Here in Arkansas, we seek the ivory-billed woodpecker but we get Ann Coulter. Disappointment doesn’t come any keener.

While the ivory-bill eludes scientists combing the swamps of East Arkansas, Coulter has been openly lighting at colleges across the state, pining nastily for the death of people she doesn’t like — a sizeable group — and being compensated for it. There’s money in hate, though you imagine Coulter would be hateful for free, if she had to. Speaking at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, she urged that somebody administer rat poison to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Up at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a heavily guarded Coulter said that Bill and Hillary Clinton were holding closed-door meetings in Washington about “how to make Howard Dean’s death look like an accident.” A local newspaper reported that she got two standing ovations, and she told a fan in the crowd that the audience was the “most respectful” and its questions “some of the most intellectual and best” she’d gotten on a college campus in years. We choose to believe that the Fayetteville audience contained more of the yellow-dog Republicans who now infest Northwest Arkansas than it did UA students. Otherwise, we’d have to conclude that the university’s ceaseless grubbing for corporate money has damaged the brains and souls of its students more than even we had feared.

The Philander Smith students apparently were more critical. They’re used to being lied to by white people.

There is a kind of right-wing pundit who habitually professes concern over the decline of “civility” in today’s political discourse. But it’s not Coulter they fault, nor Pat Robertson, who also calls down death and destruction on all who disagree with him, nor the Fox TV hooligans. The accusation of “incivility” is instead lodged against such as Hillary Clinton, for acknowledging that the Bush administration is a failure, and former President Jimmy Carter, mild to a fault, for criticizing the Bush foreign policy. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he was charged with incivility when he merely tried to defend himself. You won’t admit to being a murderer, a drug dealer, a child molester? Why you uncivil sonofabitch!

“Civility” having been wrenched from its former meaning, even a political cutthroat like Karl Rove feels empowered to use it. As if Coulter’s Arkansas tour weren’t enough to lower the level of debate here, Rove turned up at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway a few nights later to, sure enough, accuse Democrats of practicing incivility when they challenge the administration’s practice of eavesdropping on American citizens. What Rove and Bush and their journalistic allies want is not civility but submission.



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