Coulterized Conservatives?

Cross posted to Right Shelf.

Without getting into the whole Ann Coulter good or bad debate, or the state of conservative publishing, I wanted to note Tim Noah’s lame piece in Slate on conservative authors. Noah’s basic theory is that the problems of the Bush administration is causing conservatives to writer like Ann Coulter – i.e. “outrageous views” and “poisonous rhetoric.”

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.

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.

Noah then goes on to attack Jonah Goldberg and Dinesh D’Souza for giving into this “pump up the volume” tendency.

First, it is worth pointing out that conservatives obviously don’t believe that their ideas are bankrupt but that GOP politicians have failed to implement them. And they are not shy about proclaiming this: Imposter, The K Street Gang, Buck Wild, Conservatism Betrayed, etc.

Second, just like the left with Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death, Noah is using publicity material as a basis for ignoring the arguments behind these books. Rather than write a substantive response to the book, Noah just takes snarky swipes at conservatives without having to read their arguments.

Noah would like to pretend that a provocative subject with some pointed marketing material is the same thing as cranking out partisan hackery and right-wing red meat for cable gab fest viewers just for the sake of cashing in on the Coulter bandwagon. Maybe the ad campaign is an attempt to get readers interested and that the actual arguments made in the books are more detailed and serious then the book flap copy?

Obviously, I am biased. As a conservative I am more likely to give these books a hearing. Plus, I consider Jonah a friend and am looking forward to his book in particular. But I am not afraid to call them like I see them (see this review of Coulter for example) and I certainly am not a fan of publishing lightweight but over-heated rhetoric books just to “fire up the base” and sell a lot of copies.

I also think there is plenty of evidence that Jonah’s book is not just another piece of hack work. If he wanted to cash in he could have easily just thrown together a collection of his G-file columns and been done with it. Instead, he is working on real intellectual history. I think his argument deserves to be heard before it is dismissed. Is it provocative? Yes, but I also think it is interesting and worth thinking about:

Since the rise and fall of the Nazis in the midtwentieth century, fascism has been seen as an extreme right-wing phenomenon. Liberals have kept that assumption alive, hurling accusations of fascism at their conservative opponents. LIBERAL FASCISM offers a startling new perspective on the theories and practices that define fascist politics. Replacing conveniently manufactured myths with surprising and enlightening research, Jonah Goldberg shows that the original fascists were really on the Left and that liberals, from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton, have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler’s National Socialism.

If Noah has arguments and history to rebut Goldberg’s book, more power to him – I would certainly be interested in reading opposing views. But snarky dismissals of the Coulterization of conservatives don’t carry much weight. Given his history, I won’t hold my breath.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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