It seems strange to say that Ann Coulter is underrated. Every book she writes is a bestseller — her new one, Demonic, is no exception. When she’s on tour, you can barely turn on a TV or radio without seeing her face, hearing her voice. I was in a restaurant with her once and she was so swamped with admiring members of the public I felt like I was part of a movie star’s entourage. (I don’t really do entourages, but if I had to be part of one, I was glad it was hers.) All the same, I don’t think she gets the respect she deserves.
I don’t expect anyone to give her the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer is one of those prizes liberals give to other liberals so they can call each other “prize-winning.” It’s appalling, however, that in a country where a blithering bomb-throwing hack like Paul Krugman is given an ongoing column in a prominent former newspaper, Coulter is considered too incendiary to have a mainstream column of her own. Her weekly piece online is routinely so witty, slashing and packed with information that it makes even some of the best newspaper columns look like pretty weak sauce in comparison.
I know a lot of serious conservative journalists who haven’t read Coulter or who talk about her work as if it weren’t quite the thing. She’s another one of those pundit babes on Fox News, isn’t she? — all right, maybe the Mother of all Pundit Babes — but not someone you actually take the time to read, doncha know. I haven’t seen a single review of Demonic in a major Old Media outlet. I can’t find one in a Google search either. It reminds me of the experience I had many years ago when I stumbled on the work of a rising pop novelist named Stephen King. For years, I went around telling my intellectual friends that King was something new and fresh on the writing scene. For years, they went around calling him “post-literate,” or “sub-literate,” until the sheer inventive power of his prose overcame their snobbery.
When Ann Coulter is good — and I think Demonic is one of her best — she is doing something special and doing it at a level that makes her unique. It’s not just the heavyweight research or the fearless disdain for received opinion. Her flexible, sardonic, rigorous and unabashedly jokey prose creates an iconic voice that humanizes her polemic and compels you to engage with her specific and original worldview. People are wont to say off-handedly “you either love her or hate her,” but they don’t seem to understand that that’s a writerly achievement of the first water.
Demonic makes an argument more complex than her other books. Books like Slander and Treason tended to marshal legions of facts and examples in support of ideas like “the mainstream media lie,” or “liberals are unpatriotic.” Demonic revives the 19th century science of “crowd psychology,” and argues that left-wing politics descends from the brutal and ultimately enslaving mob madness of the French Revolution whereas conservatives have inherited the mantle of the American founders, who feared the mob above all. The book operates like a prosecutor building a case and even at its most one-sided, is often scarily convincing. The chapters in Part III on violence are brilliant. Had I hair, it would’ve stood on end.
Coulter has her weaknesses, of course. She tends to bark “yes,” the moment the mainstream media say “no,” which will only lead you to the truth about 90 percent of the time. She can go off on tangents (though she doesn’t here). And her take-no-prisoners style… well, takes no prisoners, which isn’t always the surest path to argumentative victory.
But she is, I’m convinced, one of the essayists of the day, possibly of the age, and some of her writing will be taught in schools long after the work of more sober and “respectable” journalists is forgotten.