Pundit Ann Coulter has been appearing on many different radio and TV shows, lately, promoting her latest book, “Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America”. In doing so, she’s advanced several derisive caricatures of liberals, progressives and Democrats.
I’ll look at a few of them based on her June 9, 2011, appearance on The Rush Limbaugh Show.
SLOGANS and FEAR
“The first quarter of the book is on how liberals are a psychological mob. It has to do with their slogans, how they formulate arguments. They get a lot of slogans, whereas conservatives just don’t speak in slogans and we don’t understand slogans, and for good reason: It’s always sort of glib and superficially appealing, but if you stop and actually think about it for five seconds, slogans never make sense. What does it mean to say, ‘You can’t hug a child with nuclear arms,’ or, ‘Pro-choice, pro-child.’ It means nothing, but that is perfect for appealing to a mob. It’s simple-minded. … There’s no slogan for the Tea Party. … It is an argument of ideas, whereas the Democrats are using the Rousseauian method of ginning people up by frightening them — ‘They’re gonna take your health care way! Here’s Representative Ryan pushing an old lady in her wheelchair off a cliff'”.
Coulter is correct that liberals and Democrats often resort to name-calling and demonizing, and the “throw Grandma off the cliff” ad is a perfect example of that. However, don’t conservatives and Republicans do it, too? Don’t they try to incite unreasonable fear in people, by saying that we’re about to lose the free market, that Democrats are waging war on the private sector, or that Obama wants gulags like China?
As to the use of slogans, it hardly seems limited to progressives. “No taxation without representation”, “Government that governs least governs best”, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”, “Drill, baby, drill”, “Don’t Tread on Me”, and “Join or Die” are all slogans affiliated with conservatives and/or the nation’s founding. Are they somehow evidence of conservatives and/or the Founding Fathers being a “psychological mob”?
COULTER:“Gustave Le Bon, the father of groupthink, said, ‘Don’t ever use logic with a mob. It confuses them.’…”
LIMBAUGH:“What are some of the characteristics of mobs?”
COULTER:“Myth-making, contradictory thinking, creating messiahs and turning those who disagree with you into opponents, simple-mindedness, inability to grasp logic.”
I’ve already discussed how liberals don’t have a monopoly on “turning those who disagree with you into opponents”. Moreover, saying that liberals engage in contradictory thinking, are simple-minded and unable to grasp logic is more name-calling. All of us, regardless of political affiliation, a prone to contradictions and failures of logic (for instance, Gov. Mitch Daniels’ (R-IN) uncivil call for civility). But to say that liberals are somehow more prone to this, that requires some sort of empirical proof, or a demonstration that liberalism is based on logical contradiction (whereas conservatism isn’t). I doubt any empirical study exists to prove this. And the idea that liberalism — but not conservatism — is inherently contradictory is hard to even begin arguing. You’d first need to conclusively spell out what liberalism and conservatism are. But each of them likely defies precise definition. In fact, most proposed definitions will be rejected because they contain some contradiction, right?
“That’s part of what makes mob psychology so dangerous: There’s always the threat of violence. In the, I guess the last third of the book I look at actual violence here in the United States in a 200-year history, and the violence in America — political violence — has always been committed by the left. … Every presidential assassination attempt, for example, has been — at least the ones that were political at all; some were just committed by pure nuts. The ones that had a political basis were all committed by liberals. Not a single conservative has attempted to assassinate a president, and there are about a dozen of them.”
So, all the people who’ve tried to kill a president were either liberals or insane? Was John Wilkes Booth a liberal, or “pure nuts”? Were acts of mob violence, such as lynchings, also committed only by liberals? What about acts of mob political violence outside of the United States, were they also all committed by liberals? Or does the theory not apply overseas? It would be odd if Coulter’s theory somehow just stopped at the water’s edge (and, anyway, she doesn’t let it: she tells Limbaugh that “the first mob revolt certainly in anything resembling modern times is the French Revolution. I date the beginning of liberalism to the French revolution”).
This gets to another problem with much of what Coulter says: Which people and what ideas count as liberal or conservative? Was Southern secession a liberal or conservative movement? Or was it neither? As I said earlier, it’s not easy to give a precise definition of “liberal” or “conservative”, which makes it difficult to defend the claim that sloganeering, fear-mongering, illogic, and political violence largely line up on the liberal side of the ledger and hardly ever the conservative side.
At any rate, Coulter is demonizing liberals, progressives, and Democrats. Some of what she says even appears to be self-refuting: She’s saying that liberals hold a monopoly on fear-mongering even while she insists that we should fear the liberal propensity to violence, even while insisting that liberals are more prone to logical contradiction. I haven’t read the book itself, but, if the preview she provides is any indication, she doesn’t have good arguments to back up her claims. Rather, she’s engaging in name-calling.