Pundit and author Ann Coulter finds herself in a controversy again over… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
People on both sides of the Atlantic are in a swivet because of something Ann Coulter said.
I know, I know. Surprise.
In this instance, people are angry for the wrong reasons. No, that’s not correct; they’re angry for not enough of the right ones.
Sometime during or right after this last presidential debate, Coulter tweeted: “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” By which she meant, of course, President Obama.
There was, naturally, an incensed reaction to her casual use of a word that has not been accepted in polite company for many years, a shorthand for the phrase “mentally retarded,” which the medical establishment is phasing out, and which Congress dropped from federal laws in 2010, to be replaced by “intellectual disability.” In signing that bill, the president quoted the brother of a little girl with Down's syndrome for whom the law is named. “What you call people,” Obama quoted the boy, “is how you treat them.”
And a 30-year-old Special Olympian named John Franklin Stephens posted an open letter to Coulter, noting in part: "I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.
"Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.... Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor. No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much."
A blogger named Ellen Seidman, who has a special-needs son, pointed out that Coulter referred to “the retarded vote” in a tweet about a video Obama made for the National Forum on Disability Issues.
One British paper characterized Coulter’s tweet as a misstep. It is not. It is calculated. It is her stock in trade. Controversy, more than content, is oxygen to her fire.
Here, for example, is her idea of a clarification. Last year, on MSNBC, her remarks about GOP senator and former presidential candidate John McCain were offensive enough to be digitally blurred, which led amateur lip-readers to speculate that she had called McCain a “douchebag.”
No, no, no, she said later on the Joy Behar show. She had not called him a “douchebag.” She called him a “dickweed.”
Here is my second reason to be distressed by Coulter’s choice of words in her tweet.
She is quoted and courted far and wide by the conservative media. She commands reported $20,000 speaking fees.
And this was the best she can do? An outdated, third-grade playground insult?
This woman who writes so many books that it seems to take longer to read one than she takes to pen one, who forages around in her immense brain, and that’s the choicest insult she can come up with? “Retard”?
Twitter’s enforced brevity is no excuse. In one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, Macbeth, he managed to get off the briefest of insults: “Thou cream-faced loon!” What’s that, two dozen characters?
Coulter should read Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Cyrano out-insults the man who lamely insults Cyrano’s big nose with a string of swift and stylish zingers mocking his own schnozz much better than the insulter ever did.
The coarsening of political discourse in this country is worrying, but it also seems to be profitable. There is one more thing about Coulter’s use of this word that smacks of the elementary school playground, and it is her evident need for attention, any kind of attention. And so long as we go along with this by giving her this attention, she will almost surely keep topping herself to try to get it.