Title: The Paragraph Farmer
Author: Patrick O'Hannigan
Blogging since: September 2004
Post Date: January 22, 2007
Post Title: You Could Call It a Magnum Opus
Ann Coulter writes a weekly column, and in the course of her writing, I think maybe one in ten of her essays is worth excerpting from or commenting on. But, great googly-moogly if she didn't turn her 2006 book Godless: The Church of Liberalism into the equivalent of a home-run derby. If you heard about the book at all, chances are that you're politically conservative, or you follow pop culture closely enough to remember that Coulter was harshly criticized for daring to suggest that four of the more outspoken and politically active widows of men killed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were perhaps enjoying the celebrity bestowed on them by their husbands' deaths.
It's true that Coulter has never been known for her tact and also true that her writing shows an almost pathological preference for vinegar over honey. As a master of ad hominem and ad feminam zingers, the tall blonde dances (some might say slithers) between honesty and cruelty, while leaving the impression that this modus operandi is the predictable result of a smart woman's frustration with years of progressive doublespeak.
A-list operators like Dennis Kucinich and James Carville would probably forgive her insults, but bit players like Cindy Sheehan and Joe Wilson are less likely to. Odd, that, because being namechecked in a Coulter book ought to count as a feather in one's cap, even though most of her namechecks have the force of a chaperoned trip to the boards in a professional hockey game.
This is not to say that Coulter's book is one long zingerfest. It will, I think, age better than most of its neighbors in the "Current Events" section of your local bookstore. In that respect, it's as durable as the violin riff that bridges verses in the Crosby, Stills, and Nash song "Wasted on the Way," and the reason why is easy to discern: Apart from being frequently hilarious, Godless is also meticulously researched.
Here's a sample of Coulter's style from a chapter bemoaning the state of public education in America:
"When Jason Kamras received his National Teacher of the Year award from President Bush in 2005, he hailed the other members of his profession for working 'tirelessly every day doing wonderful and challenging work.' And he added that they 'do so almost always without recognition.' Without recognition? Kamras was in the Rose Garden of the White House being recognized by the president of the United States of America. I'm guessing they don't teach irony at schools of education."
Coulter cites a fistful of movies and no less than eight different "Teacher of the Year" awards underwritten by organizations ranging from the National Football League to Wal-Mart by way of bolstering the following claim:
"Apart from Hollywood actors, teachers are the most incessantly praised profession in America. Run a Google search of 'Teacher of the Year' and you'll get almost 40 million hits -- more even than 'Mother of the Year'!"
"Anyone can Google," you might say, and you'd have a point.
Coulter goes deeper, however, spelunking for shocking quotes like "Back in 1985, Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said, 'When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children.'"
Perhaps the most impressive part of the book -- and where Coulter distinguishes herself from other conservative flamethrowers like Michael Savage -- is in her four-chapter debunking of what Joseph Sobran calls "Darwiniac" orthodoxy. It's a tour de force compendium of logic ("however persuasive one finds the squirrel-falling-from-a-tree explanation for the evolution of the bat, there are no fossils to support it,") and insult ("Evolution's Piltdown Man makes Scientology's 'e-meter' look like a particle accelerator at Los Alamos") arranged almost symphonically. That the argument between the Darwinist and ID camps is essentially theological in spite of the Darwinian pretense of agnostic objectivity seems beyond dispute. I'd never thought of it that way before, but Coulter quotes Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins, who let the cat out of the bag by saying that "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist." Notwithstanding their advanced degrees, Dawkins and his ilk don't fare well under her withering assault.
Have you heard, for example, about the peppered moths that got darker in response to air pollution? I remember growing up with that British anecdote in high school biology textbooks. It was a fraud, Coulter reminds us, and not the first. Moreover, even if it had been true, it's hardly "the sort of metamorphosis that turns a mosquito into a German shepherd."
Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe made essentially the same point in his groundbreaking 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box, but Coulter's Cliff Notes version is funnier. Worse (for the Darwiniacs), her attack can't be dismissed as superficial, because she uses everything from Chinese fossils to the Irish potato famine in making her point. Coulter is also adept at turning the tables on her adversaries, as when observing at the end of a chapter full of damning evidence that "far from chastely refusing to acknowledge miracles, evolutionists are the primary source of them."
In shooting terms, Godless is a bandolier full of hollow point rounds guaranteed to stop progressive intruders rash enough to attempt the invasion of any conservative mind. I've never read another book so widely denounced, and never found another book of that reputation that repaid my attention to the degree that this one does.