06/28/07 — Right to speak: Ann Coulter furor points to more than just politics

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Right to speak: Ann Coulter furor points to more than just politics

You might not agree with most or any of what conservative writer and TV personality Ann Coulter has to say.

And you might even have missed or not care about the point she was trying to make when she used a comment about Sen. John Edwards to illustrate a point about the double standard in some cases for commentary by Republicans and Democrats.

And, you might even be one of many who think that sometimes her comments go too far, and that she is part of the problem of venom in politics that keeps quality candidates from putting their hats in the ring.

But her reaction to the plea from Elizabeth Edwards to back off her husband and her family is a point we should consider as we decide just what free speech means and to whom it should belong.

Miss Coulter’s argument is that Edwards is a presidential candidate — and that he has used his wife and family prominently in his campaign.

Therefore, she says, the public should have a right to question that use — and him — as he continues in his bid to seek the Democratic nomination for president.

She is right. There should be intense scrutiny for any candidate who decides to ask for the people’s vote for the highest office in the land — and no one should have the right to edit those commentaries. That free interchange of ideas — and the resulting debate over differences in policies — should be on the table.

The real question remains — how personal is too personal — and when do commentators go too far.

And lest you think it is only conservatives like Miss Coulter who get into the personal lives of leaders and candidates in Washington, check out the comment by comedian Bill Maher about Vice President Dick Cheney that prompted this whole furor in the first place.

There should be standards for commentary. After all, there is no reason to drag anyone’s family through the mud unnecessarily. But candidates who use their family values prominently in their campaign — and use their families as bargaining chips in the battle for a nomination — should be prepared to have to answer questions about their relevance and their qualifications, if appropriate.

Even former President Bill Clinton had to endure those questions — just as his wife does now as she tries for a bid for president.

Silencing or white-washing commentary does nothing but hinder the political process and make it tougher for voters to decide who is the best choice to lead their nation. Questions and commentary — within reason — are part of the application process.

Published in Editorials on June 28, 2007 11:34 AM