Coulter, sweetly disemboweling the left wing

Posted: July 30, 2003

WASHINGTON — The first thing that strikes you is how very merry she is.

You expect cutting wit and an air of hauteur from the woman who's been called a banshee, Annthrax, and the Sexy Queen of Conservative Mean.

But here is Ann Coulter, fresh from a lecture and book-signing, sipping a glass of Diet Coke in a quiet conference room and exuding not venom and hatred but sunshine and light.

So fine-boned and slender she almost disappears when viewed sideways, she's all glowing tan and shiny blond mane. A diamond tennis bracelet twinkles on her right arm. Her pale blue-gray eyes sparkle. With a smile she says no, she doesn't write to shock.

"That's just an incidental benefit," she notes cheerfully, during what her publicist reckons is Coulter's 180th interview to promote her latest work of political provocation, Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism.

She's wearing a cropped jacket and a form-fitting spaghetti-strapped dress cut to her signature micro-mini length. ("Skirts so short you can see her brains," a Salon wag wrote of her wardrobe.)

It's an outfit that would look absurd on most women of 39 (by her account) or 41 (according to her voter registration record). But it flatters Coulter, who lacks thighs and wrinkles and could pass for a mid-20s grad student.

She grew up conservative in New Canaan, Conn., and says she's been direct and opinionated her entire life.

"I have friends I went to summer camp with who say I haven't changed in that respect. I've always talked this way, and I always will." And how she talks is how she writes.

It works for her.

Despite being almost universally panned, Treason ($26.95, Crown Forum) is a best-seller - her third, after last year's Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right and 1998's High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton.

"Everyone says liberals love America, too. No they don't," she writes, in the first paragraph of Treason.

"Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy. This is their essence. The left's obsession with the crimes of the West and their Rousseauian respect for Third World savages all flow from this subversive goal. If anyone has the gaucherie to point out the left's nearly unblemished record of rooting against America, liberals turn around and scream, 'McCarthyism!' "

Critics have savaged Treason as "the latest in a long line of name-calling, right-wing conspiracist tracts" (Sam Tanenhaus, Slate) and "a grown-up version of nah nah nah nah nah nah" (Anna Quindlen, Newsweek).

"Like her idol, Sen. [Joseph] McCarthy, she's a demagogue who takes pleasure pulling the wings off butterflies and insulting anyone who says a word against her," Jesse Kornbluth wrote at bookreporter.com.

About the only person with a kind word has been fringe pundit Pat Buchanan, who called the book "brave" and its author "gutsy."

Elsewhere on the right, the Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz dubbed Coulter "the Maureen Dowd of the conservatives," and Andrew Sullivan, on his Web log, called Coulter and leftist Michael Moore "hucksters of ideological hate" who "deserve each other."

Coulter professes delight.

"I've managed to turn Maureen Dowd and Michael Moore into insults in just three weeks," she says with a grin. "I'd say that's an accomplishment."

Coulter insists she would have been disappointed if reviews had been less than scathing. When she told her pal, Internet chronicler Matt Drudge, that she was writing a spirited defense of Joseph McCarthy, he tried to discourage her, she says.

After all, the ex-Marine known as Tailgunner Joe, a Wisconsin Republican who died in 1957, is remembered almost half a century later as a grandstanding crackpot who accused innocents of Communist tendencies and launched an era of Red-baiting hysteria that made his name a synonym for smear.

"Drudge predicted my publisher would refuse to print the book and my agent would drop me," Coulter says. When neither happened, she called to gloat. "His reaction was, 'Maybe it's not that good a book.' "

Coulter laughs. "When even conservatives started attacking me, I thought, fine. Now I can tell Drudge, 'See, it really is that good.' "

A syndicated columnist and guest on talk shows from Hardball to Larry King Live, Coulter is one of the so-called stiletto conservatives - a reference to high heels, not weaponry.

The group includes commentators Laura Ingraham, Monica Crowley and Kellyanne Fitzpatrick - detractors call them "fembots" and "leggy blond pundettes." Young conservative women adore them - especially Coulter, whose standard speaking fee is $10,000 and who is in frequent demand on college campuses.

On Friday, Coulter addressed several hundred women at a luncheon of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute in the Republican National Committee's stately Capitol Hill Club. She began by saying that normally half her audience consisted of "angry leftists with placards."

She herself graduated with honors from Cornell University ("I went there a casual conservative and left a violent one," she jokes). Then it was on to the University of Michigan Law School and clerking for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge. After private practice in New York, where she still maintains an apartment, she came to D.C. and worked for the Senate Judiciary Committee, then the public-interest law firm called Center for Individual Rights.

Now she's on a podium decrying liberals who counseled restraint after 9/11.

"The argument went: If we respond to fanatics who seek our destruction, they might get mad and seek our destruction," Coulter says.

She's been accused of generalizing, Coulter tells the crowd, but generalities are often self-evident truths. For example: "It is generally cold in the winter. A Jennifer Lopez movie is generally pointless."

Her barbs sometimes cause jaws to drop, as happened last month on Good Morning America. Diane Sawyer mentioned that Coulter would be "slugging it out with Hillary Clinton" on best-seller lists and asked, "Who is going to win?"

"Umm, well, I think she has a 3-to-1 pound advantage over me, but we will see," the whippet-thin scribbler answered, rendering Sawyer temporarily speechless. Later, Coulter said she was referring to the heft of Clinton's book.

After wrapping her speech, Coulter says in the interview that she's been researching McCarthy since college and has concluded that "McCarthyism" is nothing but a myth.

Liberals who hide behind the word, Coulter says, "have gotten away with portraying the worst communists as lovable humanists, no more threatening than vegetarians."

Outside, waiting for a car that will ferry her to a banquet and her next speaking engagement, she catches the eye of a young man with a basket of laundry.

She's a single woman with an active social life (Bob Guccione Jr. is among her former beaus), and she tells the guy flirtatiously that it's nice to see a man who does his own wash. He stops. They chat.

The woman described by critics as "daft," "an intentional liar and an incompetent writer," and "the unvarnished id of American conservatism," is already planning her next book.

She has no interest in running for political office, ever. "I wouldn't even think of it," she says. "It would be a bore."

Contact staff writer Beth Gillin at bgillin@phillynews.com or 215-854-2917.

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