Proving yet again that universities, and especially the University of Texas, are the most intellectually diverse institutions in American society, my philosophical colleague Daniel Bonevac here defends Ann Coulter:
The Daily Texan describes Coulter as "an extreme right-wing pundit," accosted by "hecklers." But who is really "extreme"? Coulter speaks as an unapologetic conservative, but I could discern nothing particularly extreme in her views. She differs from most conservative speakers only in being exceptionally quick-witted, funny, and good-looking. She takes delight in insulting prominent liberals, calling former President Clinton "a philanderer," Senator Boxer "learning disabled," and Senator Kennedy "a human dirigible" who "has trouble keeping to the middle of the road." But she engages in nothing resembling hate speech. Her rhetoric seems positively mild compared to the invective routinely appearing at Democratic Underground and the Daily Kos....
Coulter’s appeal rests on two things, I think, in addition to her intelligence, humor, and looks. First, she says things that others are rarely willing to say. In her talks and in her book Treason, she points out that criticisms of Republican administration foreign policy has sometimes taken anti-American forms. Glenn Reynolds has nicely summarized the point: of some on the left, it's fair to say, “They’re not anti-war; they’re just on the other side.” Democrats often complain that Republicans question their patriotism; Coulter is one of the only Republicans who actually does so publicly.
Second, she often captures the essence of issues in memorable and insightful ways. On Democrats’ positions being out of step with the public: “Those ‘I heart partial birth abortion’ T-shirts just aren’t selling.” On the supposed extremism of judges the President has nominated: “They oppose Priscilla Owen because she ruled that a Texas law requiring parental notification for 14-year-olds to have abortions meant that parental notification was required for 14-year-olds to have abortions.” In response to a question about how she, a Christian, could consistently support a war given Jesus’s command to love your enemies and turn the other cheek: “The President of the United States has a responsibility to protect the American people. Jesus didn’t say that you should just stand by while someone else is being attacked.” The qualities that account for her appeal probably account for the left’s hatred of her as well.
Coulter may be too quick to dismiss points with a clever ad hominem. I often wish she would employ an argument rather than a joke. But Coulter’s tactics gain her an audience she wouldn’t otherwise have. There are lots of people out there employing arguments; they earn speaking fees that are about 1/200th of Coulter’s and sell about 1/1,000th as many books. When Coulter chooses to argue, she generally does so effectively. Some ideas, moreover, deserve to be mocked rather than debated. And, if her appearances tend to resemble Republican pep rallies, well—trust me, Republicans on campus can use the moral support.
I do agree, needless to say, that "some ideas...deserve to be mocked rather than debated." For somewhat different perspectives on Ms. Coulter, see here and here. And Brian Weatherson (Philosophy, Cornell) comments on Professor Bonevac's defense of Ms. Coulter here.