I had an e-mail debate, some time back, with a reader who took issue with me for describing columnist Ann Coulter as wishing to rain "death and destruction" upon her enemies.
I was scolded for mistaking her "sharp wit" for actual malice and told that she had never actually threatened anyone.
I pointed out that she once stated that "my only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."
Not only was it not witty, it made the 168 people who perished in Oklahoma City in 1995 the punch line of a joke.
Did I believe she meant it? Absolutely. This is a woman who wrote of the Mideast that "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Shrill, bombastic, absolutely devoid of any sense of decency, that's Coulter. Her disdain for anyone to the left of Gen. George Patton manifests itself in a weekly rant thinly disguised as journalism.
Her most recent foray into tastelessness came in a recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in which she described Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards as a "faggot."
Aside from spewing derogatory slurs like so much buckshot, what point was Coulter trying to make? Absolutely none. It was just vintage Coulter viewing life through the prism of a frat house smoker.
This is not new territory for Coulter. Last year, on MSNBC, she said, "I don't know if (former U.S. President Bill Clinton is) gay. But (former U.S. Vice President) Al Gore - total fag."
Her remarks about Edwards were too much even for her beloved Republicans. Presidential contenders John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney all repudiated her remarks. She responded on her Web site: "I'm so ashamed, I can't stop laughing!"
For the record, Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, a lawyer, are happily married with three children. The couple lost a teenage son in an auto accident. Elizabeth Edwards has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is being treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Just the kind of target for Coulter's wrath.
She was the one, of course, who described the widows of 9/11 victims thus: "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. These self-obsessed women seemed genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them. ... I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much ... the Democrat ratpack gals endorsed John Kerry for president ... cutting campaign commercials ... how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf-life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy."
I would take great comfort in discovering that I somehow assigned too much importance to Coulter in the grand scheme of things, that her views represent nothing more than baying at the moon.
But two things stand out. One, she's a best-selling author, which means there's an audience for this kind of bilge. And two, and most troubling, is that she represents the shrill and divisive tone that has defined politics in America in recent years. This country need less mud and more moderation.
Ann Coulter, of course, has every right to her opinions. So do Mel Gibson and Michael Richards and Louis Farrakhan and Pat Robertson.
But I've heard quite enough.