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Ann Coulter's "How to Talk to a Liberal (if you must) "

This is the end of my search for substance in the works of Ann Coulter. From her most recent book I've moved on to her earlier book, How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). The book was published in 2005, and on Amazon in January 2014 it has 800 customer reviews. Two of the five-star reviews read:

1) Ann Coulter is one of the most astute and studied conservative thinkers in America today. This book breaks down the constructs and misrepresentations liberals have used for ages to promote themselves. A must read for anyone (including liberals) who are interested in the state and direction of current politics.

2) This book should have a strong warning label. My face still hurts from laughing so hard. This book is a masterpiece of sarcasm, irony and a good degree of truth. If you can't take a joke or don't appreciate mild sarcasm, it's probably not for you.

Someone else calls the book "childish nonsense." Others say that Coulter bores them. She bores me, and I want to finish what I'm sorry I started and put online two weeks ago.

Is Coulter a 21st century conservative Aristotle? Is she really "one of the most astute and studied conservative thinkers in America today"? Does she make a convincing case that President Franklin Roosevelt got it all wrong? How does she compare with that conservative columnist for the Washington Post, Michael Gerson, whose January 7 article claims that the conservative philosophy must be no more than people saying no to government and that the Tea party undermines conservatism? Coulter hasn't given me enough to begin to answer these questions. I have found a little more of the roots of her political perspective. I've seen her flashes of intelligence, but lunatics can have flashes of intelligence.

The title of this book, like the last Coulter book I reviewed two weeks ago, has little to do with its content. My understanding of how to talk to anybody, be it in conversation or lecture, is to know, if we can, those with whom you are trying to communicate (the purpose of talking). This fits with the old adage "know thy enemy." Coulter lets us know that her enemy is liberalism. On page one she begins painting Liberals as odious, as follows:

Liberals traffic in shouting and demagoguery. In a public setting they will work themselves into a dervish-like trance and start incanting inanities... If you can somehow force a liberal into a point-counterpoint argument, his retorts will bear no relation to what you said—unless you were, in fact, talking about your looks, your age, your weight, your personal obsessions, or whether you are a fascist.

Of course, not all liberals shout, use demagoguery etcetera. Her books involve a host of complaints about people whom she labels as liberals. All liberals this, and all liberals that, none of which fits the liberals I know well. She writes as if the liberal philosophy is responsible for every stupidity committed by anyone left-of-center. She describes liberals as "masters of the featherweight insight" (page 14) as if it is she who is the heavyweight. It is as if she believes that her silly invective and bad comedy is profundity. What is liberalism? How have those who call themselves liberals changed over time? Coulter has a BA in History, but she doesn't enlighten us about liberalism by matching today's liberalism with historical experience.

What she does is to allude to something factual and then stretch it to inaccurate, hyperbolic invective. We all know about Edward Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. She writes:

Teddy Kennedy crawls out of Boston Harbor with a quart of Scotch in one pocket and a pair of pantyhose in the other, and Democrats hail him as their party's spiritual leader.

Chappaquiddick was in 1969. Democrats hardly thought of Senator Kennedy as a spiritual leader thereafter. But Kennedy did a lot of work and became a respected legislator. Someone into spirituality as much as Coulter is should know the difference.

Another example of Coulter's approach to writing is from another book, Treason. She writes of revelations from Soviet archives that describe Alger Hiss, in the state department during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, as having spied for the Soviet Union. Coulter went from this to her habit of ridiculous generalization: her position that Liberals have a "preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason." This lead another conservative, David Horowitz, to scold Coulter for not recognizing the anti-communism among Democrats (Senator Henry Jackson for example) and to call her a "crackpot."

I wonder if Coulter is aware of Marx's contempt for liberalism's John Stuart Mill, or the bitter conflicts between Lenin and those who became known as Social Democrats, who melded capitalism with reforms?

Back to her book How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). Her book has been described as a collection of columns written between 12 September 2001 and 9 March 9 2005 – nothing original. But toward the end of the book she begins to sum up where she is coming from regarding attitude. She respects Phyllis Schlafly and, further back, Clare Boothe Luce. Of contemporary "liberal feminists" she writes, "Heterosexuality for these gals is just another form of oppression." She expresses her dislike of pornography by writing that "Liberals defend every manner of pornography and filth on the grounds that it's 'what the people want.'"

Coulter would be better off, I think, if she told us what she didn't without putting the liberal label on it. like on Whatever liberalism is, it is not exclusive as demagoguery, Senator Kennedy's womanizing, boozing, watching pornography or stupidity. Toward the end of her book, in sentences that do now include an attack on liberals, she does tell us more about her dislikes. She turns to her Christianity and expresses concern about wickedness. In her section titled "If you Sup with the Devil, Use a Long Spoon" she gets a little sociological and writes:

Vices of a feather flock together. This is a great tip for figuring out which of your friends are liars and cheats: They are the ones who seem to know a curiously large number of people who lie and cheat. But it's also a warning to keep those friends at a distance.

She expresses a dislike for popular culture. She complains about "corrupting" television shows and Hollywood movies "that show gorgeous people with an endless supply of witty lines and fabulous clothes engaging in wildly promiscuous behavior." She demonstrates some intelligence in complaining about "cartoonish villains" in popular culture, but that is what she does with "liberals." She writes:

People don't commit acts of great evil or great courage out of thin air. Character is developed out of a lifetime of choices. Almost every decision you make, however small, will be a step closer to God or a step closer to the devil.

When you are unkind to a clumsy shop clerk, you are taking a step closer to the devil. When you snap at your mother, you are taking a step closer to the devil. When you gossip enviously about a friend, you are taking a step closer to the devil. When you go along with the in crowd and don't speak out against liars, against promiscuity, against abortion, you are taking a step closer to the devil. But it's never too late to stop and begin taking steps toward God. It's a lot easier to make that journey with companions who know the way.

Coulter's father was a red-hunting FBI agent and hostile to labor unions. There might be a connection here with Ann's support for the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, whom she frequently defends. As I mentioned two weeks ago, she had a lot of respect for her father, and her mother, and she appears to be carrying their tradition, which includes God-fearing Christianity. She describes her parents as honest and unpretentious people.

Not believing in human evolution is a part of where she is coming from, a position held by a third of the country according to Pew Research. (I don't know what her or their opinion is on the evolution of insects.)

Intellectual error is not a punishable defense. Back in the days of Senator McCarthy, a lot of people were for protecting freedoms for people who thought like they did but not extend it to dissenters such as Marxists or those labeled as communists. It's our place, I believe, to extend freedom to people who don't think like we do. Ours is a pluralistic society. If you don't like what Coulter says, don't buy her books or attend her speeches. That's how to deal with Ann Coulter, if you must. Those who shout her down or chase her off the stage just give her more to complain about, in this instance with some justification.

That's it for me. Many others have covered this subject well and with more detail than I have. If you like, a Bing or Google search for Ann Coulter and "fact check" will tell you more about her.

Copyright © 2010-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.