Advertisement

McCarthy in a mini

Jacob Heilbrunn is an editorial writer for The Times.

Ann Coulter is a trailblazer. In the 1990s, she paved the way for a bevy of blond, leggy Torquemadas in miniskirts to earn notoriety on television by denouncing feminists and Bill Clinton. “It’s enough” to be impeached, she declared in her 1998 bestseller “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “for the president to be a pervert.” Now that George Bush is president, she’s widened her assault on liberalism to include the last 50 years of American history. Her aim is to depict not simply Clinton but liberals generally as traitors. The result is “Treason.”

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, much new scholarship has detailed the role of American Communists and fellow travelers who spied for the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. To some extent, it has amounted to a dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s when it comes to the likes of Alger Hiss or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, for example, have confirmed that the American Communist Party really was, as Theodore Draper argued decades ago, largely the creature of Moscow. In “The Haunted Wood,” Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev offered juicy tidbits about pro-Soviet aides to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Anyway, as George F. Kennan observed in his memoirs, the Roosevelt administration was unconscionably lax in ferreting out members and agents of the Communist Party who had entered government, but the problem was largely corrected by the late 1940s.

But Coulter, whose Web site displays a photo of her aiming a rifle from a back porch, will have none of this. Her farrago of a book pilfers the latest scholarship in the hopes of creating some shock and awe about an immense liberal conspiracy that has functioned since the Roosevelt administration to paralyze the United States. Whether her latest exercise in self-promotion will create either is another question.

In outlining the liberal web of deceit, Coulter seeks to revive the charges that the right made against Harry S. Truman and advisors such as Secretary of State Dean Acheson during the early years of the Cold War. Richard Nixon denounced the State Department as “Dean Acheson’s cowardly college of communist containment.” Sen. William E. Jenner damned Acheson as the “Communist-appeasing, Communist-protecting betrayer of America” who had lost China to the Reds.

Advertisement

But no one of course was a greater enemy of Truman than Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Central to Coulter’s case is that McCarthy had it right. Drawing on Arthur Herman’s fanciful biography, “Joseph McCarthy,” Coulter dispenses with any pretense of scholarly throat-clearing and objectivity to announce that “The myth of ‘McCarthyism’ is the greatest Orwellian fraud of our times. The portrayal of Senator Joe McCarthy as a wild-eyed demagogue destroying innocent lives is sheer liberal hobgoblinism.” Far from cowering in fear from McCarthy, liberals were besmirching his name and wrecking the ability of the nation to defend itself from the traitors who had infiltrated the government. Hiss is thus trotted out as Exhibit A of liberal perfidy -- as though anyone but a few hapless souls still cling to the belief in his rectitude. (Incidentally, Coulter grossly inflates his importance in the State Department hierarchy, comparing his position to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz’s, when he was, in fact, one of a number of assistants.)

In her zeal to revive the passions of a bygone era, Coulter dilates upon her contempt for the patrician types like Acheson with his British suits and mannerisms, claiming that they had an XXY chromosome anomaly that led to overt treason. “Angry ethnics,” she says, “like Joe McCarthy made much better Americans.” Even McCarthy’s drunkenness is adduced as a sign of his virility in contrast to Democratic effeminacy: “After a solid night of drinking, McCarthy still was never at a loss for a clever comeback.”

Jews, like Army Capt. Irving Peress, dubbed the “pink dentist” by McCarthy, don’t fare much better at Coulter’s hands: "[N]eedless to say, the scrawny pinko was also a failure as a soldier.” By the time Coulter is done, Peress and the Rosenbergs are responsible for the gulag and the Soviet nuclear threat. Coulter’s less than charitable streak also manifests itself when she refers to an alleged Soviet operative named William Remington, who, we are told, was “later killed with a bar of soap in prison by a patriotic inmate.” Perhaps the most bizarre passages in Coutler’s book are about a harmless black code clerk named Annie Lee Moss, who worked in the Pentagon. According to Coulter, “Moss played the fool when she testified before McCarthy’s committee.” Moss said there were other people named Annie Lee Moss in the Washington phonebook. Coulter declares that at most there was an Anna Lee Moss and an Annie Moss as well, constituting irrefragable evidence that “the poor put-upon washwoman was lying.”

Beyond Coulter’s bargain-basement attempt at aping McCarthy is the problem that the right was MIA before and even after World War II when it came to communism. The GOP was isolationist. Kennan sounded the alarm about Moscow’s global ambitions. Truman launched the Cold War against the express objections of the leader, mind you, of the Republican Party, Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft, who inveighed against foreign entanglements as the road to a corrupt American empire. Does he count as a traitor as well?

Advertisement

By the time she’s reached the present, Coulter has drawn a straight line from Roosevelt’s perfidy to the flaccidity of liberals in confronting Islamic totalitarianism. "[W]hen confronted with terrorists who despised both America and the Jews,” she writes, “there was no doubt whose side the left would take.” Hold on there, Ann. What about Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman, who have decamped from the left to their own brand of neoconservatism to support the war in Iraq? Given the scope of the conspiracy Coulter purports to have uncovered, it is amazing that the United States not only won the Cold War but also remains the most powerful nation in the world.

Coulter’s latest jeremiad is occasioning much tut-tutting in conservative circles. Coulter, you might say, is the alter-Iago of the movement. After Sept. 11, she was disbarred from the National Review for calling for a crusade to convert the Muslim world forcibly to Christianity. Now, Andrew Sullivan and others detect someone giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Her unhinged attack, so the thinking goes, plays into liberal stereotypes about conservatives. The real traitor, it seems, is Coulter! But conservatives may be being a little coy in piously distancing themselves; it was Sullivan, after all, who warned of a potential “Fifth Column” in the ranks of what he called “the decadent left” on both coasts after Sept. 11. Sullivan may have regained his senses, but when it comes to Coulter, what else is new? Coulter’s true cause isn’t conservatism but something different. In accusing almost everyone else of treason, Coulter has remained loyal to one thing: herself.


Advertisement