Professional flamethrower Ann Coulter made the predictable round of waves this week when she called the president of the United States a "retard" in a tweet during Monday's debate.
I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) October 23, 2012
In an apparent effort to outdo herself, Coulter tweeted the word "retarded" again on Tuesday in reference to Obama – ironically seeming to take offense at someone else's joke.
Obama: "Stage 3 Romneysia" - because cancer references are HILARIOUS.If he's "the smartest guy in the room" it must be one retarded room.— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) October 23, 2012
Coulter makes her living by lobbing deliberately inflamatory word grenades. And in some respects, the media's inclination to give her a platform (and maybe we're just as guilty as anyone else in this instance) only encourages her to take it further.
But did she go too far this time? There is at least one good thing that can be said about her most recent effort to say the most horrible things she can think of. She got the attention of Special Olympics athlete and "global messenger" John Franklin Stephens.
The easy thing to do in response to someone like Coulter is to lash out or insult her back. The problem with that tactic is that is brings the entire conversation down to a troll's height.
Stephens did the harder thing. He decided to reach out to the conservative pundit with some thoughtful and thought-provoking words, posted as an open letter on the Special Olympics blog. And he did it with a remarkable degree of kindness and restraint – going so far as to sign the letter "a friend you haven't made yet."
Stephens is a 30-year-old man with Down syndrome who has struggled in ways people like Coulter will never understand. And so he writes that Coulter "need[s] to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.
"No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much."
It's a beautiful letter and one we can't add anything to, so here it is, reprinted in full:
Dear Ann Coulter
Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?
I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.
I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.
Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.
Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.
Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.
After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.
I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.
Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.
No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.
Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.
A friend you haven’t made yet, John Franklin Stephens
Special Olympics Virginia