I don't understand people who feel the need to insist that it's categorically impossible for someone like Ann Coulter to be a serious influence on our political life, but here's Jacob Heilbrunn, in this weekend's New York Times Book Review, making the case while reviewing recent anti-Coulter books by Susan Estrich and two other authors:
...Estrich is herself confusing ubiquity with actual influence, constantly asserting but never demonstrating that Coulter actually wields political power.... The truth is that unlike Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly, Coulter cannot mobilize millions of listeners and viewers each day.
Er, let's see: Coulter has attained "ubiquity," yet she can't mobilize viewers "every day" -- presumably because her "ubiquity" puts her on TV twice some days and not at all on other days. Yeah, that makes sense.
You know, al-Qaeda doesn't have a regularly scheduled series on Arab-language TV, but somehow its videos manage to have an influence. I wonder if that baffles Heilbrunn also.
...Not one of Coulter's arguments is original to her; each is cribbed from the conservative press.... Even a cursory look at her books shows that she essentially functions as a kind of right-wing weathervane.
...Nor are Coulter's remarks about liberals all that new. As others have pointed out, they have a long pedigree on the right. In 1936, Elizabeth Dilling published "The Roosevelt Red Record and Its Background"; after World War II the vicious gossip columnist Walter Winchell saw Communists everywhere and championed McCarthy.
... [Coulter's] detractors supply no evidence that she has ever had an original thought. And they can't. Instead of exposing Coulter as a mortal threat to the Republic, the only thing they expose is their own credulity. In the end, these witless little books don't puncture the Coulter myth. They inflate it.
How is originality in any way relevant to a discussion of Coulter? The American public isn't weighing her suitability to chair a department of political philosophy -- it's asking her to deliever entertainment by seeming to make sense of what's going on in the news, and her audience believes she delivers.
Give her this: She has some comedy timing, and her glib laugh lines aren't quite what the typical big-time TV interviewer is expecting, so she gets the best of the Matt Lauers of the world. This is odd, because the Matt Lauers know going in that she intends to say, for instance, that the anti-Bush 9/11 widows are societal leeches and that only Democrats have ever used a victim to make a political point. But the Lauers somehow can't be bothered to ask their staffs to help them rebut these arguments -- or maybe they don't want to because angry blonde provocation with the occasional laugh line is considered great television, and you don't want to stand in its way.
And so Coulter injects ideas, original or not, into our political dialogue. And Jacob Heilbrunn either doesn't notice how they got there or assumes that the public really got those ideas from some seventy-year old pamphlet he found in the stacks.