Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture presented by Ann Coulter, the hyper-conservative columnist who's authored such bestsellers as Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right and her most recent, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. Coulter's main talent is that she knows how to rile up her choir, sprinkling her lecture with enough comedic insults at liberals' expense to keep her adoring right-wing legions both cheerful and enraged. She gave her hysterical speech at UNM's Popejoy Hall on Tuesday, April 27, as part of the university's 21st Century Speakers Series.
I have to say, the lecture was a hoot. You might guess from her books' titles that Coulter is a shrill polemicist, and you would guess right. What you might not guess is that Coulter is also a polished and entertaining performer. Although her half-hour lecture, followed by a lengthy Q and A session, was short on thoughtful analysis, Coulter knows how to work the crowd. She swaggers and flirts behind the podium, delivering jokes about liberals with a flair unmatched by any but the most talented right-wing windbags in the Rush Limbaugh tradition.
Her jokes aren't particularly creative, but her audience didn't seem to mind. Coulter, for example, dredged up the old "Ted Kennedy is a drunk" routine, a source of comedy that should've probably died out sometime back in the early '80s. Of course, political humor, especially when it's aimed at a homogenous partisan bloc, doesn't usually require originality. (Liberals have proven this over and over again with their tired jokes about George W. Bush's lousy diction.)
It also doesn't hurt that she grooms herself like a Hollywood celebrity. Coulter sports the long, shiny blond hair and impossibly skinny body of an anorexic bikini model. During the lecture, she wore a tight black skirt with a slit up the side that ended somewhere around her ribcage. As they say in the halls of commerce, legs sell, and Coulter, much like her hefty lefty counterpart, Michael Moore, knows how to sell herself. By posing as a political outsider—bemoaning at length how much trouble she's had finding publishers for her mega-selling books and griping about how no mainstream newspaper will print her vindictive columns—she bolsters her rebel appeal, selling thousands of books in the process.
According to the event's program, Coulter has been dubbed "the Abbie Hoffman of the Right." The designation rings true. Despite her porn star wardrobe and superior sense of personal hygiene, her viewpoints and public antics are as nonsensical as Hoffman's ever were. At least Hoffman seemed to recognize, in rare moments of lucidity, the contradictions inherent in his juvenile New Left activism. Coulter seems to possess no such awareness.
To take one example, during the Q and A period, she discussed her belief that liberals are weak-willed lemmings more suited to following charismatic leaders than to thinking for themselves. Given the context of her speech, this rant seemed somewhat ironic. From the second she walked on stage to a standing ovation, the fawning, uncritical adoration of her audience flooded over her like a warm wave of Republican love, and she sucked up every ounce of it. The disconnect between Coulter's pronouncement and the scene in Popejoy was heightened by the presence of a little Republican undergraduate, dressed in a spiffy suit, who asked Coulter a series of banal, softball questions submitted by the audience and who never passed up an opportunity to kiss her skinny butt.
Coulter often asserts, with absolute seriousness, that liberalism is a mental defect. Yet despite how often she rails against liberals for what she believes is their innate irrationality, critical thinking is clearly not Coulter's forté.
Truth be told, she's carved out a career as a hyper-conservative pundit by being as unreasonable as possible. Coulter was fired from the right-wing magazine National Review for a Sept. 12, 2001 column in which she asserted that our nation's response to Islamic terrorism should be to "invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." On the conservative cable news program "Hannity & Colmes" she once asserted that "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ’Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'" In another appalling episode, she once told a disabled Vietnam veteran that "people like you caused us to lose that war."
Despite the outrageous antics that have made her a folk hero among extreme right-wingers everywhere, Coulter insists she's really a very reasonable person. It's the liberals who, in her words, are "loonies and wackos."
During the Q and A section of the event, Coulter explained her belief that any effective debater must be able to intelligently articulate the viewpoint of her opponent. Yet when a questioner asked Coulter to intelligently articulate a liberal viewpoint, she, of course, floundered. To be fair, the question didn't specify a subject, but her response was still revealing. Coulter evaded the question by saying that liberals don't have sensible viewpoints so she can't possibly articulate their side of an argument—a classic intellectual cop-out if ever there was one.
In a related bout of irrationality, Coulter did a lengthy rant about how conservatives, to be better informed of all sides of an argument, typically go out of their way to consume liberal media while liberals just sit at home watching "Lifetime,” the network for women. (She made this cryptic comment several times. I'm not sure why, but most of her audience thought it was hilarious.) Then, in an odd twist, she started talking about how ridiculous it is that the liberal author Al Franken claims that no one has ever found a single factual error in his books. "That's because no one's ever read them, Al," Coulter smirked. She then outlined her conspiracy theory that rich elitist liberal authors buy up all their own books to increase sales. "Except for his chapter about me," Coulter said, "I've never read Franken's books and I don't know anyone who has."
So do conservatives consume liberal media or not? I'm confused. Apparently, so is Coulter.
She also stated that liberals tend to debate issues by calling right-wingers "fascists," "racists" and other epithets. "Calling someone a fascist is not an argument," Coulter asserted to loud cheers from her crowd. It's a fair point, but Coulter seemed to miss the irony of making such an observation in the midst of a two-hour name-calling session that focused much less on dismantling liberal ideas in a logical fashion than in spewing invective at her ideological opponents.
I don't mean to pick on Coulter—not exclusively anyway. Most loud-mouth pundits are hypocrites. It struck me recently that ideologues on both the left and the right who proudly tout their own critical thinking abilities are almost always full of shit. Her audience might not know it, but Ann Coulter, I'm afraid, is a pristine example.