...specifically about the toxic blob of ectoplasm that is known as Ann Coulter (yes, that was an insult. yes), but more generally about exactly what's wrong with her style of "provocation:"
Is Coulter sincere about the things she says? That's a silly question, like asking whether schoolchildren are sincere in the taunts they throw at each other across the school yard. But that doesn't make her a satirist, as her defenders like to claim -- usually with the implication that her literal-minded liberal critics don't get the joke.
Satire depicts things as grotesque in order to make them seem ridiculous -- what Stephen Colbert does in his Bill O'Reilly persona or Christopher Buckley does with the pointed caricatures of ``Thank You for Smoking.'' But Coulter isn't actually sending anybody up -- not herself, certainly, and not the targets of her remarks.
Her fans may enjoy hearing her talk about poisoning Justice Stevens or say that it's a pity Timothy McVeigh didn't park his truck next to the New York Times building. But that's not because the remarks make either Stevens or the New York Times seem particularly ridiculous. It's because Coulter seems to be able to get away with unbridled aggression by presenting it as mere mischief, leaving her critics looking prim and humorless. (``Perhaps her book should have been called `Heartless,' '' said Hillary Clinton after Coulter's remarks about the widows, inviting the response, ``Oh lighten up, girl.'')
That rhetorical maneuver doesn't really have a name, but it's a close relative of what we think of as smut. In the strict sense, of course, smut is the leering innuendo that veils sexual aggression. But in a broader sense, smut can be any kind of malice that pretends to be mere naughtiness. It might be a leering vulgarity, a racial epithet, or simply a venomous insult -- what makes it smut is that it's tricked out as humor, so that if anyone claims to be offended you can answer indignantly, ``Can't you take a joke?''