When you’re as preoccupied with historical anniversaries as I am, you occasionally notice some interesting collisions.
Take today, for instance. John Walker Lindh — the so-called “American Taliban” — turned 27 today in Oklahoma City, where he is serving a 20-year sentence for carrying weapons for the Taliban the late summer and fall of 2001. Appearing at a conservative circle jerk in January 2002, Ann Coulter mused that “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors.”
Asked about these comments by the online Right Wing News in 2004, Coulter clarified her statements, adding that she regretted “that I didn’t say it loud enough and in a large enough public forum. And when I said we should “execute” John Walker Lindh, I mis-spoke. What I meant to say was ‘We should burn John Walker Lindh alive and televise it on prime-time network TV.’ My apologies for any misunderstanding that might have occurred.”
Today is also the anniverary of Joe McCarthy’s 1951 speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he announced that he possessed a list of 205 State Department communists who had not yet lost their jobs. No such list existed, of course, but “Tailgunner Joe” made quite a splash that day. Among other things, he offered these thoughts on who was responsible for the global corrosion of democracy:
The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores . . . but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this Nation. It has not been the less fortunate, or members of minority groups who have been traitorous to this Nation, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest Nation on earth has had to offer . . . the finest homes, the finest college education and the finest jobs in government we can give.
Nearly a half century after McCarthy drank himself into an early grave, Ann Coulter defended his memory in her usual fashion:
The portrayal of Senator Joe McCarthy as a wild-eyed demagogue destroying innocent lives is sheer liberal hobgoblinism. Liberals weren’t cowering in fear during the McCarthy era. They were systematically undermining the nation’s ability to defend itself while waging a bellicose campaign of lies to blacken McCarthy’s name. Everything you think you know about McCarthy is a hegemonic lie. Liberals denounced McCarthy because they were afraid of getting caught, so they fought back like animals to hide their own collaboration with a regime as evil as the Nazis.
And finally, Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas — who spent much of his career “systematically undermining the nation’s ability to defend itself” — died on 9 February 1995, twelve years ago today. Fulbright was the only Senator to vote against the creation of McCarthy’s investigative committee; he later opposed the American War in Vietnam and strongly critiqued US foreign policy in the Middle East — an offense for which he eventually lost his job. In his 1966 book The Arrogance of Power Fulbright wrote:
Power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is particularly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations — to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image. Power confuses itself with virtue and tends also to take itself for omnipotence. Once imbued with the idea of a mission, a great nation easily assumes that it has the means as well as the duty to do God’s work.
I’ve been unable to locate any Ann Coulter quotes regarding Senator Fulbright, but I’m not especially surprised given how little actual history she appears to comprehend.