The XX Factor

Ann Coulter Is Not a Satirist

Sorry, guys. She means it.

Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

Ann Coulter is unlike nearly every conservative pundit out there. She breaks with the tradition of shouty demagoguery, favoring instead a pose of serene detachment rooted in an endless ability to be pleased with herself for pissing off the liberals. Unlike many of her compatriots on the right, Coulter is unburdened by concerns that liberals are passing judgment. Call her a racist, and she’ll shrug in delight instead of throwing a tantrum of “nuh-uhs” and “you’re the real racist!” She makes sinking to the bottom look like floating above it all, which maddens her critics and delights her fans.

Because of all this, it’s awfully tempting to believe, as Chris Sosa at Salon does, that Coulter is a satirist who is mocking our entire system of political discourse and who has no political views of her own other than a loathing for her fellow Americans with their relentlessly tiresome belief that the world of politics matters. Calling her act a “charade” and a form of “satire,” Sosa argues that “Ann Coulter had found the perfect recipe: treating news spaces as comedy platforms where she could deliberately make ridiculous statements to infuriate liberals who would be too dense to notice what was going on.”

Presumably, then, her schtick is to voice opinions that are so ridiculous that the thought that any liberal would take them seriously, would think people on the right actually believed that stuff, would make us laugh. If so, that would be a wonderful bit of comedy. Unfortunately, that theory only works if the conservatives in the audience are in on the joke. But, as Sosa admits, they are not, because “her performance requires equal condescension to conservatives,” exploiting their apparent agreement with the hateful things she says to sell books and get speaking gigs at conservative functions. If the joke is that it’s stupid to think anyone would be as cruel as Coulter, then it’s a very bad joke, as clearly millions of Coulter fans are exactly as cruel and reactionary as she portrays them.

Coulter did time in the trenches as an actual conservative lawyer and activist who sincerely worked hard to destroy Bill Clinton for purely ideological reasons. Considering that, I think that the mainstream take on her is accurate: She’s a reactionary whose utter indifference to what others think of her has created a niche for saying the horrible things that others are thinking but are afraid to say. Accepting that may not make one superior by dint of your extreme cynicism, but it has the benefit of being the most likely explanation.

Not that Sosa is wrong to think Coulter is pulling a fast one. She is, but not because she’s a satirist. She’s a different kind of animal, a plain old charlatan, willing to say or do anything in order to get you to buy her book. The shoddy research in her books is not proof of some kind of Andy Kaufman–style performance art. It is simply evidence that she’s willing to lie to her audience in order to sell more books. The Ayn Randian “every man for himself” philosophy that guides the modern right means that even exploiting your ideological brethren for profit is acceptable behavior. That’s how megachurch pastors peddling miracles and conservative publishers selling snake oil sleep at night. Conservatives have figured out how to bilk the rubes while also organizing the rubes for political gain. That’s Coulter’s genius, and we should respect her work for what it actually is.