NEW YORK, Aug. 6 (UPI) -- I was looking for a bombshell in heels and a matched Donna Karan ensemble, but Ann Coulter showed up at the little Upper East Side cafe looking like she was headed to the beach -- sandals, shorts, sleeveless top. She was basking at an outside table despite the Sumatran humidity, churning calls on
her cell phone and hiding behind Hollywood-style dark glasses,
hoping she was far enough away from the Smoking Police to sneak a few drags when the waiters weren't looking.
I liked her already.
"So you must be the one duking it out with Hillary on the
"Yeah, I think I've heard that before!"
"Don't you find that interesting?"
"No, I find it annoying. I wish that if politicians wanted to do something to prove they were popular, they'd sell something other than ghost-written books."
And so my fondest wishes were confirmed -- she talks just like she writes. She talks in machine-gun bursts, in fact, rarely pausing, always boisterous, lacing her rants with imitations of whiny liberals. There aren't many truly funny conservatives, but Ann Coulter has a Dorothy Parker flair for the bon mot and the one-liner that make her books -- the latest is "Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism" (Crown Forum, $26.95, 355 pp.) -- so achingly funny that you can't help but laugh guiltily at the sheer cattiness of her prose even if you don't always agree with her point.
Unfortunately, she's so far right that the only leftists who read her are the ones who make it a point to blast her in print.
(Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd, both of The New York Times, never pass up the opportunity.) "Treason" is her third blockbuster, following "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" (her take on the scandals of the Clinton administration) and "Slander" (her take on the media). I ask her what she calls this genre she's created: Polemics? Phillipics? Screeds? Perhaps the old 19th-century term, broadsides?
"New York Times best-sellers," she snaps back. "They're
history books that people actually want to read."
Indeed, she's a popularizer, but she's mapped out her own
special territory. She doesn't record history -- she wields it like a machete to make points about the present. She's gloves-off. In "Treason" her premise is so outrageous that only she could carry it off: she argues that Joseph McCarthy was not the evil moron he's been made out to be, and in fact was a great and honorable man who saved the country from being infested with Communist spies working for the government. She may be the first major writer in America to defend McCarthy in -- what? -- four decades. She also goes into great detail about how Ronald Reagan, building on
the legacy of McCarthy, wiped Communism off the planet at a time when liberals were calling for appeasement. ("If you were setting a half-bright trap to collect a half-bright menagerie, you couldn't do better than saying, 'Reagan won the Cold War' and waiting to see who argues with you. It's the verbal equivalent of a box, a stick, and a piece of cheese. Oh look! I caught a Jonathan Alter! And here's a Phil Donahue!")
She orders a chicken sandwich and I ask her, "So, why
McCarthyism? Why now?"
"Because crying McCarthyism is what liberals use as a shield for their own lack of patriotism. They've always done that, but especially since 9/11. Liberal patriotism is the one subject that's taboo. No one stopped them from their ENDLESS anti-war protests -- no one CARED. And they act as if they're under constant threat of being thrown into concentration camps! The only person who's come under any intimidation or suppression of free speech is me for calling them traitors. 'Oh no, you can't say that! How dare you say that!'"
"Treason" is really about 9/11 and the left's reaction to
it, and one of her most amusing chapters chronicles all the
squawking about Muslim profiling. "The whole country knew that
goosing little old ladies boarding planes was not making us any safer," she writes. " . . . There were precisely two groups of people who desperately wanted airport security to be browbeaten into giving suspicious passengers a pass: terrorists and Democrats." Then, in her most head-snapping passage, she writes about the liberal complaints against the detention of American citizens Jose Padilla (accused of being a dirty bomber) and Yaser Esam Hamdi (captured while fighting for the Taliban):
"Heated descriptions of various Muslim terrorists as
'American citizens' were getting a little tiresome. The
implication was that librarians in Boise, Idaho, were at risk of being thrown in jail as enemy combatants at any moment. Yes, technically, by law, Yasser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla were 'American citizens.' Talibanist John Walker Lindh was an
'American citizen,' and shoe bomber Richard Reid was a 'British citizen.' But then you'd see the AP photo and it was always a picture of some orangutan."
That one really did snap my head back, I told her.
"I know exactly what sentence you're talking about, because that was the biggest fight with my editor. Normally what he does is remove my punch lines on the manuscript, and then I go put them back in. But look at the pictures! Long hair, unkempt, unshaven -- orangutan! It has nothing do with race."
Obviously the Connecticut-bred Coulter, 20 years a lawyer, was destined to end up as a polemicist -- "I have been identical since I was a little girl in summer camp" -- but what makes her combative style possible ("I think that it's spirited, not combative") is the proliferation of Internet political sites, where there's virtually no censorship for "politeness." (It's no accident that one of her closest friends is Matt Drudge, who helped her find an apartment in his Miami Beach building.) Shortly after 9/11 she was booted as a National Review columnist for writing about the inspection of "swarthy men" in airports --
and 10 years ago that would have been enough to destroy her
"Actually it started with a previous column," she says.
"After 9/11 I wrote a column: invade their countries, kill their leaders, and claim it for Christianity. And without checking with me, they issued an apology for that. The second column suggested that airport security give an extra little look at swarthy men. And I got a long earnest note from the editor, saying he couldn't be reading through all of my columns to see if I had politically offensive statements. And I went on 'Politically Incorrect' after that, and I was just making the point that all we kept hearing about was, 'Oh! Oh! Don't infringe Arab civil liberties! We must be nice to our fellow Muslims!' Meanwhile, you know, Muslims were being lovebombed by their fellow Americans, and people were
walking on eggshells in everything they said, so I gave these
examples and the editor got testy and dropped my column."
In typical Ann Coulter style, she then called editor Rick
Lowry a "girlie boy."
"Did you really say that?"
"I'd just as soon not relive this," she says, "largely
because I do not want to look like I'm still making fun of them. Though they really deserve to be made fun of. But the reason so many conservatives were calling, emailing, sending love notes, after I called em girlie-boys, was because for years, you know, there was no Internet, there was no talk radio. National Review determined who was a good conservative and who wasn't. And like the little boy in the 'Twilight Zone' episode who could wish people into non-existence -- have you ever seen that? There are like eight people on Earth left, and it's his birthday every day, and they all change the channels to whatever he wants to watch.
That is the way National Review was using its power. And also liberals will always leap on any conservative being critical of another conservative, to try to make every conservative isolated and turn the conservatives into the crazy ones. It's the only time National Review will be cited favorably by liberals. It's the only time David Horowitz, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Andrew Sullivan will be cited favorably by liberals -- when they attack Ann Coulter."
At any rate, the contretemps seems to have served only to
make her more popular. "I make my living from books and
speeches," she says. "Ninety percent of what I do I do free,
because the mainstream media will NOT pay me. So the only way I can make money is by going directly to the American people. I'd be homeless but for the Internet and now Fox News Channel and talk radio. If they had their druthers, no one would ever hear me."
So liberals are GREAT for you, I suggest.
"I'd just as soon sacrifice my own self-interests for the
good of the country, but I don't think I have much say in that."
Later I press her on exactly what she means by "liberal,"
since there are very few politicians left who use the term.
"Well, liberals are always changing the names for things.
It's part of how they hide themselves. I mean, a few years ago it was conservatives angry at liberals for calling themselves liberals, pointing out correctly that these aren't real liberals. These aren't 19th-century liberals. They came up with that term for themselves to begin with. Then everyone realized what they were, and they started calling themselves moderates. And then everyone caught on to that, and now they call themselves progressives. But, you know, whatever the term is, we know what they are. They do the same thing with abortion. They're constantly changing the name for abortion. I think everyone knows what a liberal is."
A lot of the material in "Treason" is based on information from the Venona transcripts, which were secret spy cables intercepted from the Soviet Union during the 1940s but not released to the public until 1995 -- and then only in small portions. Combined with the Mitrokhin archive and other KGB documents that have recently come from Russia, the flood of old intelligence has engendered several recent books detailing exactly who was and who was not on the KGB payroll during the McCarthy years -- so her work is not exactly new.
"Yes," she says, "but all those other books were read by
about a thousand people. Seriously, I've been amazed at how many educated political people I know had never even heard of the Venona papers before. Yeah. Never on the front page of the New York Times, never on the front page of the Washington Post. This would be as if, after conservatives carrying on about Communism all this time, it turned out, after the Soviet Union fell, Stalin was a great guy! Benevolent dictator! Didn't kill anyone! In fact, they really did have 70 years of bad weather to explain how they couldn't grow anything! You know, conservatives would have a lot of explaining to do. But that isn't what we found out. It was
only a month ago, you know, the 50th anniversary of the
Rosenbergs' death, and the New York Times was weeping about the poor innocent victims, still saying 'Well, it's a controversial issue, who's to say, two sides to this, we'll never know.' WE KNOW!"
So I have to ask her: "When you accuse liberals of treason, do you mean that literally?"
"Yes, but I'm talking about liberalism and the Democratic
"The whole party's treasonable?"
"Yes, it's a party that is treasonable."
Lunch arrives, and we chit-chat while eating, but I can tell she's still thinking about the treason question. When she pushes her plate away, she continues:
"OK, the point I want to make is, this is an indictment of an entire party and an entire ideology. People say 'Name the traitors! Name the traitors! Name the traitors!' It's driving me crazy. I even went through the whole 'Slander' book tour without anybody saying who do you want to sue for slander. But somehow with treason, no, there must be a prosecution or you don't really mean it. It would be a lot easier if you could just prosecute a few traitors, you know, have a small internment camp. But I'm talking about an entire party and a 50-year history. This party became a refuge for traitors. They sheltered, defended, promoted Soviet spies. They lose wars. They lose continents to Communism. They constantly counsel supplication, defeat, retreat. They taunt. They were just proved wrong -- spectacularly! -- during
the eighties with Ronald Reagan, and now they're right back to
the same nonsense we went through with them in the eighties."
I ask her if, after "Slander" and "Treason," there are other deadly liberal sins waiting to be skewered.
"Sure. Perfidy. Blasphemy."
"Blasphemy sounds good."
"Yeah, it would be good. Like treason, it's an offense that is no longer prosecuted. So they would want to know who I want to sue for blasphemy."
"What about a sexual one?"
"That was pretty much covered in 'High Crimes and
Misdemeanors.' No, I've just gotta wait and see what they come up with next. I have some ideas of what they might do, but, you know, they're nutty and they've got a lot of energy and they absolutely will never quit. They will never ever quit. One thing about liberals is they've got a lot of stamina. The next topic they will present to me on a platter once again."
"And tell me again why Frank Rich hates you so much?"
"I suspect that the only thing we have in common is that we wear the same underwear. At least Maureen Dowd is back to
attacking me by name. For a while it's just been 'the leggy
blonde pundit.' She used to attack me by name. So I'm pleased to see she's back to naming me. I want the full publicity."
As we wind it up, I tell her that my favorite chapter is a kind of throwaway piece she does on Hollywood celebrity
"Thank you. That's not a big part of the book."
"You should do standup comedy."
"Thank you. I love to speak."
"I can tell."
Here's what I was talking about:
"The attack of 9-11 was understandably disturbing to
celebrities. It created an unpleasant sensation that there was
something in the world more important than them and their
sybaritic doings in New York nightclubs. Their lives aren't
exactly full of heroics. Most celebrities wouldn't consider
working for two months for less than a million dollars. They have no idea how food and other necessities materialize in their cupboards and closets. Some couldn't even tell you how much their herpes medicine costs. As they cavort across Page Six and other gossip columns, it is important for them to imagine infatuated hillbillies agape with envy. Being a part of the anti-war crowd allowed the most overpampered elites since the czar's court to feel relevant again. They could not grasp that a terrorist attack on America meant they're in it with the rabble this time."
And then she goes through virtually every high-profile
celebrity statement made about 9/11, rounding each one off with a zinger. (Sample zinger, regarding Sean Penn's claim that his family was ravaged by McCarthyism when his father, film director and TV producer Leo Penn, was blacklisted for five years: "As millions of people were sentenced to gulags and death in Stalin's Russia, Leo Penn was forced to fire the maid. It was heartwrenching.")
Ann Coulter is obviously having a lot of fun being the woman who will say anything. Before she left, she made me promise to check my tape recorder. She wanted every single outrageous pronouncement preserved for the press.
Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his Web site at
joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas 75221.