Ann Coulter, the R-word, and John Franklin Stephens' Wise ResponseLast week Ann Coulter called President Obama a retard. John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year old with Down syndrome, responded with grace and truth. Amy Julia Becker
Last week Ann Coulter sent media ablaze with a short tweet in response to the presidential foreign policy debate: "I highly approve of Governor Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." Her tweet has been favorited and retweeted by both supporters and detractors thousands of times since.
It would be easy to dismiss her statement. It's possible that Coulter made a mistake, that she didn't mean to imply that our Harvard-educated President is stupid. Or that she didn't really mean to offend hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been diagnosed with an intellectual disability by using a form of what was once a clinical term (mental retardation) as a slur. But Coulter has defended herself, saying she has no regrets about the tweet. On Fox News, Coulter explained, "‘Retard' had been used colloquially to just mean ‘loser' for 30 years." To Piers Morgan she fired back: "It's offensive according to whom? Moron, idiot, cretin, imbecile, these were exactly like retard, once technical terms to describe people with mental disabilities."
Coulter's own track record demonstrates both a persistent use of the word and an inability to understand what it implies. A few years back, Coulter, who says she is a Christian, wrote a profile of Sarah Palin forTime in which she defended Palin's pro-life credentials like this: "she really did walk the walk on abortion when she found out she was carrying a Down-syndrome baby." Here, Coulter uses much more subtle language about disability than she did last week, yet she demonstrates a similar disregard for the worth of the person in question. Trig is not Palin's son, but "a Down-syndrome baby." His diagnosis comes first, his personhood second. And Palin has become an exemplar of a cause rather than a mother who loves her child.