Elizabeth Edwards denied criticisms that her highly publicized on-air confrontation with conservative firebrand Ann Coulter was a calculated move designed to raise money for her husband’s presidential campaign.
“I hope I was provoking people across the country to speak out when they hear this kind of hate language,” Edwards told TODAY’s David Gregory. “It made a difference in the South when racist language used to be the way that everyone spoke.
“But then when decent people spoke out and said, ‘We don’t want to hear that anymore,’ it changed. And now racist language is not a part of civil dialogue in the South,” she went on. “We can accomplish the same thing, but only if people across the country speak out. I hope I was giving them a permission slip to do that.”
On Monday, Coulter had said on ABC’s Good Morning America that she wished John Edwards were killed in a terrorist attack. According to ABC News’ Web site, she said, “If I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot.” Coulter added that she was just mimicking a comment Bill Maher had made on his HBO show about Vice President Dick Cheney.
During a discussion on the Iraq war, Maher had said that if Cheney were killed by terrorists, “More people would live. That’s a fact.” After those remarks, he later explained in his blog on The Huffington Post: “I believe that were he not in power, our troops would likely come home sooner. But I don't wish him dead.”
On Tuesday, Coulter was making an appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews to promote the paperback release of her book “Godless: The Church of Liberalism.” Elizabeth Edwards called in and for the next four minutes, while Coulter brushed aside her objections, the candidate’s wife appealed to Coulter to stop engaging in what Edwards calls "hate speech."
“I think we heard all we need to hear. The wife of a presidential candidate is asking me to stop speaking,” Coulter said.
Just ‘inflammatory rhetoric’?
In her telephone confrontation with Coulter, Edwards also implored her to stop the personal attacks and hate speech and engage in legitimate political dialogue. Later, the Edwards campaign used the row between the two women on its Web site to push for campaign contributions, leading some to conclude that Edwards’ call was a calculated move.
“I suppose if I had booked Ann Coulter on ABC or on Hardball on MSNBC at the end of the fundraising quarter, that complaint would be legitimate,” Edwards said. “I had no idea when she was going to roll out her book or when she was going to be on the air again.”
Edwards agreed that it’s not just commentators on the political right who are to blame.
“It’s not just Ann Coulter on the right,” she said. “Michael Savage [host of the radio talk show ‘Savage Nation’] is another example of someone who uses awful inflammatory language that degrades the political process, and the same is true on the left.”
But the Edwards family and Coulter have a particularly long and bitter history. Coulter has accused the Edwards of using the 1996 death of their son, Wade, in a car accident for political advantage. She has also directed homosexual slurs at Edwards.
Gregory suggested that if you strip away Coulter’s “inflammatory rhetoric,” the columnist’s point “is he’s disingenuous, especially on the issue of poverty, whether it’s a $400 haircut or taking big money to speak in front of a poverty group.”
“That has absolutely nothing to do with what she was saying whatsoever,” Edwards replied. “John has a lifetime of dedication to poverty issues. If you don’t trust him on that because he once got a haircut that was too expensive, don’t vote for him and don’t support him, but if you believe that lifetime as opposed to the price of a single haircut, then do support him.”
She objected to things Coulter has said about other candidates and about her charge that Kristen Breitweiser and other 9-11 widows “delighted too much in their husbands’ death.”
“This is not just stripping away inflammatory language,” Edwards said. “This is not legitimate political speech. This is speech of hatred and meanness meant to distract us from the issues.”
Edwards, who is battling cancer, said she’s feeling well. “One of the reasons I’m out there speaking is so people can see it’s possible to live with cancer and to live vital, full lives,” she said.
“We’re asking people to make a choice about what kind of political dialogue they want,” she said. “We have a choice here - If people choose to support John’s campaign or another campaign, that’s something we want them to do.
“Get engaged and speak out.”