COULTER v. EDWARDS.

COULTER v. EDWARDS. Yesterday's confrontation between Elizabeth Edwards and Ann Coulter (which you can watch here) showed once again just what a poisonous figure Coulter is. "I want to use the opportunity," Edwards said, "to ask her politely, stop the personal attacks." To this, Coulter responded, "Okay, the wife of a presidential candidate is calling in asking me to stop speaking." She then repeated this a number of times; when Edwards challenged her on her use of "the language of hate" (of which Coulter is one of America's foremost purveyors), Coulter said sarcastically, "Okay, I'll stop writing books."

What's notable here is the way Coulter sees personal attacks and the language of hate as the sum total of what she does. As she sees it, asking her not to attack people personally is not just tantamount to asking her not to write and speak, it is asking her not to write and speak. This is not the first time she has made this argument; in her book "Godless" she complains about 9/11 widows criticizing the Bush administration's record on terrorism, writing, "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." When asked about the passage, she said, "They were using their grief in order to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding."

But of course, no one was prevented from responding to the 9/11 widows, or anyone else, if they wanted to do so on the substance of their arguments. If Coulter wanted to argue that the criticism the 9/11 widows were making of the President was mistaken, no one would have raised an eyebrow. It was because she chose to attack them personally that people got angry. But as far as she's concerned, if you can't attack someone personally, you can't engage in debate.

But let me ask a different question. Now that Mitt Romney is showing such strength in the campaign, are any reporters going ask him about whether he regrets his own association with Coulter? Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in March, Romney said, "I'm happy to learn also that after you hear me you're going to hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing." Beforehand, a camera caught the two backstage yukking it up - Here's the video, if you haven't seen it. One nice moment comes when Coulter says, "The photo of you and me together is going to become famous when you do something I don't like and I viciously attack you," to which Romney responds, "Never will happen, never will happen." It's safe to say that what Romney thinks "never will happen" is not her viciously attacking him, but him doing something she won't like.

Another fun exchange occurs when, after discussing the issue of Romney's Mormonism and its potential as a political liability, Coulter says, "They don't understand, we hate the atheists," to which Romney gives a hearty laugh. "You can't get these sectarian wars going with us. We're all Christians." Romney then chimes in with a smile, "We're not Sunni and Shia here!" Good times.

--Paul Waldman

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