Slander Liberal Lies About the American Right by Ann Coulter Crown, 256 pp., $25.95 WHILE ON A TOUR of Monticello as vice president, Al Gore examined busts of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and asked the curator, "Who are these people?" A single newspaper reported Gore's embarrassing ignorance. Meanwhile when presidential candidate George W. Bush was unable to name the leaders of four nations in a reporter's pop quiz, it was a topic of media concern for weeks. Ann Coulter's latest book, "Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right," is rich with delightfully revealing comparisons like this one, compiled to expose the liberal media's double standard when it comes to matters of left and right. Following in the wake of Bernard Goldberg's bestselling "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News"--and broadening its scope to include the New York Times, Democrats, and liberals generally--"Slander" studies how the American left undermines the seriousness of our political debates. Political discourse just isn't what it used to be. To make their case for constitutional ratification in the late 1700s, the Federalists wrote the series of newspaper columns that became the Federalist Papers. Compare that with the New York Times op-ed--cited by Coulter--that Democrat strategists James Carville and Paul Begala penned soon after Senator James Jeffords abandoned the Republican party last May. After saying that Jeffords "spoke powerful truths about the truly radical nature of what President Bush is trying to achieve," Carville and Begala urged Democrats to call Bush a "radical." If it meant saving children from being poisoned by arsenic and the nation from having "an emasculated national government" (courtesy of the Bush tax cut) for years to come, Democrats should "obstruct" the president's legislation. Bush's initiatives were, in a word, "dangerous." Besides name-calling--"radical," "Nazi," "homophobe"--dismissing conservatives and Republicans as "stupid" is a favorite liberal method of attack. "Stupid," Coulter points out, "is a fine word, but not for twenty-five Republican presidential candidates in a row." The slight of course has been directed at George W. Bush, but it was also used against Ronald Reagan and suggested of Dwight D. Eisenhower. While they malign "dumb" conservatives, liberal media excuse Democrats' poor showing with voters. During the 2000 campaign Al Gore was "too smart for [his] own good" (as the Los Angeles Times explained), a man impatient "with those a few IQ points short of genius" (as the Bloomberg news service insisted). This praise seems excessive for a man who had bungled the national motto, misquoted the Bible, and called a song written when he was twenty-seven a childhood lullaby. "If liberals were prevented from ever again calling Republicans dumb, they would be robbed of half their arguments," Coulter writes. "The 'you're stupid' riposte is part of the larger liberal tactic of refusing to engage ideas." Liberals fear such engagement, she believes, because they "have been wrong about everything in the last half century." As another strategy for avoiding real argument, liberals have over the years invented an imaginary foe, the Religious Right. To label people as being from the Religious Right is to immediately mark them extremists. But as Coulter lays out in an especially impressive chapter, "Shadowboxing the Apocryphal 'Religious Right,'" this amorphous movement doesn't exist. First, she argues, for being a supposed political behemoth, the Religious Right is, effectively, leaderless. Of the four frequently named "Religious Right" leaders--Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan--three have made separate runs for the presidency. In years they haven't run, they have often supported different candidates. Another reason to question the status of the Religious Right as a movement is that many of those who are Christian and conservative, criteria that seem to grant provisional membership in the "movement," deny being part of it. Liberal snobbery, which despises conservatives who let moral beliefs slip into their politics, is clearly seen in the popular vilification of Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly. Paying a long-overdue tribute to Schlafly, Coulter measures her accomplishments side by side with those of leftist darling Gloria Steinem to show why liberals are wrong to hold up Steinem--a "deeply ridiculous individual who succeeded as a journalist only by becoming the news"--as a heroine. Author of at least ten books, all of them serious, holder of two graduate degrees, and leader of a major political movement in the 1970s, Schlafly exemplifies female achievement in twentieth-century America. Coulter defends her side well in "Slander." What she doesn't do is advance the debate all that far. Liberal media bias and liberal politicians' hysteria-mongering about everything Republican are old news. They may well be what keeps our politics at the grade-school level. But books like "Slander" lift it only to junior high school. Still, Coulter's work does serve as an important counterweight to such books as Michael Moore's recent anti-Bush screed, "Stupid White Men." Conservatives can use a weapon like "Slander," for it offers them innumerable examples of liberal gaffes to use as ammunition when liberals start slinging mud. Beth Henary is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.
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