If you’re wondering why only a small handful of prominent conservatives and Republicans have publicly criticized Ann Coulter, the answer is simple: Most of them agree with her, and the ones who don’t are still happy to have her on their side.
Coulter is what right-wingers are all about, you see. They are constantly attacking, rather like those genetically engineered super-soldiers you see in bad science fiction movies. Getting the basic facts right means nothing to them. No one seriously believes, for example, that Coulter’s arguments about evolution are the result of a detailed consideration of the basic facts of biology. It’s not as if she engaged in some sort of point-counterpoint situation, where she attempted to marshall the best arguments being made by both sides. Arguments are not her stock-in-trade. Talking points are. Indeed, book like Coulter’s do not exist to be read, considered, and learned from. They exist solely so that political chat shows will have an excuse to invite her on.
And the Republican party is fine with that. Careful logic and nuanced argumentation are foreign to them. Domestically they care about exactly three things: Cutting taxes for wealthy people, Dismantling the New Deal, and Persuading simple-minded people that they care about anything else. As a friend of mine put it to me recently, if the Republicans suddenly discovered that it was politically expedient to be pro-choice on abortion, they would not only change their party platform, they would fan out to the talk shows to explain that actually it’s the Democrats who were the pro-life party all along. (And the media would lap it up, but that’s a different post).
The thoughtless, knee-jerk reaction is, “The left does it do!” But they don’t. They’re not even close. If you go to the darkest corners of the blogosphere you might be able to find some obscure Marxist bomb-thrower who engages in Coulterian tactics. But those parts of the left that have any power within the Democratic party don’t do anything close to what Coulter does. Can you name any left-wing pundit who writes books in which virtually every major assertion is flatly false (which is par for the course for right-wing stars like Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage,…)? Michael Moore? Nope. Aside from the fact that he’s perfectly happy to bash Democrats, the worst he can be accused of is slanting the evidence. Al Franken? Please. Point out even one major error of fact in any of his recent books.
Where do conservatives thrive? Think tanks, cable news, partisan media outlets, the Bible belt. Why do you think conservatives tend not to fare well in academe? Because academe is one of the few environments left in this country where knowing what you are talking about and making a sound argument actually count for something. Think about what college professors do to earn their positions. They spend years of their lives living in near-poverty, obsessively studying their discipline, just to get a credential (a PhD) that will give them a shot at having a career in the subject. Until they establish themselves in their career, they are constantly judged by people who know every nuance of the subjects in question. In that environment, superficiality, mindless talking points, and bad arguments are ruthlessly stamped out. And since most of the things Republicans defend nowadays fall into those categories, it is not surprising that they don’t survive.
But maybe you’re one of those smart conservatives I keep hearing about. The ones who don’t despise science, who do care about learning the facts about things before mouthing off, and who have actual principles that lead them to vote for Republicans. To them I say that you are a small minority within modern conservatism generally. You provide the same aid and comfort to the crazies that many moderate religious people provide for the fundamentalists. When you vote for Republicans you are supporting the Coulters and the Hannitys. It’s that simple.
And why is it that it is Coulter you see on television discussing biology, and not an actual bioloigist? Why is Coulter’s book a bestseller, while a book presenting the actual facts of biology would struggle to find a mainstream publisher? Because there are far more people who want the watered down, prejudice-affirming version of reality than who want the real thing. In the end, Coulter, and the success of brain-dead conservatism generally, are mere symptoms. The disease is the large number of ignorant, simple-minded people who can’t distinguish between Coulter and reality.