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.
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.
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Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.