From her apologists I often hear the condescending argument that I must only dislike Ann Coulter because I’ve bought into left-wing spin. I’ve probably never even actually read one of her columns, because if I did I would immediately find her to be the witty and perceptive polemicist Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been touting for years. I can’t possibly come by my negative opinion of Ann Coulter from things she’s actually said or written.
Many of Ann Coulter’s critics probably are just uninformed mouthpieces parroting the party line, but that doesn’t mean all of us are. My refusal to embrace her and acclaim her the new Thomas Paine isn’t because I’m just not familiar enough with her work. I’ve read a great many of her newspaper columns, and I actually think that
might have something to do with it.
Despite her occasional protest that she’s an independent thinker, Coulter spends most of her writing dutifully hoeing the Republican row. Her column last week
was a flawlessly colored-inside-the-lines expression of gratitude to President George W. Bush for the lack of terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11/2001. We’ve been safe since 9/11, Ann says, thanks to the Iraq War. That war has cost hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands more lives of our allies and enemies, and civilians, and was waged in the first place against a dictator who posed no direct threat to the United States or his neighbors. Ann’s justification: “We invaded Iraq to protect America.”
She at least musters the energy to write her own somewhat distinct sentence a few paragraphs later, though it still sounds oddly familiar: “We are, in fact, fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them at, say, the corner of 72nd and Columbus in Manhattan.” Does she have a single opinion that can’t be heard from the mouth of Dana Perino at a White House press conference? If not, what purpose does she serve?
I have an even better rhetorical question for you: How is it George Bush gets credit for “keeping us safe” in the seven years since 9/11, but no one was using “he’s kept us safe since the World Trade Center bombing” as a defense for Bill Clinton during the whole Lewinsky/impeachment period ten years ago? What Bush has done since 9/11 hasn’t made much sense to those of us worried about things like bringing those actually responsible for the attack to justice, and addressing the foreign policy issues that contributed to the attack in the first place, but he has still done quite a bit. I think the Iraq War is a non sequitir
, but it’s also a great big fucking something that Republicans can point to and say, “See? We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here! Thank you, Mr. President!”
Her column this week
is a well telegraphed complaint about the Supreme Court decision to allow detainees at Guantanamo Bay access to the American legal system. Once again, there’s barely a word here that couldn’t have been uttered by Bush himself (once written phonetically and loaded into the teleprompter). We’re at war, Ann says. But we’re not at war with any nation; we’re at war with “terror.” Since the enemy wears no uniform, anyone taken prisoner after shooting at our troops is designated an enemy combatant. Since there aren’t well defined lines of enemy and friendly territory, wherever the fighting happens to take place is labeled the battlefield. Using those words seems to be the greater part of Ann and the president’s argument. We can’t allow terrorists captured by agents of the United States access to the United States legal system because they are prisoners of war. What makes them prisoners of war, when they fight for no government with which we are at war, when they wear no uniform? We say they are.
Terrorists don’t deserve special treatment; they deserve basic human rights. One basic human right is the right to be charged with a crime or released within a reasonable time following an arrest, and, if charged, to have your guilt determined by a fair trial — in other words, due process of law. These people are criminals. The people who flew airplanes into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were criminals. They were members of a criminal network, not the army of an enemy nation. The only thing that separates them from a domestic criminal syndicate is the fact that they were arrested by members of the U.S. military.
Would we even be arguing about this had the “War on Terror” been conducted as a law enforcement operation rather than a military one? Why does no one insist that arrested American
terrorists be denied due process?
Ann Coulter reassures us of her intellectual autonomy by referring to the Republicans as “the patriotic party,” and the Democrats as “the treason party.” Her eloquent response to the observation that Guantanamo detainees have fewer rights than other criminals accused under American civilian and military law: “Duh.” Ann believes that we’re entitled to due process because we’re Americans; others of us believe we’re entitled to it because we’re people. If the process works, the guilty people will be convicted and punished — but they should not be denied the process.
The thing that grates on me the most about Ann Coulter isn’t just how mean she is, how flat and unfunny her “humor” is, but how obviously, obnoxiously, appallingly stupid she is. She’s a transparent Republican shill who seems incapable of having an independent thought, she routinely says utterly vile things about people whose politics she opposes, and yet she remains a darling of the conservative movement. Even moderately conservative voices like Dennis Miller strain to sing her praises. Why? For the love of Edmund Burke, why?
Conservatives enjoy Ann Coulter for the same reason that certain people flock to see movies like Meet the Spartans
, or enjoy the stand-up comedy of Dana Carvey — because she gives them what they want, what they’re familiar with, what they’re comfortable with. She’s a shameless defender of the Bush administration; she’s bigoted enough to have cred with the redneck wing of her party, but not such an extremist that she turns off everyone else under the tent; and her hateful streak gives her the appearance of a maverick. She’s viciously partisan, she’s ready and willing to disregard or distort any facts inconvenient to her ideology, and she’s incapable of having an original thought. I jump up and down, rant and rave about these things, but to her supporters they’re her strengths. The most depressing part about Ann Coulter isn’t that she’s managed to become so successful while being so pitifully goddamn dumb — it’s that so many people love her for it.