McCarthyism Sells: Ann Coulter’s War on Dissent


Coulter was this summer’s publishing equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s



In her recent bestseller,

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the
Cold War to the War on Terror

(Crown Forum, 2003), Coulter reveals
herself as a fabricator of lies, distortion, and insults toward
all things not right-wing Republican. With Coulter, it’s rational
discourse that’s consistently terminated. 

else can you characterize someone who seriously believes that tens
of millions of U.S. citizens are “traitors,” guilty of
treason? But who exactly are all these traitors? Are we talking
sinister Stalinist spies in positions of high influence? Evil drug
cartels pushing poison in U.S. schoolyards? Not quite. In the world
according to Coulter, the subversives are none other than the Liberals. 

the thought of Hilary Clinton in a Che-style beret, rifle-in-hand,
leading the League of Women Voters in an armed assault on the Bush
family ranch has Coulter’s fans in a panic, they should relax.
This writer, on whom conservative groups like to bestow various
journalist of the year awards, has just the antidote for the spreading
plague of liberal subversion. Yes, it’s none other than the
historic figure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The old mid-20th century
red-baiter emerges from the smoke and vitriol of Coulter’s
rhetoric as an action hero for our age, a renegade brawler of vision
and courage who in his day feared not the term “witchhunt.” 

revealing that a leading Republican commentator, a person whose
photo appears on the front page of the website for the American
Conservative Political Union (along with Vice President Cheney)
chooses to resurrect McCarthy’s anti-democratic legacy. It’s
as if Coulter wants to proclaim to anyone within earshot that the
Republican Right plays by its own rules now, “respectable politics”
be damned. Here’s rule number one: “We Republicans alone
stand for God, moral virtue, love of country and all things righteous,
and a new generation of tactical ‘bunker- buster’ mini-nukes.” 

for all other unfortunates, Coulter offers unrelenting insults,
signifying her pathological hostilities. Liberals? Democrats? They
believe only in themselves or, at most, the

New York Times

They’re also a pathetic posse of liars, weaklings, cowards,
drug abusers, girly-boys, buffoons, and moral degenerates—and
they hate their country. Despise it, actually. They’re also
wrong about everyt hing. 


is a slurapalooza of wild hatred toward all evil liberal-doers,
which in Coulter’s worldview appear to be defined as anyone
slightly to the left of Ivan the Terrible. On that score, Coulter’s
embrace of Joe McCarthy makes twisted sense. But what would we expect
from a person who refuses to condemn the assassination of doctors
who perform medical abortions, as Coulter told a student audience
in December 2001 at the University of Washington? Or who thinks
“American Taliban” John Walker Lindh should have been
executed, if only to scare liberals.  Or who seriously believes
Jimmy Carter should be tried for treason for accepting the Nobel
Peace Prize on the eve of the Iraq war—the reasoning having
something to do with a prize committee member’s remark that
Carter’s award was an implicit rebuke of President Bush. 

of Coulter’s liberal critics dismiss her as a malevolent side
show on the loopy track of contemporary politics. To a large degree
that is just what she is. She’s an intellectual fake and a
bully, a media “entertainer” fond of using insulting references
to her own gender as attention-grabbing soundbites. Liberals in
general are a “womanly” bunch, she taunts, obviously unfit
for the kind of he-man behavior Coulter drools over. This is a person
who studies the history of the Vietnam War, with all its blood and
lies, anguish and allegory, only to conclude that the single lesson
of this entire monumental chapter in mass human suffering is that
“Democrats lose wars.” 

narrow partisan “scholarship” would be laughable were
it not for the insidious totalitarian logic at work. If the Democratic
Party is a traitor party, then what will Coulter and her friends
on the far Republican right advocate next? A one-party system? A
more draconian Patriot Acts? Will the FBI soon be able to not only
conduct clandestine searches of library records, but also to detain
citizens on the basis of “pre-emptive concerns” about
suspect book habits? Perhaps the United States will finally have
to launch a full-force invasion of Cuba, if only to turn the entire
island into an expanded version of Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray,
a dumping ground for the legions of “vile liberals” and
subscribers to the


who will need to be put away for
the duration of our endless “War on Terror?” 

year, when Phil Donahue interviewed her on his MSNBC show, Coulter
got miffed because Donahue didn’t want to focus on her latest
book, but instead grilled her more generally over various views
she’s espoused. Coulter’s irritation implied that Donahue
was somehow obliged to play his role in her publicist’s marketing

that’s how it is in these jingoism-as-product-and-marketing-strategy
days. Rush Lim- baugh rants to his radio listeners about why the
United States should invade Iran and a moment later he’s giving
you an 800 number to order delicious live lobsters. As for Coulter,
she’s just one among a growing cottage industry of highly paid
right-wing celebrities used by the media conglomerates as a form
of perverse mass entertainment masquerading as political com- mentary. 

it’s all a screeching assault on our nerves and intellects.
But it would be a mistake to dismiss Coulter and her type as just
cuckoo. The Bush administration sold its lies about an imminent
Iraqi military threat to the American public with great help from
this new breed of media savvy, right-wing totalitarians. The Coulter
crowd are shock and awe mouthpieces for the ramped-up “with-us-or-against
us” propaganda of crude, triumphal jingoism otherwise known
as U.S. foreign policy. They not only manufacture reality, but they
also  take it to the level of a drunken alley brawl. It’s
a place where hysteria and hyperbole rule and all sorts of official
government nonsense is given a pass by distracted bystanders too
busy wiping the spit from their eyes. 

to public discourse in Ann Coulter country, courtesy of her many
corporate sponsors on cable TV, talk radio, and in big publishing.


Mark Harris is
a Chicago-area journalist.