Though it hasn’t reached the volatility of the Hatfields and McCoys, the feud between presidential hopeful John Edwards and conservative columnist Ann Coulter is intensifying.
The latest salvo came from Edwards while on the campaign trail in Burlington, Iowa. While “rallying against the right-wing media,” Edwards referred to Coulter as a “she-devil.” He then caught himself and added, “I should not have name-called. But the truth is — forget the names — people like Ann Coulter, they engage in hateful language.”
Though the feud may make for interesting read or television viewing, it illustrates why Edwards is unfit for the presidency and should serve as a lesson for others whose lives come under public scrutiny.
Those in the public attract the attention of outspoken critics. Often these critics are simply people searching for attention; and the best advice to people with a following is to simply ignore them. Too often people running for office or in positions of power and authority let minor irritants bother them until those nuisances overshadow everything else.
Such is the case with the Edwards-Coulter feud. Their verbal sparing has gone on since March when Coulter jokingly used a derogatory term for homosexuals to describe Edwards behavior in a speech. Even though Coulter was lambasted for her remarks, Edwards didn’t let the remarks slide. Instead, his campaign posted Coulter’s remarks on its Web site, asking readers to “raise $100,000 in ‘Coulter Cash’ this week to keep this campaign charging ahead and fighting back against the politics of bigotry.” The two have been trading barbs in speeches, on television and in print ever since. Even Edwards’s wife, Elizabeth, has become part of the act when she called into Hardball and asked Coulter to stop the personal attacks on her husband and family.
Edwards may get some mileage out of Coulter’s remarks for fundraising, but the long-term effects of paying attention to Coulter are detrimental to his campaign.
Does anyone remember the message Edwards delivered in his Iowa speech? Nope. Instead of making headlines for his proposed agenda or vision of the future, all that came out of the speech was the continuation of his petty feud with a conservative bombshell.
The conservative columnist is hardly worth Edwards’s time. Coulter may be an engaging and proactive writer but her sphere of influence is with conservatives, not liberals. Her television appearances and weekly columns are unlikely to influence anyone on the left side of the political spectrum. She appeals only to voters who already loathe Edwards and to no one whose vote he is actively courting.
Meanwhile, the blonde provocateur has nothing to lose in the exchange with Edwards. If anything, Edwards’ constant referrals to her bolster Coulter’s profile and show how much the columnist’s jabs irritate the presidential aspirant.
Edwards could learn a lesson from former Senator Fred Thomson. Earlier this year Fred Thompson wrote an article for National Review accusing filmmaker Michael Moore of being part of Fidel Castro’s propaganda machine. Moore shot back and challenged Thompson to a debate on healthcare. Instead of lowering himself to the controversial filmmaker’s level, Thompson responded with a short video clip that dismissed Moore as someone not worth further time or attention. The brouhaha immediately went away.
The lesson from the Edwards-Coulter feud is this: those in the public eye need to know when to ignore critics and detractors. Presidents are constantly under attack from the opposition and need to know when to respond to an attack and when to simply let it go. There was enough outrage against Coulter’s remarks that simply ignoring her would have done the greater damage to her career. Instead Edwards gave those on the right a reason to rally behind one of their own and make his presidential campaign look desperate for attention.
The fact that Edwards continues to take on Coulter even when it hinders his campaign makes him look weak. In the end, it shows how unfit for the presidency he really is.