News Intelligence Analysis
This article originally appeared in Salon.com
Has she no shame?
Of course not, and now we know why: In her book "Treason," Ann Coulter reveals that her role model is Joe McCarthy. And her grasp of facts is even worse than her judgment..
By Joe Conason
July 4, 2003 | "Slander" is defined in Bouvier's Law Dictionary as "a false defamation (expressed in spoken words, signs, or gestures) which injures the character or reputation of the person defamed." The venerable American legal lexicon goes on to note that such defamatory words are sometimes "actionable in themselves, without proof of special damages," particularly when they impute "guilt of some offence for which the party, if guilty, might be indicted and punished by the criminal courts; as to call a person a 'traitor.'"
So how appropriate it is that in the rapidly growing Ann Coulter bibliography, last year's bestselling "Slander" is now followed by "Treason," her new catalog of defamation against every liberal and every Democrat -- indeed, every American who has dared to disagree with her or her spirit guide, Joe McCarthy -- as "traitors." And like a criminal who subconsciously wants to be caught, Coulter seems compelled to reveal at last her true role model. (Some of us had figured this out already.)
She not only lionizes the late senator, whose name is synonymous with demagogue, but with a vengeance also adopts his methods and pursues his partisan purposes. She sneers, she smears, she indicts by falsehood and distortion -- and she frankly expresses her desire to destroy any political party or person that resists Republican conservatism (as defined by her).
"Whether they are defending the Soviet Union or bleating for Saddam Hussein, liberals are always against America," according to her demonology. "They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America's self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn't slowed them down." And: "Liberals relentlessly attack their country, but we can't call them traitors, which they manifestly are, because that would be 'McCarthyism,' which never existed." (Never existed? Her idol gave his 1952 book that very word as its title.)
Coulter went from cable network sideshow to full-fledged media star last year when her book "Slander," fed by the same ferocious right wing of the country that elevated both Rush Limbaugh and Fox News -- both of which did much to promote Coulter -- became a runaway bestseller. "Treason" displays many of the same mental habits as did "Slander": the obsession with "manly" men, the disparagement of women as weak-willed and whorish, the disturbed attraction to images of violence. "When Republicans ignite the explosive energy of the hardhats, liberals had better run for cover," she barks, obviously longing for the days when construction workers beat up antiwar demonstrators. And there is the same spittle-flecked name-calling, like a Tourette's sufferer without the mordant energy. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is "Jackie Kennedy's poodle." The late religious scholar Reinhold Niebuhr was "a big, sonorous bore." Labor leader Walter Reuther was a "sanctimonious fraud." McCarthy? "A poet," she tells us.
If so, Coulter is inspired by the same paranoid muse. She crafts images of liberals "dedicated to mainstreaming Communist ideals at home," seeking "to destroy America from the inside with their relentless attacks on morality and truth." To make such accusations requires a certain kind of mind, to put it politely. Or to put it less politely -- as the managing editor of Commentary remarked in his scathing review of "Slander" -- Coulter "pretends to intellectual seriousness where there is none." But in the marketplace for conservative ideology, her brand of fakery is hot.
The likelihood is that Coulter's many avid fans are as conveniently ignorant of the past as she seems to be. So the rubes who buy "Treason" will believe her when she accuses George Catlett Marshall, the great general who oversaw the reconstruction of Europe, of nurturing a "strange attraction" to "sedition" and of scheming to assist rather than hinder Soviet expansion.
Her duped readers will believe that Marshall and President Harry S. Truman opposed Stalin only because Republicans won the midterm elections in 1946. They probably won't know that Truman confronted the Soviets in the Mediterranean with a naval task force several months before Election Day; or that the new Republican majority cut Truman's requested military budget by $500 million as soon as they took over Congress in January 1947, nearly crippling the American occupation of Germany and Japan; or that Truman, Marshall and Dean Acheson had to plead with the isolationist Republican leadership to oppose Russian designs on Greece and Turkey.
Her deceptive style is exemplified in an anecdote she lifts from an actual historian and twists to smear Truman. She writes: "Most breathtakingly, in March 1946, Truman ostentatiously rebuffed Churchill after his famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri. Immediately after Churchill's speech, Truman instructed his Secretary of State Dean Acheson not to attend a reception for Churchill a week later in New York."
In that passage -- footnoted to James Chace's magisterial 1998 biography of Acheson -- Coulter demonstrates that she is both an intentional liar and an incompetent writer. The pages she cites from Chace explain quite clearly that Acheson (who was not then Secretary of State and would not be promoted to that office until 1949) was urged to avoid the New York reception by Secretary of State James Byrnes, not Truman. The British apparently didn't notice that "ostentatious rebuff," since they immediately invited Acheson and his wife to a cordial lunch with Churchill in Washington. And as for Truman, Chace notes that it was he who had invited Churchill to Missouri, his home state, to deliver the speech -- which the American president read in advance, assuring the former prime minister that his strong warning about communist intentions would "do nothing but good."
So replete is "Treason" with falsehoods and distortions, as well as so much plain bullshit, that it may well create a cottage industry of corrective fact-checking, just as "Slander" did last year. (The fun has already begun with Brendan Nyhan's devastating review on the Spinsanity Web site. So far the Spinsanity sages have found "at least five factual claims that are indisputably false" in "Treason," along with the usual Coulter techniques of phony quotation, misleading sourcing, and sentences ripped from context or falsely attributed.)
Such heavy-handed deception was precisely the sort of tactic employed by McCarthy himself against Acheson and all his other targets. In his book "McCarthyism: The Fight for America," for instance, he charged that the Truman aide had "hailed the Communist victory in China as 'a new day which has dawned in Asia.'" Of course, Acheson had neither said nor written anything of the kind.
To Coulter, McCarthy is simply a great man worthy of her emulation. In her alternate universe, he isn't the slimy traducer Americans have come to know and despise. He's bright, witty, warm-hearted and macho, a sincere farm boy who exposes the treasonous cowardice of the urbane Acheson, Marshall and other "sniffing pantywaists." She seems to regard him as kind of a Jimmy Stewart type, albeit with jowls and five o'clock shadow and a serious drinking problem.
And he never, ever attacked anyone who didn't deserve it.
"His targets were Soviet sympathizers and Soviet spies," Coulter proclaims without qualification. But elsewhere she says that he wasn't even really trying to find either communists or spies, but only seeking to expose "security risks" in government jobs. Whatever his mission, it was noble and succeeding admirably until 1954, when "liberals immobilized him with their Army-McCarthy hearings and censure investigation."
Actually, McCarthy was brought down by his own televised misconduct during those hearings -- and by the outrage not of Democrats but of Republicans, including President Eisenhower and a caucus of courageous GOP senators. (Among the latter was the current president's grandfather, Prescott Bush of Connecticut, whose vote to censure McCarthy is another little fact that Coulter forgets to mention.)
The truth is that some of McCarthy's targets were or had been communists -- and therefore by definition "sympathizers" of the Soviet Union -- but he never uncovered a single indictable spy. There had been dozens of Soviet agents in government before and during World War II. But those espionage rings had been broken up by the FBI well before McCarthy showed up brandishing a bogus "list" of 57 or 205 or 81 Communists in the State Department.
Yet the Wisconsin windbag amassed sufficient power for a time to destroy innocent individuals, most notably Owen Lattimore, described smirkingly by Coulter as McCarthy's "biggest star" and the man he once named as Stalin's "top espionage agent" in the United States. "Somewhat surprisingly," as Coulter is obliged to note, Lattimore's name has yet to be found in Moscow's excavated KGB archives or in the Venona cables decrypted by U.S. Army counterespionage agents. The dearth of evidence against Lattimore matters not at all to Coulter, however. Though the eminent China expert was neither a spy nor a communist, he certainly knew and worked with some communists -- and worst of all, he disagreed with the far right about U.S. policy toward China.
Then there are names that Coulter doesn't dare name, such as Theodore Kaghan, a favorite McCarthy target who worked for the Voice of America. In fact, she doesn't mention the Voice of America investigation at all, perhaps because it was so obviously a destructive waste of time and money. Kaghan, a valiant opponent of the communists in Berlin, was dismissed from his VOA position under pressure from McCarthy. He was wholly innocent, but the reckless senator's inquisition ruined him and sabotaged Western interests. That same destructive pattern occurred in the State Department, in the Army Signal Corps, and in other government agencies. His ham-handed brutality made McCarthy an immense boon to communist propaganda abroad, especially in Europe. They loved it when his counsel Roy Cohn and his assistant David Schine junketed around the continent, tasked with removing thousands of "pro-communist" books from the shelves of U.S.-funded libraries.
To transform McCarthy into a hero, Coulter carefully airbrushes all these unpleasant episodes from his career. "This version will be unfamiliar to most Americans inasmuch as it includes facts," she explains, introducing her biographical sketch of the Wisconsin senator. Perhaps it includes some facts, but it certainly omits others.
Coulter discusses McCarthy's impressive high school record in considerable loving detail. But somehow she neglects to mention McCarthy's first moment in the national spotlight. That was his infamous 1949 campaign on behalf of Nazi S.S. officers who were convicted of war crimes for the massacre of American troops in the town of Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. On their orders, 83 American prisoners of war had been murdered by Waffen S.S. machine-gunners. The S.S. officers were sentenced to death, but McCarthy insisted that the entire case was a frame-up, with confessions obtained by horrific torture. He intervened in Senate hearings on the case and lied repeatedly during his defense of the Nazi murderers. His most spectacular claim was that the American investigators had crushed the testicles of German prisoners as an interrogation technique. McCarthy was later shown to have served as the pawn of neo-Nazi and communist provocateurs who were using the Malmedy case to whip up anti-American sentiment in postwar Germany. The main source for his false charges concerning Malmedy was a Germany lawyer named Rudolf Aschenauer, whose closest ties were to the postwar Nazi underground and to American right-wing isolationists, but who has also been identified as a communist agent. Aschenauer testified at U.S. Senate hearings in Germany that he had passed information about Malmedy to McCarthy. The S.S. officers were guilty, as the Senate report confirmed -- although most of them later got their death sentences commuted in a gesture to former Nazi officials who aided the West in the Cold War. But McCarthy had succeeded in his larger purpose, winning publicity for himself and casting a negative light on the war-crimes trials.
By Coulter's loose definition, his involvement in the Malmedy incident proves that McCarthy was a "traitor." He lied publicly to advance totalitarian forces in Europe against American interests. He sided with enemy forces against American soldiers. He falsely accused American officials of crimes. Moreover, he took up this tainted cause at least in part because of heavy financial support from an ultra-right-wing German-American businessman in Wisconsin. He managed to help both Nazis and communists at once, a feat rarely seen since the end of the Hitler-Stalin pact.
That irony would be lost on Coulter, as she proceeds with her single-minded smearing of Democrats and liberals. It turns out that all her raking over the ancient history of communism and anti-communism serves only as preparation to construct false contemporary analogies. Just as anyone who disagreed with McCarthy was a traitor, so was anyone who opposed the war in Vietnam or dissented from Reagan's war in Nicaragua or doubted Bush's war in Iraq.
In Coulter's beloved country there is no place for debate, only conformity. And in "Treason" there is no space for the complicated, mundane reality of American political life. Conservatives good, liberals bad, is her shrieking mantra. She knows what her audience will buy -- and that most of them aren't bright enough to notice the contradictions.
So while Patrick Buchanan is a good guy when he red-baits liberals during the Reagan era, he suddenly disappears from the pages of "Treason" when he opposes the war in Iraq. For that matter, so do all the right-wing critics of Bush's war, from Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas to the entire staff of the ultra-right Cato Institute. Their existence can't be acknowledged -- because if they do exist, they are "traitors," too. And there is no such creature as a right-wing traitor (which means that the dozens of Americans convicted of spying for Nazi Germany in 1942, the political leadership of the Confederacy, the Tories of the Revolutionary era, Timothy McVeigh, and Robert Hanssen all, naturally, go unmentioned in "Treason").
Likewise absent from Coulter's cracked cosmology are the liberals and Democrats who supported the Iraq war, including dozens of senators, members of Congress, the editors of the New Republic, the Democratic Leadership Council, and writers such as Paul Berman and Kenneth Pollack. According to her, Democrats voted for the war resolution only because they feared their true treasonous nature would otherwise be exposed. In fact, their votes in favor of Bush's resolution perversely proved that they were traitors!
"Liberals spent most of the war on terrorism in a funk because they didn't have enough grist for the antiwar mill. They nearly went stark raving mad at having to mouth patriotic platitudes while burning with a desire to aid the enemy." Somebody is raving here, but it isn't a liberal. With this book, Coulter has paid her homage and surpassed her master.
From now on, maybe we should call it Coulterism.
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