Apart from supporting Joe Lieberman and keeping blacks off the staff, the modern New Republic is about nothing so much as opposing the conventional wisdom. No matter the subject, TNR will find a way to tell you that what everyone thinks is wrong. (This construction is so embedded in the magazine's DNA that when Franklin Foer wrote the ultimate meta-TNR piece in 2001, "CW up arrow: Why what everyone thinks is usually right," he set himself upon a trajectory that would eventually place him in the magazine's top slot.) So it was with great joy that we approached their current online-only CW-reverser, "A defense of Ann Coulter." Could it be that our distaste for the 45-year-old alleged plagiarist was colored by the judgment of everyone else who came into contact with her ravings? Results after the jump.
Elspeth Reeve, a reporter-researcher at the magazine (we're not sure what that job entails; possibly writing e-mails to Jason Zengerle) draws the short straw on this one, but she seems happy to do it. She considers Ann Coulter some sort of feminist icon, the rare woman who "doesn't turn into a pile of stuttering mush when an interview turns to her body." Forgetting for the moment that Ann Coulter's appearance was the main reason she was ever put in a position to pontificate on television in the first place, we can think of plenty of American females who show outsized confidence and refuse to crumble when confronted about their appearance. Some of them even report from war zones. You could google it.
Reeve, while conceding that Ann "has said some terrible things," argues that it's not what she's said that upsets people, it's that the things that she says are so true. (Which, we guess, doesn't make them so terrible after all.) She provides a few examples.
Asked to define the First Amendment: "An excuse for overweight women to dance in pasties and The New York Times to commit treason." Just completely terrible, I know. But I have to admit, I giggled—having recently covered a pro-choice rally where I interviewed a very nice young woman whose nipples were covered by NARAL stickers.
Well, sure, the most important part of our Constitution and one of the founding precepts of our democracy does seem kind of laughable when you consider the fact that a girl you once interviewed might dress provocatively. We hear Daniel Ellsberg wore a Speedo every now and again as well. Fuck the First Amendment.
Chris Matthews asked: "How do you know that Bill Clinton's gay?" Coulter, who had earlier said the former president had exhibited some "latent homosexuality," gestured casually from behind her sunglasses. "Ah, no, he may not be gay. But Al Gore? Total fag." OK, that one really is indefensible. Because gratuitous gay jokes have, um, no precedent in pop culture whatsoever. I admit it, I snickered.
Jeez, Elspeth, the laughs keep coming, don't they? We're fond of the gratuitous gay joke ourselves, and, heck, that's just Ann being Ann. Plus, if we focus on the joke we can forget about the whole thing where Ann seriously contended that gayness was a form of narcissism. Moving on.
On the BBC show "Newsnight," Jeremy Paxman asked Coulter if she'd like to withdraw her infamous statements about the September 11 widows. (If you've been living in a spiderhole, she called the more politically inclined among them "broads".) "No, I think you can save all the would-you-like-to-withdraw questions, but you could quote me accurately. I didn't write about the 9/11 widows. I wrote about four widows cutting campaign commercials for John Kerry and using the fact that their husbands died on 9/11 to prevent anyone from responding," she said. The thing is ... it's kind of true. A little. It is a little absurd to hold up a person as an expert judge of the 9/11 Commission Report, for example, just because she lost a loved one.
Okay, we happen to agree with this one: It is completely ridiculous to consider someone an expert on terrorism or policy because they lost a husband or close friend in a terrorist attack. What's that? One more? Okay.
Writing about her friend's death on September 11, she finished her essay with, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." Wow, that's pretty indefensible. The United States could never—would never—do such a thing. Instead, we've invaded their countries, killed their leaders, and are desperately trying to convert them to secularism. (It's not like mullahs appreciate the difference.)
And there you have it: This is our favorite excuse for Ann's "terrible" behavior. Because Ann Coulter predicted and reflects the misguided policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of our troops and our worldwide loss of respect, she's somehow absolved from advocating those policies (the same ones, which, by the way, TNR did.)
Finally, Reeve offers the most desperate defense: Liberals hate Ann Coulter because they're secretly attracted to her. "She makes nice liberals think bad thoughts—particularly about whether they would have sex with her." Well, to be honest, we'd have to say that "sex with Ann Coulter" is right up there on the list of things we consider "bad thoughts," but we'd just be falling into Reeve's trap, right? Still, when the best you can do is say that people hate Ann Coulter because she's pretty, you're not really making an argument, are you? You're just spouting unsupportable accusations designed to shut the other person up.
Wow. Sort of reminds us of someone.
A defense of Ann Coulter [TNR, r/r]