The Annotated Ann Coulter: Volume I

Concerned citizens have debated the Ann Coulter question for many years now.  Does Coulter sincerely believe in the often ridiculous positions she champions in print, on Fox news, and during her campus lecture tours?  Or, as many have suggested, is Coulter an ongoing "performance" project of some kind, a hyperbolic parody of conservative anger and illogic dreamed up by a conceptualist collective somewhere in the Village?  Rachel Maddow has recently attempted to make this same "art school" argument about GOP pizza magnate and freelance genital inspector Herman Cain, but in truth, it is Coulter who first compelled left-leaning cultural elites to contend with the enigmatic posturing of feckless fascism.  So, for example, when Coulter claimed after the meltdown of the nuclear reactors in Fukushima that there now exists "burgeoning evidence that excess radiation operates as a sort of cancer vaccine," baffled bystanders could only wonder at her motivation.  Regardless of one's position on nuclear energy, no one would really take a "pro-meltdown" position, would they? Talk about seeing the glowing silver lining around a hazy cloud of Cesium-137-- this has to be a stunt, right?  Ultimately, however, Coulter's "intent" in her books and punditry is not all that important.  Be it sincere or a sham, the effect on American culture and politics remains the same.  If you want to drink from a mountain stream, after all, it matters little if a horse up river pissed in the water by design or by accident; either way, you still have a mouth full of horse piss.

One of Coulter's signature moves, both in print and in person, is to appear so consistently agitated by the moral bankruptcy, political hypocrisy, and all-around stupidity of the American "liberal" that she might at any moment hyperventilate and pass out.   From a performance perspective, these histrionics involve conveying a sense of boiling rage that, if not for the displacements of her "wit" and/or the threat of incarceration by the state, might actually erupt into either localized or more systematic programs of violence, perhaps an on-camera seizure triggered by patriotic exasperation or a call for a national liberal-cleansing program based on information gathered from Amazon marketing cookies.  Slander, Treason, Godless, Guilty, Demonic--these are the words Coulter has deployed to brand her engagements with the American "left," inflammatory generalizations that work well in stoking her core constituency of hotheads who prefer to live their lives in a perpetual state of generalized inflammation.  Given the cartoonish provocations of these titles, one might assume Coulter is hoping her political adversaries will respond in kind by simply drawing Hitler mustaches on her annual point-of-sale ad flats, thereby taking the reactionary bait that would drag an otherwise thoughtful progressive down into the limbic mud with her.

But what if Coulter's perpetual rage is actually sincere, grounded in the frustration that so few take her seriously at whatever it is she is attempting to do (beyond selling books, of course, still the primary conservative test of "truth"--much as one might consider Ray Kroc the greatest chef in the history of the world for having sold some astronomical number of easily consumable meat-units).  Even more intriguingly, perhaps Coulter is a bored überfrau, despondent that no adversary appears worthy or willing to join her in mercilessly demolishing and then transcending the doxa of western political thought.  Driven to despair that she alone must drive the final nails into the coffin of rational political discourse, her rage has gradually assumed the logic of excrescence described so beautifully by Jean Baudrillard in Fatal Strategies; that is to say, bored with the dialectics of "left" vs. "right," Coulter has worked feverishly to will into existence a world that is "more right than right," an ambition that increasingly has little or nothing to do with anything an imaginary "left" might be doing, but is simply a death-spiral into evermore extreme positions of purely experimental conservatism, a type of "string theory" for post-Bucklidian politics.

Coulter is no ordinary thinker, that much is clear.  The easy thing to do would be to ignore her, or when that is not possible, simply dismiss her as a kook wandering somewhere along the continuum between  the bitterly insane and the insanely bitter.  But this would be shirking our moral obligations, I think.  For example, if Coulter truly believes what she writes, to ignore her is to reward and even encourage her harrowing descent into an ever more terrifying (albeit lucrative) form of madness, one that can only end with her camped out by the Bellvue ambulance bay hectoring the sick and injured for their cowardly reliance on public EMTs (Did you even consider for a second that you could have your neighbors submit private bids to bring you here, you parasite!)

On the other hand, if Coulter's act really is a bluff, and she in fact spends all her free time in Manhattan clinking cocktails with book editors, gallery curators, and a few cynical but discrete Ivy League professors, laughing about the endless gullibility of the stupid hayseeds who are paying for her new walk-in jacuzzi--then don't we owe it to her miserable captives to set them free?  If, back in 1964, I had been struggling to sit through all 8 hours of Warhol's Empire, I know I would certainly have appreciated it if someone had come into the theater to let me know it was okay to leave, that I was just a prop in the execution of someone else's conceptual stunt.

Perhaps those of us who identify with progressive causes would benefit by digging a bit deeper, by subjecting Coulter's oeuvre to a more sustained and probing form of textual explication.  By "deconstructing," if you will, the logic of the Coulterian universe, there is a chance--a slim one, I will concede--that we might better understand, a). what she professes to believe; b). whether or not she really believes what she professes to believe; and c). the sensibility of a readership that truly believes that she believes in things that she may or may not actually believe.

The only way to do this, I propose, is through a line-by-line examination of the work itself--what we in the academic game sometimes call a "close reading."  As a slanderous, treasonous, godless, guilty, and demonic member of the professorial class, I hope that I might be well-suited to such a task. In the interest of critical self-reflexivity, I will admit up front that I think she's probably faking it, that she doesn't really believe most of the positions she advocates (like carrying heavy water for the "pro-meltdown" community).  But I am willing to keep an open mind, and if somehow Coulter can win me over with the strength of her arguments, I will be more than happy to concede that she is correct and that my "liberal" ass deserves immediate incarceration for crimes against the state, at least until it arrives at its final destination in hell where Coulter and other heavenly conservatives can pelt me and my fellow damned with burning copies of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche.

Let us begin with Coulter's fourth book, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must).  Though the title remains confrontational (it implies, you see, that talking to a liberal is so unpleasant that one would do everything in his or her power to avoid such a fate), I begin here because this book suggests, at least implicitly, that some type of dialogue might still take place (at least as of 2004, the date of the book's original publication).  Admittedly, in Coulter's ideal form, this "dialogue" would be a Thanksgiving dinner wherein a witty "conservative" systematically decimates the sophistry of her uptight liberal relations by demonstrating that there is no problem in the 21st century that can not be answered by some creative combination of Adam Smith, Ayn Rand, and Jesus.  To put a positive spin on this otherwise depressing scenario, let us emphasis that this scene at least has us all sitting at the same table, as it were, and that if Coulter's woefully naive young cousin doing an Anthro degree at Smith began choking to death on the ceremonial wishbone, she still might have enough empathy to get up and administer the Heimlich maneuver (then again, perhaps Coulter really does have the courage to commit an unparalleled act of pure Objectivism:  No one help her!  It is not in our interest to prevent this lazy, under-achieving masticator from choking, for her death shall leave more turkey and stuffing for the rest of us!  Turn the highchairs this way so that the babies might also learn this lesson well!)

So let us begin (Coulter's prose will be in bold black, my annotations in red).
A special note to conservative readers: Given that modern American conservatism has now become indistinguishable from paranoid schizophrenia, there will be no attempt made here to "persuade" or "convince" you of anything.  Rather, much as one might address a co-worker who suddenly professes a belief that extraterrestrials are filling his head with voices telling him to kill the neighbor's dog, the following will proceed from the assumption that logic and reason are of little use in convincing you of anything, and that your best hope resides in a carefully monitored regimen of Haldol or Thorazine. I'm so sorry.  If somehow appeals to cooperative reason and socio-economic justice prevail in the future, we will try to send a time machine back to rescue the rest of you from yourselves.  Until then, good luck.  Also, I think someone on your local public access station just suggested adding a penny in sales tax to help clean up that toxic dump site that's been festering out by the Johnson place and breeding all them mutant super-raccoons---your time might be better spent writing a letter about how the free market is the only way to deal with the mutant super-raccoon problem, and that you'll shoot any city animal control officer who comes on your property to implement a socialist "one-size-fits-all" campaign of mutant super-raccoon eradication. 

How to Talk to a Liberal

(1) Historically, the best way to convert liberals is to have them move out of their parents' home, get a job, and start paying taxes.

Coulter begins here with a touch of folk wisdom, essentially adapting Churchill's bromide, "If you're not a liberal at 20 you have no heart. If you're not a conservative at 40 you have no brain," so that it might better appeal to her most loyal readers (crucially, however, Coulter is not willing to concede the 20 year-old part of the equation.  Even deciding to share your toys in preschool would be counted as a moronic flirtation with wealth redistribution).  Conservatives love using this quotation because they believe it imbues the speaker with a type of practical philosophy born of hard-won experience and incontrovertible common sense.  By dropping it into everyday conversation, the conservative signals that he or she possesses the necessary intellectual depth to reflect on life's big questions, but still has not been swayed by the more "complicated" book-learned philosophies favored by liberal elites. 

Unpacking the sentence, we see three interlinking assumptions:

1. Liberals are children.
2. Liberals are unemployed.
3. Liberals do not pay taxes.

By casting the liberal as a child who will, under ideal circumstances, be "cured" by confronting the more sober truths of adulthood, Coulter endorses the rather sad but protoypically conservative position that the world is what it is and nothing will ever change it.   Only children believe that the world's inequalities and injustices might be productively challenged.  The "adult" conservative, on the other hand, knows how the world "really works," and that the child-liberal will eventually understand that s/he must give up the ridiculous aspiration for a world that is less horrifying.   Most often, this "adult" perspective is the product of having been worn down by age, fear, and fatigue so that no other possibilities remain imaginable.  A mortgaged and mirthless 40 sees what carefree 20 cannot--life is an endless struggle to acquire shit and protect it from other people who want to take your shit, all so that when you get really old you don't end up dying penniless in a ditch.  Thus it has been since Thog the caveman first suckered-punched Grunda the hill person so that he might steal his woman, jaguar paw, and pointed stick.

By choosing to open her 2004 book with a generational mapping of right and left, Coulter gives us some insight into her core readership.  While I have no empirical data to back this claim up, I am willing to follow Coulter's lead here in baseless speculation to suggest that her books are most avidly consumed by white men who are married, middle-aged, and fairly well-off (given that this is the key constituency of the Republican party, this would not be surprising).  Why this particular demographic?  Because Coulter "gets" them, she understands the frustration of being a "wealth-producer" surrounded by parasitical sucklings--the wife, the kids, an idiot brother, the city, the state, public education, tollways, welfare deadbeats, the chronically ill, and so on.  Thus the appeal of the regressive Randian fantasy of holding one's breath and refusing to "produce" so as to teach all the ungrateful morons around you a lesson (much as the toddler will withhold feces during toilet training as a way of protesting the oppressive discipline of the parents).  

Yes, Coulter--or at this point, "Ann"--truly understands the middle-class white guy's pain.  She arrived on the national scene during the dark days of the Clinton presidency, a Godsend as the most vocal in a new battalion of younger, blonder, female Republicans who at last showed the world that not every right-winger had to look and talk like Robert Novak.  Prominently unattached, Ann is the kind of gal you fantasize about while putting on your cleats to play the back nine at the country-club.  Unlike your mollycoddling wife, Ann would understand the horror of having your oldest son come home from college to announce his plans to be a professional "graphic novelist," or seeing your daughter go out every weekend with a trio of pierced weirdos who are most obviously homosexuals.  Ann knows what it's like to have your hard-earned pay taxed by an evil bureaucracy that wants to throw that money away on the prostitutes and drug dealers you sometimes think you see loitering around as you drive to the baseball stadium downtown. And with Ann by my side, I would never lose an argument ever again.  Next time that wise ass liberal neighbor of mine points out that I'm much more likely to get shot by my own gun than to shoot a burglar, Ann would be right there to call him out for the dickless coward he really is!  In fact, I wouldn't mind if she called me a few names as well.  Don't get me wrong--I still think it is the man's role to take the lead in any relationship.  But when I see Ann in that tight, little leather vest...I don't know, suddenly I want her to get mad at me.  Really, really mad.  I want her to tell me what a worthless weakling I am.  I want her to yell at me for nicking the upholstery in the Beamer.  I want her to lock me in the bathroom with just bread and water until I work up the courage to go tell off those pricks at the Sanitation department for cracking our new trash bins, just because they're too lazy to put them back down gently (and I pay there goddamn salaries with my taxes!).  And then I want Ann to hold me as I cry and cry.  Why has the world become so scary and why don't I understand anything anymore?  How could anyone be against a flat tax, Ann, I just don't get it--it's so obviously and objectively fair to everyone.  What do you mean you found a picture of Ashley's vagina on her cell phone?  Why would she do that?  I don't care what anyone says, Ann, this democracy will only really work as long as white people are in the majority. 

And so on.

It would seem explicating the first line of Coulter's book has taken more time and space than I anticipated, so perhaps this is a good place to stop for now.  See you next time...maybe.  I can't decide if it's really worth it or not.

Editor's Note: I would also like to note that in googling the phrase "annotated Ann Coulter," I discovered another site that had this idea long before me.  You might want to visit them as well (here).


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