The Good: Good diction, Clear knowledge of one legal theory
The Bad: Exceptionally biased, Fails to explore fundamental issues, Ridiculously dated precedent citations.
The Basics: A conservative commentator desperately tries to explore why lying and sex acts are impeachable offenses when Ann Coulter presents High Crimes And Misdemeanors.
Back after the Patriot Act was signed, I decided to start throwing Them off. You know, the forces from the government that keep tabs on us private, ordinary citizens. Knowing that the so-called Patriot Act allows federal agents to invade my local library and see what I have been checking out, I decided to throw Them for a loop. I took out an independent drama film and the stupidest, most popular comedy on DVD, I borrowed a c.d. from Tchaikovsky and one by 50 Cent, and I took out a book by Michael Moore and one by Ann Coulter. The time came when I decided to actually sit down and read Coulter's book High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton and I did.
Coulter's book is a biased, moderately-well cited text exploring her argument for why Bill Clinton should have been impeached for the sex scandal and following cover-up that he was engaged in with Monica Lewinski. At one point, rather early on in the whole story - as it broke some years ago - Clinton appeared on television, apologized to the American public and concluded his speech by saying "This matter is now between myself, my family, and my god." And that was good enough for me (and most Americans, apparently, because most of us didn't care what Clinton did in his off time).
It was not, apparently, good enough for Coulter or other conservative commentators. High Crimes And Misdemeanors seeks to tear down the Clinton Administration and expose it as a group of liars, sex maniacs, manipulators of the public trust and dimwits. It's too bad Coulter (and most other conservative commentators) do not believe in fair play; the Bush Administration is ripe for the picking in at least three of these areas, with far more cruel, harmful and insidious results. Indeed, reading this book reminds us that Clinton was charismatic and nothing he lied about was of significant importance as to jeopardize our standing in the world, lose the confidence of the American people, and/or plunge the United States into a terminal pit of bad debt.
Coulter opens the book with an attempt to explore the legal precedents of impeaching a leader for sex crimes and in the interest of giving credit where credit is due, she manages to take a very hard line, long term historical approach to this task. She cites cases from 1666, 1680, 1701 and 1881 where various leaders were impeached for various sexual practices. And this is the pit from which Coulter's book never regains its footing. The careful reader might note that three of those dates predate the United States. In her desperation for citations, Coulter takes the exact phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" and traces it back to its earliest possible origins, all of which are in British law. The problem is that one might recall (from history) that a group of colonists in North America once started a ridiculously bloody and probably unnecessary war of Independence with the explicit desire of severing the legal and traditional ties to Britain. That is not to say it renders the citations useless, but it does illustrate how desperate Coulter is to make her charges stick that any extramarital sex is an impeachable offense. Her lone citation from the United States is against a judge from 1881 who apparently frequented hookers.
The problem with all of this is that none of her citations are particularly impressive. With only one from the United States and a State Justice being the worst and reaching back over one hundred years, it feels from the beginning of the book, that Coulter is grabbing desperately at straws. One must recall, reading this first chapter, that the roots of conservatism is in conserve; the desire not to change. For Coulter, the Sexual Revolution never happened and the best example she can find for a legal precedent for impeaching a President for sexual acts is comparing it to a 115 year-old impeachment of a user of prostitutes. I say let her live in her 1881 sensibilities if she'll give up her inoculations, refrigerator, computer and right to vote.
My point in this first rebuking is that a great deal has changed since 1881 and Coulter's legal precedents illustrate perfectly the counter argument to the validity to impeaching Clinton: no significant leader (President, Congressperson, Representative, Supreme Court Justice), has ever been impeached for consensual sex acts under the "High crimes and misdemeanors" idea. Coulter quickly follows this up by emphasizing that "high crimes and misdemeanors" is a phrase that refers to moral character and not, actually, any criminal procedure or breach of the law. It is with that tact that she attempts to prove that Clinton is impeachable under the law.
Coulter gets into a frenzy about the immorality of the initial act - the consensual sex acts between Clinton and Lewinski - and demands that the reader not find it acceptable to lie about what happened. The problem, again, is that her standards are remarkably draconian. Is it a good thing when a person commits adultery? No. It's generally bad and unfortunate. But it is a relatively private matter. Coulter's chapters that follow attempt to illustrate that those around Clinton lied, covered-up and manipulated public offices in the attempt to protect the president from the allegations and potential impeachment.
But throughout her arguments about why to impeach for lying and obstructing justice, the reader constantly looks back to see the root of all of this fuss is in a CONSENSUAL sex act. Lewinski was not (and never alleged being) raped, molested or anything other than what she wanted to do. Yes, it was bad that Clinton lied about it, but he was right; it was no one's business besides his, his family's, and Monica Lewinsky. Coulter gets outraged by the "who cares" attitude that pervades the American people and yet it does not inform her to the idea that, perhaps, most Americans are not so Victorian in their views on sex and that it was not a "high crime or misdemeanor."
Coulter's narrative voice further undermines her credibility. In her attempt to rally the reader into a frenzy against Clinton, Coulter mixes factual quotations and incredibly biased editorials (as she does, for example on page 26). The net result is the unbiased reader - the one who is giving Coulter a fair chance coming into the book (as I was) - will likely feel like Coulter is attempting to get the reader more emotional rational and in that emotive state will take anything she writes as gospel truth, when - in fact - much of it is biased opinions.
But to those who are looking for a good read, this is not it. Coulter's bias is ridiculously out of date. For example, on page 44, she decries Walt Whitman's poetry for its sexuality. Leaves Of Grass is a classic and High Crimes And Misdemeanors comes across as a dated, opportunistic text that never once attempts to hide that the author is severely biased. Coulter is humorless, her writing bland and her legal knowledge - though impressively well-researched - is desperately applied to these circumstances.
For other political books, please check out my reviews of:
Keeping Faith – Jimmy Carter
Dude, Where’s My Country? - Michael Moore
Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them – Al Franken
For other book reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.