Hate Ann Coulter? The true outrage is how she exposes our political discourse for the void it is.

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How many of us remember fondly the Weekend Update segments featured on Saturday Night Live during the late 1970s? They’re remembered fondly for one prime reason: Working in mock political point and counterpoint, comedienne Jane Curtin played the polite but politically correct advocate of one position. Then it was her conservative opponent’s turn. Dan Aykroyd always had the best rejoinder known to humanity: “Jane, you ignorant slut!

And it was hilarious, if only because you knew no one would dare use such words except on late-night comedy television. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter no doubt saw the routine. This time, years later, it’s no joke.

The rapid-fire ordnance of the Coultergeist is, of course, so well known by now that no one needs an introduction. If you don’t already have an opinion about her you’re probably comatose to politics. And even if you’re comatose to politics, well, Americans love their freaks. Shock jock Howard Stern pants over lesbians. Rock star Marilyn Manson tears up Bibles and once felt compelled to remind actress Christina Ricci that she wasn’t as thin as his sexy girlfriend. Al Franken once sent Attorney General John Ashcroft a letter asking him to name examples of when he abstained from sex before marriage. Televangelist Pat Robertson regales viewers by channeling the will of God through natural disasters that one day, hopefully, will destroy any city with a sizable gay population. He’s also fond of suggesting candidates for assassination attempts.

At least Franken apologized for his stunt. Robertson has attempted apologies. With Coulter, there simply is no room whatsoever for apologies. Like Harry Whittington in the crosshairs of Dick Cheney’s hunting rifle, she believes firmly that it’s her targets who should apologize to her. It’s not simply a matter of her being right'far right, of course'and her opponents being wrong. Her opponents aren’t just wrong. They’re “witches,” “harpies” and “amoral sexual degenerates.” Why else would she “joke” about putting rat poison in Supreme Court Justice Stevens’ crème brûlée? Why compare Katie Couric to Eva Braun? Why bait a student at her Indiana University lecture this February as a “gay boy”? Why, for heaven’s sake, insult disabled Vietnam veterans who just happen to disagree with her? Her conservative fan base calls all this her fabulous technique of “tongue-in-cheek agitprop.” Basically, that’s a fancy way of saying that “libruls” are too stupid to understand that whatever comes out of Coulter’s mouth is really, believe it or not, some pretty funny, even sophisticated, s't. We don’t get it, you see.

Whatever. My guess is that after selling so many books and washing her hair in so much money, Coulter can no longer help herself. And I am writing about her, no? The more outrageous she gets, the fatter her purse grows. Only problem is, Coulter takes herself very seriously indeed. In a recent interview with Time, she had no problem subscribing to the charge that her shtick is all about name-calling. “The use of language is ‘name calling,’” she told her interviewer. “Harpies and witches is what I think they [the Jersey Girls] are, which is why I used those words,” Coulter said of her celebrated comment regarding the widows of certain 9/11 victims. “The entire country is now riveted on the left’s device of using victims to advance their half-baked, unsaleable ideas.” But let’s leave Terri Schiavo out of this, shall we?

Ann’s not terribly original. Long before she stated America “would be a much better country if women did not vote,” Rush Limbaugh told us, “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.

By now there are so many Anneurysms that everyone has his or her favorites. Not favorites in the sense that they’re funny, but favorites in the sense that you marvel at how Coulter outdoes herself and still sells millions of hardback books. In that spirit, then, my favorite Anneurysm would have to be her comment that press passes to White House conferences must be easy to get since the “White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president.” According to a Feb. 28, 2002, write-up of Coulter’s appearance at UCLA published by the Daily Bruin, Coulter “said she supported the government of Israel for the same reason she supported apartheid in South Africa, because they were surrounded by ‘savages.’”

As a professing lefty, I had no problem with the University of Colorado getting hell over Professor Ward Churchill calling World Trade Center victims “little Eichmanns,” although Churchill could now lose his job over research misconduct instead. Cartoonist Ted Rall lost key distribution of his strip after ridiculing former NFL player Pat Tillman as someone who simply wanted to kill Arabs. No problem there. But it sure galls that Coulter can get away with all this and still have money left over to purchase a $1.8 million home on Florida’s Palm Beach Island. Even more galling was her announcement to Human Events Online following the release of her book Godless that, “Christianity fuels everything I write.” Even, it would seem, the baiting of an “old Arab.” Hardcore fans no doubt see her repudiation of Darwinian evolution as the more important criterion of her professed religion.

It’s depressing beyond words that Coulter’s hand grenades pass for the height of American political commentary in certain circles. Forget for a moment her complete lack of civility. Does Coulter have any rational suggestions for government policy? Does she have any signature ideas or thoughts worth pondering beyond their shock value? No. And that will be the most depressing mark of her so-called legacy: The fact that, as a nation, we’re long past such outworn notions as true, pragmatic ideas and instead fuel our discourse with name-calling.

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