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From time to time, particularly in the wake of schoolyard shootings, failing markets, failing wars, failing administrations and the like, Americans take pause to take stock, wondering what's at the bottom of the malaise that afflicts their beloved, chronically clueless nation.

What is it, really, that's wrong with America?

If we're taking nominations, I'd like to open the bidding with Ann Coulter.

You may know her as the acerbic, not to say verbally abusive, syndicated columnist whose bare-knuckles conservative punditry raises hackles and ratings across the cable news spectrum.

This month, Coulter waded into the mess first made by Republican White House hopeful John McCain, when he referred to America as a nation founded on the principles of Christianity, indicating that he would prefer to see a fellow Christian in the White House.

Barely a week after McCain's comments, Coulter told an exasperated Jewish talk-show host that in her dreams, heaven - for that matter, America - is a place where everyone is Christian.

Where would the Jews have gone? She went on to explain that that Jews needed to convert to Christians in order to be "perfected," noting that Christians have a "fast track" to God.

Appearing on CNBC's The Big Idea, hosted by Donny Deutsch, Coulter was asked what America would look like if she had her way.

"It would look like New York City during the [2004] Republican National Convention," Coulter replied. "In fact, that's what I think heaven is going to look like."

Asked to expand on the theme, Coulter said "People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America."

Deutsch, growing at once incredulous and offended, responded "So we should be Christian? It would be better if we were all Christian?" to which Coulter answered with a simple yes, later inviting Deutsch to attend church with her.

DEUTSCH: We should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians, then?

COULTER: Yeah.

DEUTSCH: Really?

COULTER: Well, it's a lot easier. It's kind of a fast track.Deutsch then suggested similarities between Coulter's position and that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

DEUTSCH: "Let's wipe Israel off the earth." I mean, what, no Jews?

COULTER: No, we think - we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws.

A commercial break ensued, during which Coulter asked Deutsch for a chance to explain the comment about "perfecting" Jews. She adamantly turned aside all suggestions that the comment could be offensive to Jews, that it could be construed as hateful or anti-Semitic. "I don't think you should take it that way," she said. "But that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews."

Until recently, I failed to take Ann Coulter seriously. I was wrong.

I was wrong to write off as mere stand-up racism her advice after the September 11 attacks ["We should require passports to fly domestically. Passports can be forged, but they can also be checked with the home country in case of any suspicious-looking swarthy males."]

I was wrong to write off as scattershot shtick her comments against women's right to vote, her suggestion that John Edwards was a "faggot" who should have been assassinated by terrorists, her depiction of Islam as a religion whose whose tenets are "along the lines of 'kill everyone who doesn't smell bad and doesn't answer to the name Mohammed.'"

I was wrong to see her as some highly intelligent, well-educated, perversely gifted panderer to the lower common denominator. I was wrong to see her as some overqualified infotainment shock jock. I should have taken her seriously.

Ann Coulter is my enemy. Ann Coulter is the kind of patriotic, persuasive, powerful American who is precisely what is wrong with America.

I'll never underestimate her again. Ann Coulter has a plan for the Jews. She has one for Muslims as well. And it's her people who are exactly the kind of Americans who could find the way to try to carry it out.

Previous blogs:

Yes, Sen. McCain, America is Christian nationIn the end, bet on Israeli hawks to forge the peaceLet Ahmadinejad speakYom Kippur 2007: Jews who hate Reform Jews

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