Civil Liberties



History Lesson

Nick Gillespie writes, "The system that delivers greater material wealth and greater personal freedom will triumph" ("Life After 9/11," October). That statement ignores history. Rome would still be an empire, and there would have been no Middle Ages. The Mongols would never have prevailed in China, and certainly there never would have been pyramids of skulls stacked by Tamarlane's troops around old Baghdad. Nor would there have been Mogul rulers in India.

Matt Ryan
Bremerton, WA

Nick Gillespie replies: I wouldn't go overboard in attributing too much personal freedom or material wealth to Rome and the others Matt Ryan mentions; these were societies in which a few people enjoyed virtually all of whatever political and economic privileges existed. Such inequality still describes too much of the Islamic world, in marked contrast to the modern West, in which civil liberties and high standards of living are widespread.

You Go, Girl

Cathy Seipp's "You've Lost Your Way, Baby" (October) is exceptional. As a man and a feminist, I find Seipp brings candor, clarity, and responsibility to the dreadful plight of contemporary feminism. Progress has been made, but equality is still lacking. The movement has rutted itself on trivial issues, or, worse, as Seipp eloquently argues, put other issues before their own, as in the case of the mighty O.J. Simpson.

Nathan P. Blouin
Boston, MA

I take Seipp's fundamental conclusion to be that leftist feminists who equate the U.S. war against the Taliban with neocolonial imperialism need to take stock of their values and get a grip. I agree, but I wonder if there isn't more to this gender story.

Among the heroes of Flight 93 was Mark Bingham, an openly gay man (for whom residents of the Castro in San Francisco have recently renamed one of the neighborhood gyms, incidentally). Was he one of the "manly men" applauded by conservatives? Why hasn't his name enjoyed the widespread recognition of Todd "Let's Roll" Beamer? Why has 9/11 resulted in a reassertion of "traditional" gender roles?

An alternative view of the gender dynamics of 9/11 might go something like this: Sure, there are a few wacky leftist feminists out there, but the majority of socially liberal Americans embraced the flag quite deeply following 9/11. It became "acceptable" for Democrats, Greens, liberals, gays, women, and others to celebrate the flag in a way unseen for over 30 years—for some, never before. The social left had an opportunity to shape the narrative of this event, to show that social progress for women is a defining characteristic in American society, in contradistinction to the societies of the Taliban and Saudi Arabia.

But political entrepreneurs on the right (read: socially conservative Christians) have hijacked (pardon the pun) the cultural imagery of September 11 to promote an atavistic social vision of "manly men" and of women who shouldn't complain too loudly—they don't have to wear burqas, after all. While the objective facts of the 9/11 tableau include gay Mark Bingham and female Condi Rice, conservatives have whitewashed the narrative of its gay and female characteristics. Pace Ann Coulter, the right, using the bully pulpit and the literal Christian pulpit, plays a large role in defining the terrain of the culture wars, especially in times of war and crisis. And it has used 9/11 as an opportunity to promote their familiar ideal, the 1950s nuclear family with defined gender roles and identities.

In other words, I think the real story is the inability of the moderate, socially liberal left to define the gender narrative of 9/11. People should be up in arms that the radical-minority left—i.e., Noam Chomsky, Susan Sontag, et al.—have been allowed to serve as the voice of anyone to the left of George W. Bush. A real political discourse on these issues would require a more, well, representative representative from the left.

J. P. Gownder
Boston, MA

Coulter Club

The thing that bothers me about Sara Rimensnyder ("Bitch Goddess," October) and others who are intimidated by Ann Coulter is that they always take the things she says out of context.

For example: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." The ignorant and leftists—who are generally one and the same—would assume that Ann is a freak maniac who wants to kill, kill, kill. Rimensnyder knows damned well why she said it and to whom she was referring. Why did she not mention that?

And even though she doesn't crucify Coulter like the folks on the left who are the recipients of her merciless truth, Rimensnyder does tend to send a message that Ann is a little crazy, which we know is not so.

I attribute a lot of the attacks on Ann to people who are not used to being beaten over the head with her comedic honesty, not to mention jealousy of her success. Screw 'em.

I do have to say that Rimensnyder's line, "Indeed, her eyes fairly dance when she's challenged—though somewhat maniacally, as if she were reaching for her machete," cracked me up. I still have tears in my eyes picturing it.

Neil A. Runyon
Katy, TX

Thanks for the wonderful piece on Ann Coulter. It is no part of a satire to ask searching questions about a subject, of course, but it would sure be interesting to know what happened to Coulter in the last year. Perhaps it is a case of easy fame and fortune corrupting what was once an able and interesting writer.

For Coulter does have brains. I do not know where she finished in her law school class at Michigan, but it must have been high to obtain a federal clerkship. Her campaign tormenting Bill Clinton over the Paula Jones matter was a masterpiece of legal strategy. Her use of the 19th-century Hayes-Tilden election laws was brilliantly conceived and almost became the basis of the Supreme Court's opinion in Bush v. Gore. Prior to the National Review affair, her articles for Human Events were lengthy and sporadically insightful rambles about everything from the nature of reality to why she couldn't get a decent date.

Then her articles dropped to one short, well-edited but sterile rant per week, her television interviews became ever more confrontational and superficial, and she merged almost completely into her telebimbo persona.

Maybe if her book stops selling or she develops a bad case of acne, she could be persuaded to give up her day job as a stand-up comic and go back to real writing and real thinking. It is probably hard to do that, though, when your shtick as a national dartboard figure is playing so well.

John Mack
New London, MN

The ad hominem attack on Ann Coulter in "Bitch Goddess" is so over the top and out of character with what I've come to expect from reason that I just have to wonder what's going on.

Rimensnyder obviously has personal issues with Coulter. She calls her a "hilariously shrill" TV pundit, an "inveterate nest fouler," and the "queen" of "the kingdom of snark." Her "large floating head" (displayed in the accompanying photo) seems "designed to double as a dartboard." Wow!

Was this supposed to qualify as a book review? I can't tell because it's so "hilariously shrill."

Jon A. Longerbone
Laguna Niguel, CA

Coulter's post-9/11 "infamous foreign policy suggestion" would have been infamous if it were a policy suggestion, but of course it was no such thing. Coulter frequently makes her point using rhetorical exaggeration. She's a writer to take seriously but not always literally. The same can be said of H.L. Mencken, Thomas Wolfe, and even Molly Ivins on the other side of the fence. When H.L. Mencken recommended that civilization send missionaries to "Darkest Arkansas," was that a "domestic policy suggestion"?

Look at it this way: I suppose it's possible that Ann Coulter was earnestly advancing a proposal to simultaneously invade 20 nations and then present the entire Muslim world with the choice of the cross or the sword. But somehow I doubt it.

It seems, rather, just barely possible that the fault lies in your reviewer's flat, literal reading of Coulter. The reasonable conclusion is not that Ann Coulter is an infamous warmonger but that Sara Rimensnyder is (at least in this instance) a "tone-deaf" reader.

Finally, does your assistant editor really think Coulter's book sales depend primarily on those who "have the pleasure of hating her"? I and many others bought and read Slander because we love Ann Coulter. And we love her because she smites the Philistines, hip and thigh.

Steve Smith
Kirksville, MO

Sara Rimensnyder replies: Whether you like Ann Coulter and her inflammatory M.O. is largely a matter of taste and, to some degree, politics. But that wasn't the focus of my article, which was not a review of Slander. I wanted to dissect (and yes, lampoon) the spectacle Coulter so successfully creates with her bomb-throwing rhetorical style. It thrills her fans and her opponents—all the while bringing out their worst.

Tongue in cheek, I suggested that Coulter's worst enemies are the ones who keep her book atop the bestseller list. This was intended to illustrate my belief that people who dislike her may get the most pleasure of all from her performance. As I said in the piece, everybody loves a straw man to make them feel better, smarter, and righter—whether or not they actually buy her book.

To Steve Smith and others who were irritated that I don't get Coulter's jokes, believe me, I empathize.