Sunday, September 28, 2003
New York Ann Coulter rules as the saucy, blond siren of the Right.
Lashing out at all things liberal and Democrat (labels she uses interchangeably), she treats conservative Republicans to a spicy brand of reassurance that has leveraged her into multimedia stardom with talk-TV appearances, a syndicated column and big-selling books with shrill titles.
A year after her successful "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right," Coulter carries on with "Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism." The book already has spent 12 weeks on The New York Times list of best sellers, most recently in seventh place.
But despite bubbling sales and wells of success, Coulter has been faulted for research that is routinely sloppy and facts that are contrived.
"She builds a case on half-truths," declares Ronald Radosh, a historian and author whom Coulter salutes as a fellow conservative.
"She's a cultural phenomenon," concedes Joe Conason, a liberal columnist with his own best seller, "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth." He adds, "I wouldn't characterize what she puts forward as ideas. They're more in the nature of primitive emotions."
Bring it on, Coulter responds.
"There are people who would scream bloody murder if I wrote, 'It's a lovely day outside,"' she says with a satisfied look: People screaming bloody murder about her is great for business.
It's all very simple
Continuing to do great business, "Treason" aims to spring Joseph McCarthy from history's gulag as "a wild-eyed demagogue destroying innocent lives," Coulter sums up.
Seizing quite the opposite position, her book lionizes the 1950s Wisconsin senator for his holy war against Communist spies in the United States, a crusade she argues was done in by the soft-on-commies Democratic Party, which has since compounded the outrage by demonizing McCarthy with its "hegemonic control of the dissemination of information and historical fact," she says between bites of a turkey club.
Writing the book was a mad scramble, Coulter reports during a recent lunch interview. She began "Treason" only last October, "but I worked pretty hard," she says. "I cut down on TV (appearances). I worked every Friday and Saturday night."
Veteran journalist and commentator M. Stanton Evans, who is writing a book on the McCarthy era, shared some of his extensive research with Coulter and "went over her manuscript on the McCarthy chapters," he says. "I can vouch for the facts. Her interpretations are obviously hers. They're obviously meant to be provocative."
Indeed, Coulter's McCarthy makeover only sets the stage for her wildly provocative main theme: Democrats, always rooting against America, are "the Treason Party," she explains with throaty conviction.
Democrats have "an outrageous history of shame," she says, "and they've brushed it all under the rug," racking up a shameful record that persists to present-day Iraq, where the Democrats, she claims, are hoping for America's comeuppance.
So the broad purpose of "Treason," says Coulter, "is to alert people, to send out flare lights: Warning, warning! Democrats can't be trusted with national security!"
It's all very simple.
Generally, generalizations are good
In Coulter's America, everything, it seems, is simple. She reigns over a bipolar realm of either right or wrong; love or hate; smart or idiotic; men or -- a Coulter favorite -- "girly boys," a distinction that in her book yields such questions as the language-garbling "Why are liberals so loath of positive testosterone?" as well as "Why can't liberals let men defend the country?" (By men, she means Republicans.)
"Everything isn't black and white," counters historian Radosh, who has long contended that Communist spies posed an internal threat after World War II. Radosh draws the line at canonizing McCarthy for his blacklisting campaign to flush them out. "But the people who respond to her are people who already agree with her, and they don't want any nuance."
Just mention nuance to Coulter and she scoffs.
"As opposed to spending 50 years portraying McCarthy as a Nazi?" she says with a scornful laugh. "THAT's a very nuanced portrait! I think it's just meaningless blather, this nuanced business."
This nuanced business only muddies the issue, she insists, whereas generalizations are, in her view, a simple, get-to-the-heart-of-it way to make a point.
For example: "Gen-er-al-ly," she says with snide accentuation, "it's not good to play in traffic. Gen-er-al-ly, when your gut feels a certain way, you better hightail it to the bathroom or you'll be wetting your pants."
But is every registered Democrat automatically liberal, anti-American, godless, a liar and a "girly boy" -- plus guilty of treason? That's a generalization Coulter all but states outright in her book, but in the interview has trouble defending.
"Don't worry," she wants every Democrat to know. "The country doesn't prosecute for treason anymore. If they didn't prosecute Jane Fonda (for visiting the enemy during the Vietnam War), there's no worries there."
Gift for riling people up
She is lunching at an open-air Upper East Side bistro near the apartment she rents in Manhattan. (Coulter, who is single, makes her primary residence in Miami Beach, Fla. -- "lots of Cubans," she airily explains.)
Though known for her sexy garb (on the cover of "Treason" her twiggy form is sheathed in a sleek black gown), she is dressed down in white jeans and gray T-shirt. She just finished her column. She has hours of radio interviews scheduled later. It's a sunny, breezy day and life is sweet. The only cloud on her horizon, says Coulter, bright-eyed and full of herself, is insufficient time to savor her success.
At 41, Coulter has traveled a well-plotted road from her comfy Republican upbringing in New Canaan, Conn., to Cornell University in upstate New York, then law school at the University of Michigan.
She worked for the Center for Individual Rights, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative public policy group, then took a job with Spencer Abraham, the current Energy Secretary who then was a U.S. senator from Michigan.
In the mid-1990s, she signed onto a project to investigate alleged wrongdoings by President and Mrs. Clinton, which in 1998 led to "High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton," Coulter's first best seller.
From there, it was a short step to punditry, where she was well-served by her looks and sharp tongue, winning further notoriety after being fired by MSNBC and National Review Online for her inflammatory remarks.
When it comes to getting people riled, "I really have a gift," she chuckles.