Ann Coulter is at it again.
As the author of one of the anti-Godless books (mine is called "Soulless"), I suppose I should be happy, but I would happily sacrifice book sales to elevate the political discourse. To be honest, I had almost concluded that Ann had disappeared, at least from my radar screen, and if that meant less interest in my answering her outlandish charges, it was a small price to pay. No such luck.
The occasion for Ann's return to white-hot prominence is strictly commercial. Her paperback edition of "Godless," the book that made headlines by ridiculing 9/11 widows ("I've never seen women enjoying their husbands' deaths so much"), is just out, and Ann needs to make news to make sales. That required a new target, and she found one in John Edwards. If Elizabeth Edwards helped Ann's cause (and her husband's) by taking Ann on, it's the media mavens who really deserve the blame here, for providing the forums for Ann to ply her shameful wares.
I have nothing against Ann personally. She and I have always gotten along just fine; I make it a point to try to be courteous and pleasant to those with whom I disagree, including Ann, both before and after we wrote our respective books. I'd probably be more successful in the current media environment if I didn't, but I've always believed that there is a higher value, which is that we live in a civil society in which we can disagree without being disagreeable, and I'm proud to count among my friends such prominent conservatives as Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Dennis Prager, each of whom always greets me with a hug.
Obviously, not all liberals follow this path. You can certainly find quotes from the likes of Michael Moore and Bill Maher that compete with what Ann has said; indeed, Ann's most recent attack on John Edwards was, in part, a play on a comment Bill Maher made about Dick Cheney some time ago.
But I actually missed Maher's comment, which he later clarified to make clear that he wasn't wishing the vice president dead, where there was no missing Ann's; there is no one, on either side, who plays the media meanness game with the vigor or success that Ann does. Maher made his name for being funny, not vicious; he doesn't purport to be a "public intellectual," which is what Ann calls herself. In fact, she demeans her own intelligence by the viciousness of her attacks and her lies.
The latest round began when Ann went on "Good Morning America" to sell books. Asked about her comments last March, in which she called John Edwards a "faggot" before a conservative audience ("I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I'm — so, kind of at an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards"), Ann managed not only to repeat the criticism, but launch a new assault sure to get her more attention, and more bookings. Here is what Coulter said:
"By the way I did not call John Edwards the "F" word. I said I couldn't talk about him because you go into rehab for using that word ... But about the same time, you know, Bill Maher was not joking and saying he wished Dick Cheney had been killed in a terrorist attack. So I've learned my lesson. If I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he has been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."
In fact, Bill Maher did not wish Dick Cheney had been killed in a terrorist attack. What he said on March 2, and then clarified on March 5, was this:
"I have zero doubt that if Dick Cheney was not in power, people wouldn't be dying needlessly tomorrow ... I'm just saying that if he did die ... other people, more people would live. That's a fact ... What I said Friday — and what I believe — is that the vice president has presided over a bungled execution of a war in which thousands of our bravest continue to die. And I believe that were he not in power, our troops would likely come home sooner. But I don't wish him dead."
You can make your own judgments. Mine is that two wrongs don't make a right. But what she said in 2003 was the worst comment of all, when she suggested that Edwards had "a bumper sticker on the back of his car that said 'Ask me about my dead son.'"
Challenged on that particular comment by Mrs. Edwards on MSNBC's "Hardball," Ann's only response was to point out that "that was three years ago."
What is this woman doing on television? She has almost no legal experience, absolutely no political experience, and is an expert in nothing except vicious rabble rousing. She has been fired more times than most of us ever get hired. The so-called serious point of her most recent book, excerpted on the ABC Web site, I'm sorry to say, is that "liberalism is the opposition party to God."
Just what we need as we see the destructive power of mixing religion and politics is an attack on each other for being anti-God.
Coulter's own answer to that question came in her latest attack, in her Friday column. "I doubled the ratings of the lowest-rated cable news show on Tuesday by agreeing to go on for a full hour to promote my new paperback version of 'Godless' — a mistake I won't make again."
In fact, she's lying again, as the highly regarded young blogger Brian Stetler points out; she did not "double the ratings," and "Hardball" is not the "lowest-rated cable news show." On Tuesday, Hardball was viewed by 270,000 demo viewers (18-54, the ones everyone counts) at 5 and 7pm combined while the day before, without her, 257,000 watched.
But there is no question that ratings are the reason you see Ann on television. There are smarter conservatives, more thoughtful conservatives, more experienced conservatives who could discuss any subject she does. But they aren't as hot; they don't dangle their legs, swing their blond hair, and spout viciousness the way she does. Putting her on is a cheap trick to boost ratings.
You can argue that the right response to Coulter is simply to ignore her. But so long as she gets as many television appearances and as much attention as she does, that's just not an option.
You can also argue that it's not the fault of the producers who book her, but the public that watches her. That's true, but only to a point. The point is that responsible people don't cater to the lowest common denominator.
Isaiah Washington lost his spot on television for calling one of his castmates on Grey's Anatomy a "faggot." It is time Ann lost hers.
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Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.