Coulterized Conservatives

Primary sources exposed and explained.
Sept. 6 2006 8:04 PM

Coulterized Conservatives

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Five years ago, Jonah Goldberg, then editor of National Review Online, fired columnist Ann Coulter  after she published a column  that said, of Muslims, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Coulter's response was to label Goldberg and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, a pair of "girly boys," and to dash off a series of self-parodying best sellers ( Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism; Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right; How To Talk to A Liberal (If You Must); Godless: The Church of Liberalism) that were as popular among cable-chat bookers as they were embarrassing to serious conservatives. Coulter cried, as the saying goes, all the way to the bank.

Coulter's outrageous views and her poisonous rhetoric (click here for examples) rendered her anathema to the respectable right. Over time, though, the Coulter style has gradually crept into conservatism's mainstream. Maybe it's sheer greed; Coulter has certainly demonstrated that extremism sells books. Maybe it's the reward structure of cable-news shows, which love to sic right-wing mad dogs on seemingly clueless moderate liberals. But I'm inclined to think the main driving force is the bankruptcy of contemporary conservatism as represented by the Bush administration. An aggressively interventionist foreign policy has stumbled badly; a sharp cutback in taxes has failed to bring prosperity to the middle class; and, since Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans, citizens have come to regard governmental incompetence less as a reason to vote Republican than as a reason to hold Republicans responsible for indifferent stewardship. Things have gotten so bad that the GOP may conceivably lose control of both the House and the Senate in the coming midterm congressional elections.

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When you don't have anything new to say, and what you've been saying in the past no longer has much plausibility, you have three choices. You can shut up. For conservative commentators, this is inconceivable, not to mention financially ruinous. You can re-examine your premises. This is not the conservative style. Or you can pump up the volume.

We take for our text Doubleday's catalog for spring 2007. Page 50 announces the March 20 publication of Liberal Fascism: The Totalitarian Temptation From Mussolini to Hillary Clinton by none other than Jonah Goldberg, who since firing Coulter has served as a columnist for two newspapers in good standing with what conservatives like to call the cultural elite,  USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. He also retains his affiliation with National Review, carrying the title "editor at large." Goldberg is, in the words of his bio on the L.A. Times Web site, "one of the most prominent young conservative journalists on the scene today." This prominent young conservative journalist is getting ready to publish a book comparing liberals not only to Italian fascists but also to the Nazis. Goldberg is doing Donald Rumsfeld one better: The defense secretary recently invited derision by comparing Democrats not to Adolf Hitler, but to Neville Chamberlain, who merely appeased Hitler.

In a similarly self-parodying vein, Dinesh D'Souza, the Rishwain Research Scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution, will this January publish The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility For 9/11. The Doubleday catalog's writeup of the D'Souza book is a two-page spread (pages 22-23), making it difficult to reproduce. So I've opted to annotate, on the following page, the Web version. D'Souza's book, we are told, "uncovers the links between the spread of American pop culture, leftist ideas, and secular values, and the rise of anti-Americanism throughout the world." D'Souza, who has a little more on the ball than Goldberg, initially greeted 9/11 with admirable restraint, disputing use of the word "cowards" to describe those responsible. (I made the same point  that day; Bill Maher, on whose ABC show D'Souza was appearing, carried the argument to a ridiculous extreme, calling United States servicemen the real cowards, and as a result was booted off the air.) D'Souza also stated that day that "Americans shouldn"t blame themselves because other people want to bomb them." Obviously he has since changed his mind.

To read my footnotes on the document below and on the following page, roll your mouse over the portion highlighted in yellow.

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The right's obsession with Hillary Clinton has, I've come to believe, a psychosexual component. It's some sort of bondage fantasy, no doubt involving bullwhips and nipple clamps. As was the case with her husband, the more Sen. Clinton shifts rightward to capture moderates, the more hysterically the right must portray her as a radical extremist. The irony is that if Sen. Clinton were as unelectably far left as conservatives describe her, conservatives would tolerate her better (though they'd also have to give up their dominatrix fantasies).
The cover illustration suggests that Goldberg may be half-kidding. Or at least that he's prepared to say so if he receives a hostile reception. Coulter would never hedge her bets this way.
A best-selling conservative manifesto of the 1980s, today remembered chiefly for two things. 1.) It introduced the teachings of neoconservative saint Leo Strauss to the general public. 2.) Its author was later fictionalized by Saul Bellow in his wonderful last novel, "Ravelstein."
By describing these purported links as "shocking," the ad copy undermines any claim that Goldberg's argument is tongue in cheek.  From here on, Doubleday's description of the book is deadly serious.
I won't dispute that the purported similarity of the United States to a fascist country was an unfortunate leitmotif of New Left rhetoric during the 1960s and 1970s. But for at least the past twenty years, liberals who've persisted in comparing American politicians to Mussolini and Hitler have had a very difficult time getting on TV or being published in mainstream newspapers and magazines. Conservatives, apparently, don't have the same problem.
Granting that characterizing Republicans as fascists is childish and unfair, it is nonetheless a more persuasive debating point than Goldberg's. Which party promotes a militarist agenda? Which party has been throwing people in jail and denying them access to trial? Which party equates dissent with treason? It ain't the Democrats, bub.
In his Web log, James Wolcott of Vanity Fair flagged this hilarious notice posted by Goldberg on National Review's Web site: "WANTED: HERBERT SPENCER EXPERT. I'm working on a chapter of the book which requires me to read a lot about and by Herbert Spencer. There's simply no way I can read all of it, nor do I really need to. But if there are any real experts on Spencer out there -- regardless of ideological affiliation -- I'd love to ask you a few questions in case I'm missing something."
Wilson presumably was a fascist for riding roughshod on domestic civil liberties during World War One. FDR, I imagine, was a fascist for increasing the size and power of the federal government. Hillary Clinton is a fascist because conservatives are convinced she's going to get the presidential nomination in 2008. I'm a fascist because I find all these comparisons ridiculous.
My dim recollection is that Hitler's rise to power relied less on campaign finance reform and sensitivity training than on the systematic brutalization and often murder of his political opponents.  WANTED: ADOLF HITLER EXPERT. If there are any real experts on Hitler out there--regardless of ideological affiliation--please forward the Cliff Notes version of the Beer Hall Putsch.
The greatest centralization of economic decisionmaking occurs at the Federal Reserve, which Republicans have controlled for a generation. This is the first I've heard that conservatives have a problem with that arrangement.
No nation that restricts its citizens' abilities to kill themselves or others can truly be free.
Methinks Doubleday doth protest too much. This is the second time in a relatively small space that the promo copy praises the research that went into this book. I smell a clip job.
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