Monday, July 7, 2003

Andrew Sullivan takes on Ann Coulter:

Coulter does not seek to complicate her view of liberals with any serious or lengthy treatment of the many Democrats and liberals who were ferociously anti-Communist. Scoop Jackson? Harry Truman? John F Kennedy? Lyndon Vietnam Johnson? She doesn't substantively deal with those Democrats today - from Senator Joe Lieberman to the New Republic magazine - who were anti-Saddam before many Republicans were. She is absolutely right to insist that many on the Left are in denial about some Americans' complicity in Soviet evil, the guilt of true traitors like Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs, who helped Stalin and his heirs in their murderous pursuits. And part of the frustration of reading Coulter is that her basic causes are the right ones: the American media truly is biased to the left; some liberals and Democrats were bona fide traitors during the Cold War; many on the far left today are essentially anti-American and hope for the defeat of their country in foreign wars.

But by making huge and sweeping generalizations about all liberals, Coulter undermines her own arguments and comes close to making them meaningless. If you condemn good and bad liberals alike, how can you be trusted to make any moral distinctions of any kind? And by defending the tactics of Joe McCarthy, she actually plays directly into the hands of the left. What she won't concede is that it is possible to be clear-headed about the role that some liberals and Democrats played in supporting the Soviet Union, while reviling the kind of tactics McCarthy used. In fact, when liberals taunt conservatives with being McCarthyites, conservatives now have to concede that some of their allies, namely Coulter, obviously are McCarthyites - and proud of it.

One of the most reputable scholars who has studied the McCarthy era in great detail, Ron Radosh, is appalled at the damage Coulter has done to the work he and many others have painstakingly done over the years. "I am furious and upset about her book," he told me last week. "I am reading it - she uses my stuff, Harvey Klehr and John Haynes, Allen Weinstein etc. to distort what we actually say and to make ludicrous and historically incorrect arguments. You might recall my lengthy and negative review in The New Republic a few years ago of Herman's book on McCarthy; well, she is ten times worse than Herman. At least he tried to use bona fide historical methods of research and argument." Now Radosh has endured ostracism and abuse for insisting that many of McCarthy's victims were indeed Communist spies or agents. But he draws the line at Coulter's crude and inflammatory defense of McCarthy. "I think it is important that those who are considered critics of left/liberalism don't stop using our critical faculties when self-proclaimed conservatives start producing crap."