, on the other hand, ooze with so many unrelentingly hysterical accusations that one wonders whether she even believes what she’s writing. My view is that she simply is addicted to attention. And in this politically correct age, spewing callous remarks about minorities is the easiest way of getting it.
And yet people buy her books — millions of them. So obviously I am missing something here. Perhaps I am underestimating the number of folks who spend their lives in Coulter’s state of unrelentingly agitated ideological fury at – well, everything. In fact, all it seems to steam Coulter up is the sight of a mixed-race couple. On this point, I invite readers to check out Deutsch’s interview with Coulter, and advance to the 2-minute mark. Explaining why Deutsch and his Semitic kind should be “perfected,” she tells him that the Christian megachurches she visits are tolerant and “diverse,” as opposed to all those trendy urban miscegenists who try to catch your eye: “You walk past a mixed-race couple in New York and it’s like they have a chip on their shoulder – just waiting for somebody to say something …”
(When Deutsch suggests that no one in New York thinks twice about seeing a mixed race couple — and that maybe she’s the one with the chip on her shoulder — Coulter accuses the host of “lying” because “there was an entire Seinfeld episode” about the subject.)
The irony of Coulter’s shtick is that, in keeping with her desperation to shock, she often adopts extreme anti-feminist positions, even telling reporters that “it would be a much better country if women did not vote.” Yet she herself has become famous in no small part because of the gaudy way her book covers have played on a sort of sullen, scowling, virtually gothic species of sex appeal. If a male pundit said any of the insane stuff she did, he’d be (rightly)
excommunicated from the mainstream media as a hatemonger. But because Coulter is one of the few woman willing to spout such ludicrous things into a microphone, she is regarded as an exotic media darling and given a free pass.
In other words, Ann Coulter is the beneficiary of exactly the sort of reverse discrimination that social conservatives are supposed to hate. But this hypocrisy shouldn’t surprise us. Let’s go back to that vision she had of an American utopia. “Happy”? “Tolerant”? “Christian”? I’d say this woman is zero for three.
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