What did I expect from Ann Coulter's April 1 appearance at the University of Pittsburgh? I'm not sure. But it wasn't the mind-numbing boredom I got.
Delivered in an upper-class-Connecticut drone, Coulter's remarks were obviously canned. The speech included references to Jimmy Carter's "killer rabbit" incident, which took place before much of the audience was born. Coulter must save the Fritz Mondale jokes for special occasions.
The speech failed even as agitprop theater. Coulter didn't call anyone a "faggot" this time, and while she did refer to Bill Clinton as a rapist more than once, that stuff loses some zing once a guy has been out of office for six years. She made some jokes about 9/11 widows, but for Coulter that qualifies as a restrained performance.
Conservatives in the audience ate it up, of course, and the next day's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headline claimed "Coulter visits Pitt to roast liberals." But as a lefty who was hoping to be outraged -- it makes these columns easier to write, as Coulter must know -- I didn't feel even mildly singed.
For example, Coulter opened her remarks by observing that it was Palm Sunday, the day before Passover ... or as liberals call it, "the first week of April."
Get it? Liberals don't worship God! Hilarious.
Note the hypocrisy: Ann Coulter travels hundreds of miles to deliver a political speech on Palm Sunday ... and hectors others for insufficient piety. For churchgoing leftists, meanwhile, the "joke" is on Coulter, or at least her fans. Coulter is smart, but her shtick is stupid: It flatters her fans' willful ignorance about liberalism, their willingness to believe the worst about those they disagree with. For liberals themselves, the effect is by turns aggravating, amusing, and finally just plain dull.
By evening's end, I'll confess to feeling a bit sorry for Coulter. When shock and outrage is all you can offer, it gets increasingly difficult to top yourself. Even some conservatives I know think she jumped the shark last month, when she called Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards a faggot. (Though I'm sure we haven't heard the last of Coulter. For one thing, there's got to be a joke about Elizabeth Edwards' cancer somewhere.)
Her Pittsburgh visit was sponsored by Pitt's College Republicans, who say they hoped to spawn a free-spirited political debate. "We wanted to bring some controversy to the campus," CR Vice President Natalie Hauser told me. "There are a lot of conservatives here, even if we're not as vocal as the liberal students." Sorry, but I'm not buying it.
Ann Coulter isn't who you call when you want to have a debate; she's who you call when you want to stop having a debate. When you want to stop listening to those you disagree with, and just call them faggots and sissies.
On some level, though, this isn't the College Republicans' fault.
Sure, Hauser says bringing Coulter to Pitt cost $15,000 in student-activity fees, which are collected from undergrads. (An additional $5,000 was contributed by a conservative foundation, Hauser told me.) And sure, that money could have been spent to invite a whole slew of conservative thinkers ... people with actual, you know, ideas. But who would show up to listen to that?
In other words, I blame society for what Ann Coulter has become.
Of course, I'm a liberal: That's how we roll. But the real problem isn't Coulter herself: It's the sideshow politics she trades on.
I mean, what's the proper response when Coulter says she'd like to have all the liberals deported? Ignoring such idiocy lets her off the hook, but taking it seriously plays into her hands. If you argue that deporting people for their beliefs is un-American, for example, you merely deepen Coulter's smirk, and help her sell more books.
The easiest response, I guess, is to turn the weapon of mockery against her. But after awhile, that too adds to the circus-like atmosphere surrounding politics these days. And that atmosphere is what created freak shows like Coulter to begin with.
All of which is to say that the more Ann Coulter talks, the dumber America gets.
Or, to use Coulter's rhetoric: Ann Coulter is destroying this country from within. She and her fans should be sent off to gulags, like the traitorous dogs they are.
You know, I take it back: That shit is hilarious.