The Hatred of Ann Coulter
Michelle Cottle, The New Republic/Candide's Notebooks, June 29, 2006
Well, color me happy! Ann Coulter has finally hit the big time. Forget scoring the cover of Time last year. Plenty of second-tier political personalities have done that. (Weren’t the Dixie Chicks on just a few weeks ago?) And so what if her latest book is a best-seller; she’s already enjoyed a string of those and is apt to enjoy plenty more, assuming her liver doesn’t stop over-excreting bile any time soon. But this week Coulter arguably reached the pinnacle of American notoriety when no less a zeitgeist authority than The National Enquirer named her “The Most Hated Woman in America.” Now that is a big deal. We’re talking Hillary Clinton-level public loathing here.
Many Coulter devotees will welcome this news as further confirmation of their dreamgirl’s role as a tough cookie who dares to make all those fearless observations about, for instance, “ragheads” and “jihad monkeys” that even the most militant trailer trash would only mutter under their breath. But to see Coulter’s m.o. as simply giving the finger to acceptable discourse is to underestimate it—and her. Coulter thrives not simply because she is the rawest, nastiest, rudest—not to mention blondest—voice in the arena, but also because she manages to be all those things within the framework of what may be the last politically correct form of unbridled bigotry: political partyism. Once upon a time, people were allowed to harbor all sorts of ugly prejudices against blacks, Jews, gays, Catholics, Mexicans, the Japanese, the Irish, uppity women—you name it. Ugly or not, it’s human nature to pin your troubles on The Other—however you choose to define it. Can’t find a job? Blame the Mexicans. Crime on the rise? Blame the blacks. Can’t find an adequately adoring wife willing to put up with all your crap? Blame the feminists.
But increasingly it is socially unacceptable to badmouth individuals simply because they are members of a particular race, religion, ethnic group, etc.—or to attribute unflattering characteristics to such groups. You can decry what certain groups do—for instance, threatening the institution of marriage by (gasp!) demanding that two men be allowed to get hitched, or making a mockery of the law by sneaking across the U.S.-Mexican border in search of lousy jobs—but not who they are. Obviously old fashioned bigotry will never completely die out. But in today’s stereotype-averse culture, there are fewer and fewer places where jokes about blacks/Mexicans/Jews being lazy/dishonest/greedy will earn you hearty laughs rather than uneasy glances—or a pop on the nose. And 9/11 angst notwithstanding, an overly broad remark about Arabs or Muslims can get you labeled an ass-backward bigot faster than you can say “Pat Robertson.” So what’s an angry, frightened populace to do with all that pent-up desire to name-call and finger-point? Easy: Channel it at folks in the opposing political camp.
For hard-right wing-nuts this means attributing every filthy characteristic imaginable to Democrats/Liberals/the left, ascribing venal motives to their every action, and blaming them for every misfortune to have befallen your beloved country over the past half century. Under the new rules of the game, you still can’t deride Mexicans—but it’s perfectly acceptable to deride liberals for pushing policies that allow Mexicans somehow to screw up your life. Ditto blacks, Asians, Eskimos, Episcopalians, and lesbians named Jackie. As a bonus, partyism can be rationalized as a more thoughtful brand of bigotry—since theoretically your hatred is an expression of political philosophy: You don’t loathe liberals (or conservatives) for who they are but what they do. As practiced, of course, the phenomenon increasingly goes well beyond hating the sin into the realm of hating the sinner. Thanks to my Republican upbringing, I have long-time friends who sincerely believe that whatever Democrats/liberals/lefties do/believe/advocate by definition must be either irredeemably wicked or irretrievably stupid. (Some of them, I suspect, still pray for my full recovery.) Though liberal bloggers are laboring to close the gap, conservatives are still vastly better at bare-knuckles partyism—hell, they’ve been referring to “the L word” for more than a decade—and Coulter is arguably their reigning champ. While she talks trash about blacks, women, and “camel jockeys,” her primary villain is always the liberals/Democrats who champion the PC policies and ideology that allow Group X to threaten decent God-fearing conservatives everywhere. Her books have titles like Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, How to Talk to A Liberal (If you Must), and, most recently, Godless: The Church of Liberalism. Her gasp-inducing slap at the 9/11 widows appears in a chapter of Godless titled “Liberal Doctrine of Infallibility: Sobbing Hysterical Women.” Even her infamous post-9/11 anti-Muslim war whoop for the United States to “”invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity” came in the context of a rant about how liberal insanity had undermined security efforts: “Airports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers.
It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade ...” Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. This message that liberals are the root of all evil provides precisely the sort of guilt-free, reflexive license to hate that so many Americans need from time to time. Better still, Coulter, having deliberately transformed herself into a cartoonish, Cruella de Ville-type symbol, provides the left an uncomplicated focus for its hate as well. In a sense, everyone wins—or everyone loses, depending on your perspective. And, despite all the hand-wringing about the coarsening of political discourse, we clearly shouldn’t expect the situation to improve any time soon, if ever: The more unacceptable it becomes for us to rail against traditional Others, the more we should expect extreme partyism to thrive—and along with it shameless provocateurs like Coulter.
Which is sad, because I just hate people like that. Don’t you?
Michelle Cottle is a senior editor at The New Republic, where this piece was posted June 23, 2006.