Ann Coulter takes the low road

Ann Coulter is one of many conservative pundits criticizing the SCOTUS nomination of Harriet Miers. I relish the opportunity to debate the matter with those, like Ann, who take a stance different from mine. In fact, because I believe that serious debate is such enlightening fun, I will continue to publish views on this site that differ from mine. Sadly, Ann has taken the low road, rather than debate me on the merits of my argument in favor of Miers.

On her website today (though not in her syndicated column that contains some duplicate verbiage) she dismisses my defense of Harriet Miers on grammatical grounds. It is bad enough that she fails to deal with the substance of my argument. What makes it truly embarrassing is that she is chooses a point which is highly debatable at best. I would much rather discuss subtance than the fine points of grammar disputes.

Here's what she wrote:

One Web site [Ann can't bring herself to mention either AT or me, much less provide a link. Did she forget elementary web etiquette? Or is she worried that her fans might read an argument better than her own?] defending Bush's choice of a graduate from an undistinguished law school complains that Miers' critics "are playing the Democrats' game," claiming that the "GOP is not the party which idolizes Ivy League acceptability as the criterion of intellectual and mental fitness." (In the sort of error that results from trying to sound "Ivy League" rather than being clear, that sentence uses the grammatically incorrect "which" instead of "that." Web sites defending the academically mediocre would be a lot more convincing without all the grammatical errors.)

Informed opinions differ. The guide which comes closest to supporting Ann's point is The American Heritage Guide to Traditional Usage. But it notes:

But this use of which with restrictive clauses is very common, even in edited prose. If you fail to follow the rule in this point, you have plenty of company.

Other authorities disagree. This one says:

According to the more quibbling self—styled grammar experts, that is restrictive, while which is not.

Many grammarians insist on a distinction without any historical justification. Many of the best writers in the language couldn't tell you the difference between them, while many of the worst think they know.

This one says:

there is little evidence that this distinction is or has ever been regularly made in past centuries by careful writers of English. However, a small but impassioned group of authorities has urged the distinction....

And this one says:

The word which can be used to introduce both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, although many writers use it exclusively to introduce nonrestrictive clauses....

Ann would be much better off criticizing my frequent  and often embarrassing typos. But best of all would be a straightforward critique of my ideas. That would be the high road. The road not taken.

Maybe I am too involved in the matter to be of sound judgment, but it seems to me that Ann has just provided support for the thesis that at least one conservative pundit trashing Miers is nothing but an elitist whose imagined superiority is on shaky ground.

By the way, Ann, if you are going to put me down as a barely—educated moron, at least click on the "contributors" link on the website whose name you dare not mention and check out my background. I have three Ivy League sheepskins on my wall and taught at two Ivies. I don't really have to try to "sound Ivy League." Then have at my ideas, and don't let any hangups over educational prestige get in the way.

Thomas Lifson  10 05 05

Ann Coulter is one of many conservative pundits criticizing the SCOTUS nomination of Harriet Miers. I relish the opportunity to debate the matter with those, like Ann, who take a stance different from mine. In fact, because I believe that serious debate is such enlightening fun, I will continue to publish views on this site that differ from mine. Sadly, Ann has taken the low road, rather than debate me on the merits of my argument in favor of Miers.

On her website today (though not in her syndicated column that contains some duplicate verbiage) she dismisses my defense of Harriet Miers on grammatical grounds. It is bad enough that she fails to deal with the substance of my argument. What makes it truly embarrassing is that she is chooses a point which is highly debatable at best. I would much rather discuss subtance than the fine points of grammar disputes.

Here's what she wrote:

One Web site [Ann can't bring herself to mention either AT or me, much less provide a link. Did she forget elementary web etiquette? Or is she worried that her fans might read an argument better than her own?] defending Bush's choice of a graduate from an undistinguished law school complains that Miers' critics "are playing the Democrats' game," claiming that the "GOP is not the party which idolizes Ivy League acceptability as the criterion of intellectual and mental fitness." (In the sort of error that results from trying to sound "Ivy League" rather than being clear, that sentence uses the grammatically incorrect "which" instead of "that." Web sites defending the academically mediocre would be a lot more convincing without all the grammatical errors.)

Informed opinions differ. The guide which comes closest to supporting Ann's point is The American Heritage Guide to Traditional Usage. But it notes:

But this use of which with restrictive clauses is very common, even in edited prose. If you fail to follow the rule in this point, you have plenty of company.

Other authorities disagree. This one says:

According to the more quibbling self—styled grammar experts, that is restrictive, while which is not.

Many grammarians insist on a distinction without any historical justification. Many of the best writers in the language couldn't tell you the difference between them, while many of the worst think they know.

This one says:

there is little evidence that this distinction is or has ever been regularly made in past centuries by careful writers of English. However, a small but impassioned group of authorities has urged the distinction....

And this one says:

The word which can be used to introduce both restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, although many writers use it exclusively to introduce nonrestrictive clauses....

Ann would be much better off criticizing my frequent  and often embarrassing typos. But best of all would be a straightforward critique of my ideas. That would be the high road. The road not taken.

Maybe I am too involved in the matter to be of sound judgment, but it seems to me that Ann has just provided support for the thesis that at least one conservative pundit trashing Miers is nothing but an elitist whose imagined superiority is on shaky ground.

By the way, Ann, if you are going to put me down as a barely—educated moron, at least click on the "contributors" link on the website whose name you dare not mention and check out my background. I have three Ivy League sheepskins on my wall and taught at two Ivies. I don't really have to try to "sound Ivy League." Then have at my ideas, and don't let any hangups over educational prestige get in the way.

Thomas Lifson  10 05 05