Book Review: Slander by Ann


Book Review: Slander by Ann Coulter

Perhaps God does not wish me to write this review. This is the third time I've tried after writing considerable portions of the first two. In both cases I believe it was my own actions that caused the thing to vanish, as much as I would like to blame blogger. If this does not make it to blogdom, you shall not know the saga, but I note this for future reference.

The title gives the main thesis of Ms. Coulter's book. The slander refers to the fact that liberals have long used ad hominem attacks, name calling, and slurs in the place of reasoned argumentation when attempting to face down conservative points in argumentation. The end result of this is a complete absence of engagement in ideas and discussion of important points.

On the whole the book is well-written and mostly convincing in its particulars. However, I find the main thesis questionable. There are a number of attractive features to the book. One of the main strengths is the substantial documentation of each of the cases she cites. There are few paragraphs in the book that do not have at least one footnote. The main body of the text is about two hundred pages long. The end-notes comprise about forty pages of considerably reduced text. If they were printed in the same font and size as the remainder of the book, they would probably run to a hundred pages or more. Thus, one-third of the book is documentation--appropriate if you are attempting to engage in reasoned argument to prove your point.

The prose is supple, simple, and quite readable. Apart from one egregious horror and a couple of regrettable tendencies that I will remark upon below, it is nearly "invisible" prose. Once again, if the point of the work is to provide a careful reasoned documentation of a thesis, this is necessary and desirable.

In the individual cases cited the reasoning is impeccable and convincing. Ms. Coulter is a lawyer when she is not writing books, and it shows in the tightness of the argument.

However, there are a number of regrettable things in the book, among them that the central contention is too broad to be meaningfully addressed without committing the title of the book against a number of innocent people. But let's start with the more subtle problems.

Throughout the book there are numerous references to George Orwell's 1984. In some ways, comparison to 1984 is like comparison to the Holocaust. No one comes away unscathed in the analogy. It becomes a kind of histrionic drum beating as we hear of things disappearing down the memory hole (obviously they have not if they are being cited here), a Goldbergian "two minutes hate," and the constantly shifting identification of the enemies in the war that is constantly being fought. The invocation of Orwell is itself Orwellian propaganda, a kind of mini-truth attack that subverts the reasoned argument that sits atop these accusations. That some liberals have on occasion done what the book accuses them of doing seems undeniable, that there is an Orwellian undercurrent of threat seems ludicrous. Manipulation of the truth is a central political game, both sides do it, the winning side often more successfully. We do not need to worry about Big Brother or "memory holes" so long as we have people like Ms. Coulter writing books that expose them as well as this one does. This is an example of "talking to the jury" and of highlighting dramatic and fear-invoking tendencies that are largely a matter of interpretation.

A second, extremely minor, but very irritating point is that Ms. Coulter sees fit to coin a particularly hideous, unnecessary neologism--"substantiveless." To give her her due, this is the kind of thing an editor should edit out of a work. But I have noted of recent date that editors do not even seem to do copy-editing any more much less more substantive work. What Ms. Coulter meant, and what should have been said in the sentence where this word is used is substanceless or without substance. Substantiveless is simply meaningless and ugly. It is itself a contribution to the Orwellian multiplication of vocabulary so aptly noted in "Politics and the English Language" written in 1946. It is one of the reason people can no longer "use" anything, they must "utilize" it. It is right and proper for a language to grow, but it seems improper to add functionless, difficult, and redundant obfuscatory verbiage to the treasury of language.

A third ultimately tiresome problem with the work is that Ms. Coulter constantly interjects asides to the jury that break the frame of objective presentation of a case and interject her personal sentiments about various liberal tendencies. Now, it seems clear from the fact that she chose to write such a book that she is not fond of the tactics they have used in the past, so why would she choose to use similar slurs herself?

The largest complaint against the work is that ultimately her thesis is not, and cannot be, borne out. By that, I mean, that if one were to believe the central point--liberals do not argue, they use name calling, you have resorted to stereotyping. Ms. Coulter has amply made the case that all things written in the liberal media need careful scrutiny to discern if there is a smidgen of argument amidst a mountain of invective. But surely there are liberals who argue points as cogently as conservatives. And conversely, surely there are conservatives that resort to liberal name-calling tactics. That the media is biased is almost unquestionable. That every person within the media adheres to some protocol of liberal conservative-bashing is unbelievable and probably libelous.

All of that said, and too much time spent on some relatively minor flaws, Ms. Coulter's book is an interesting and insightful read. The cases she documents clearly support the contention that there is a tendency for the liberal media to abandon reasoned argumentation and resort to what they think may be more hard-hitting and meaningful to Mr. Joe Couch-Potato who is imbibing their wisdom at the glass teat. It is a useful cautionary tale and a helpful examination of how to read the various media.

My Father-in-Law, whom I love as my own father, reportedly said (he was speaking to my wife) that he had purchased and read this book and "Ann Coulter is my girl." High praise indeed from a very intelligent, very reliable source. I'm not certain that Ms. Coulter would receive it as a compliment, but it was intended that way and it is a noble sentiment.

I would wish for a bit less grandstanding and somewhat less addressing the jury along the way, but ultimately I highly recommend the book. The documentation and argumentation are impeccable even if, as I believe, she ultimately fails to make her case. Perhaps the point was not to prove "in all cases" but more to point out a trend that needs careful watching lest we be caught up in it ourselves.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 14, 2002 7:46 AM.

Chesterton Again The Colossal was the previous entry in this blog.

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