Reviewed 7/06/2014

Soulless, by Susan Estrich

Access to this book courtesy of the
San Jose, CA Public Library
Ann Coulter and the Right-Wing Church of Hate
Susan Estrich
New York: Regan, 2006




ISBN-13 978-0-06-124649-4
ISBN-10 0-06-124649-2 255p. HC/GSI $24.95

I've written a good deal about Ann Coulter. There's my review of Brainless, with an accompanying rant. Also I've taken part in various on-line discussions where she was the subject. My general take was that she's out to profit by selling books that generate rabid praise and rabid condemnation, and that she therefore should be ignored. (In those discussions I seldom made much of a dent, unless I was preaching to the choir. I spent some time trying to persuade the leader of a mostly Brazilian Orkut community that thought Coulter was "TUFF" why that was wrong. That discussion faded out, as Orkut discussions often do, with little genuine interchange of views and no coherent resolution. Someone else mockingly proposed that they could eat me for breakfast, like some confection. That was the end of that round.)1

However, Coulter continues to release books blasting liberals for all manner of crimes. If we were one-tenth as vile and destructive as she avers, we would already have turned this country into anarchic wreckage over which Muslim nations fought with China for the spoils. But we're not. The point is not to change Coulter's mind. The point is to counteract her divisive influence. Make no mistake, she still has influence — still sells lots of book (though less than before); still gets invited to CPAC; still appears on right-wing radio and television, and in newspaper interviews.

It is therefore important to acquaint the public with the other side of the coin. That is the job Susan Estrich undertakes in this book. In my opinion she does a mediocre job. Her writing is, well, jerky; it tends to alternate long sentences with short, choppy ones. Elegance with vernacular; William F. Buckley with George H.W. Bush.

"After all, the Anns know people, of every race, who have made it. Gotten the scholarship. Gotten to the top. And they're conservatives now, too, the ones they know. The others they don't know: the ones who aren't conservative and the ones who never get anywhere. They think they belong where they are and that they are entitled to be there. They believe in the American Dream, equally available. Theirs was never in doubt. Must be nice, I say."

– Page 25

And others have better lines. She quotes Charles Taylor, who in a 2002 Salon piece labeled Coulter (with others) the "conservative fembots"2 and wrote, "No one does smug like Ann Coulter." She admits to great respect for Coulter and says they get along well. Apparently they have appeared together on television a number of times. "She knows exactly what she is doing," Estrich writes on page 36. "And she is scary as hell because of it." As Estrich sees it, Coulter succeeds precisely because of her ability to convincingly espouse extreme positions and to vilify people in a very glib and offhand way; that she has created a persona which might be called "The Diva of Denigration" — much as Cassandra Peterson, in a less confrontational time, became the archly faux-evil Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, and the perfect hostess for all those B-grade horror pictures.3

I think it's a fair to presume that Estrich feels some envy of Coulter, for her intelligence, her wit, her media success. At the same time, she clearly dislikes the result of what Coulter is doing: The divisiveness. The hate.

"She makes you so angry sometimes that you become a mirror of her. That is her power. That's why people throw pies and nitpick footnotes."

You have this sense that she's laughing at you while you're out there struggling to find answers. She makes it a point not to break a sweat. To wear a cocktail dress in the morning. The rest of us fools are trying to dig our way out of the usual holes, but Ann doesn't get her feet wet. Even when she slips up she doesn't admit it.

– Page 11

Right — she's the Emperor Palpitane in a cocktail dress: "Release your anger!" But, sarcasm aside, Estrich makes a fair point: Coulter is good at what she does. In print, she is a fount of invective and falsehood; critics are often inundated, unable to keep pace with the torrents of outrageous drivel. In person, she is glib, engaging and frequently clever; as one BBC interviewer noted, it can add up to a beguiling combination.

But Estrich makes substantive accusations too. Like this one:

"She earned the ire of many veterans and Democrats I know by ridiculing former senator Max Cleland because during the Vietnam War, he dropped the grenade that cost him the use of his legs and arm. As if the way you lose the use of three limbs in a war is the critical factor, not the fact that you were serving your country at the time—much less that you find in yourself the will not to be destroyed by it; that you come home from your service abroad horribly injured, and instead of ending up on a street corner, end up on the floor of the U.S. Senate, only to be taken down by a rich, privileged girl from Connecticut who has no clue what you've been through. Ann's ridicule certainly played a part in Max's losing his Senate seat to Saxby Chambliss in 2002.

– Page 33

No doubt Coulter's denigration played a part. But the principal cause of Max Cleland's defeat was Chambliss's dirty tricks during the campaign. They have become a textbook example of such. I'm not aware that Coulter's work, execrable though it is, has by itself harmed any individual. It harms generally: by setting a tone of disdain for courteous disagreement, by substituting character assassination and bogus references for honest scholarship. Those faults are not Coulter's alone, today; but she is a prime exemplar of them. As such, she deserves disdain herself.

Regrettably, I find that Estrich's book does not have that effect. Rather, it evinces a grudging respect for Coulter's financial and cultural success. Susan Estrich has done other books. My recommednation is to pass up this one and look for one of those others. Here's a list:

1 In fairness, I may have prejudiced my case by beginning with a pun based on the word "TUFF". I can't recall it exactly, but it compared Coulter to volcanic rock, of which tuff is one type. Apparently the word is modern slang meaning "tougher than tough", much the way the "new" Ajax laundry detergent was said to be "stronger than dirt."
2 Taylor's list includes Kellyanne Conway, Laura Ingraham, Monica Crowley, and Lisa Pinto.
3 I'll cop to sexism here. Estrich calls Coulter beautiful (and mimics one of Coulter's poses on the cover of her own book.) I don't agree. Coulter is not a bad-looking woman, but I'd never call her beautiful. Cassandra Peterson, though — now that's a beautiful woman, whether appearing as her natural self or as Elvira. The more significant difference is that everyone knew Elvira was a pose intended for amusement only. Coulter's pose in her books, however, is apparently considered serious political thought by a significant portion of the American voting public. There are places where such harangues must be taken seriously. America is not one of them — at least not yet. If it ever becomes such a place, it will be a country much diminished from the America you and I grew up in.
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