I enjoy reading Ann Coulter's books and lap up her commentary. I have enjoyed her company at conferences. I found her High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton to be most useful when I was teaching about impeachment in constitutional law. So I was somewhat at a loss when I saw reliable conservatives attacking her new book, href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1400050308/theclaremontinst" mce_href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1400050308/theclaremontinst" target="_blank">Treason. They focus almost exclusively on her defense of Senator Joe McCarthy. This also delights liberals such as Richard Cohen and Sam Tanenhaus. In the latter's Slate formulation, "She has exposed the often empty semantic difference between the 'responsible' right and its supposed 'fringe.'"
Conservatives such as David Horowitz find her abuse of cold war liberals such as Hubert Humphrey, Dean Acheson, and Harry Truman to be irresponsible. Dorothy Rabinowitz complained that she didn't account for McCarthy's honoring of certain Nazis.
About half of Treason deals with McCarthy, while the rest concerns familiar examples of Democrat blundering on foreign policy from Korea through Iraq. As the son of Japanese-Americans who were relocated in World War II, I was especially appreciative of her assault on the incompetent Secretary of Transportation, Norman Mineta, whose vivid memories of being relocated caused him to argue against profiling at the airports. Coulter on Mineta: "A guard took Mineta's baseball bat as a child, and as a result he was subjecting all of America to the Bataan Death March. Someone should have sent him a baseball bat."
If I have a complaint about Coulter's book, it's that she doesn't go deep enough, although clearly this was not her intent here. I've always thought we needed a good book on treason, something that delves into the regime change that the Progressives sought, in undermining the principles of the American Founding, and which the liberals brought to fruition in the theory and practice of politics from the New Deal through the Great Society. And these are principles at odds with all the good that America has ever stood for in its politics. To protect that good, Ms. Coulter divides the house and gets to the bedrock political principle by maintaining that there is something un-American about liberalism's foreign policy and those who were active in its conduct and defense. But may one with justification use the jarring term "treason"?
Talk about treason and un-American conduct has charged our most important elections—Jefferson's in 1800, Lincoln's in 1860, and FDR's in 1932. The victors in those elections, which defined the political landscape for generations to come, used the language of betrayal and loyalty because first principles were at stake. They were not mere exercises in political self-aggrandizement but attempts to save the country from those who would betray it. Recall FDR's comparing himself to Christ driving out the money changers. And hardly anyone remembers FDR admonishing the nation about the similarity between conservative Republicans and fascists in his 1944 State of the Union address.
This search for differences of principle can get one into trouble; as it should when done irresponsibly;for one must always defend oneself against the charge of extremism, not to speak of dishonesty. The estimable National Review Online fired her for writing a post-9/11 column on Islam in which she argued American forces should "invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." Almost two years later, we are accomplishing steps one and two. Will Iraq's democratization proceed apace without some change in Islam, making it more like tolerant Christianity? Isn't this what the Christian heart prays for the world?
Coulter concludes Treason by maintaining that "Conservatives believe man was created in God's image; liberals believe they are God." While she may overestimate conservative piety, she does not exaggerate liberal arrogance. That vanity has its source in the rejection of the "laws of nature and of nature's God." Neither natural law nor God plays a role in liberal principles; passions, the forces of history, and the triumph of the will do. Coulter taps into a venerable theme in the history of political philosophy.
Ann Coulter's flashiness easily shades her argument that conservatives are modest in the face of God, while liberals pay no attention or are actually emboldened. If she omits certain unpleasantries about Joe McCarthy, she is writing a brief, not a biography. (She is a graduate of the prestigious University of Michigan law school and Cornell University, where she studied with certain Straussians.) Contrary to her leftist and conservative critics, Treason is a sobering addition to a political, popular, and philosophic confrontation with the corruption in our politics.