But speech codes deeply offend conservatives, which is the point Ann Coulter was making when she said this last week: "I was going to have a few comments about the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards. But it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot.'"
Pretty much everyone in mainstream politics, right and left, then condemned her. Coulter is very good at sparking these controversies. She does it once or twice a year, to the great benefit of her fame and book sales (you can read my fuller take on the last Coulter explosion, regarding 9/11 widows here.
Coulter is heterosexual, so I suppose I should condemn her as well. But note that she was using the word "faggot" with virtual quote marks around it. Surely all of us are allowed to do that just the way I used the N word in quote marks above. She didn't say "John Edwards is a faggot." She would never say that not because she respects the rights of gays to full equality before the law (she doesn't) but because it wouldn't be funny. Coulter wants to make people laugh more than anything; she is, as I have argued here, a right-wing ironist and comedienne as much as she is a political commentator. This is obvious if you watch her speak with the sound off she is smiling or even giggling most of the time; she theatrically rolls her eyes; you can see her pause and toss her hair into a jaunty cant before delivering a punch line. We don't read her body language the way we normally do because the words she is uttering are so peremptory and shocking. If we did, we would put her in the same league as Bill Maher or Jackie Mason, not the dry policy analysts who are sometimes pitted against her on cable-news shows.
I have interviewed both Coulter and Edwards in the past, and I'm pretty sure the attention her comments have drawn pleases both of them, at least a little. (Well, it pleases Ann a great deal; I wonder if she can now charge an extra $5,000 for her next speaking engagement...) Edwards got some free media, his first since the Obama-Clinton standoff began in earnest; he is also using the incident to raise money, something Coulter has noted with glee on her website.
I do have one complaint with Coulter's joke: It wasn't that funny. Edwards is many things a little dull, wrong on Iraq, hopelessly reductive on the economy (there are many more than two Americas). But he doesn't seem the least bit gay to me. Coulter has at least one close gay friend, and when I was reporting my profile of her, she always remembered to ask about my partner at the time. She is always trying to get me to go with her to the Halloween parade in Manhattan's West Village, which is the second-gayest event in New York City after the Pride parade. So I'm not sure why she thought it would be funny to target a gay joke at Edwards. But then again she doesn't need her semiannual cadenzas of outrage to be funny: she just needs us to condemn them, louder and louder every time.