Coulter vs. Maher: The Claws Come Out

Political commentators kick off Speakers Series

At the end of their spirited debate Wednesday night at the Chicago Theatre -- their third head-to-head battle in three nights -- Bill Maher gave arch conservative Ann Coulter some props. After all, it's not easy trying to get the upper hand in a live setting when; a) you're up against a seasoned comedian, and b) the crowd is overwhelmingly Democratic in the home base of a president with an off-the-charts popularity rating.

So yes, she should get her props for ardently standing true to her beliefs in an environment where the Republican party seems to be going through an identity crisis. But one of Maher's most well-received lines of the night alluded to that when he said "the Republicans went searching for the future and they found radio."

But aside from Rush Limbaugh himself, Coulter is one of the few conservatives these days who continues to unapologetically publicly espouse her right-wing beliefs. And on Wednesday night, she was in full-bore pit bull attack mode, calling Rahm Emmanuel the "anti-Christ" and ripping the press for handling the president with kid gloves.

"President Obama is looking for a Portuguese water dog, which will apparently help him walk on water," Coulter quipped, which even garnered a few chuckles from the liberals in the crowd.

But Coulter knew she wasn't going to find many friends here -- and didn't try to make any, referring to the "stupid crowd" and likening the experience to "being in the Roman Coliseum."

Maher, not surprisingly, peppered his comments with humor. When the moderator, political commentator Mark Halperin, brought up the just-released news of the Bristol Palin-Levi Johnston breakup, Maher approached the topic with his experience in the "youth outreach program I call dating."

"I guarantee you those two girls (Sasha and Malia) will never come home knocked up, or Michelle will knock the black out of them," Maher said.

Coulter may have received the biggest reaction when she said she never commented about Bristol Palin's situation because she "doesn't like to judge other people."

But Coulter had some surprisingly supportive words for the current administration, saying she's comforted by the national defense team, and that she's "shocked" that Obama is not as liberal as she thought he would be. She also praised Obama for standing up to the teacher's union and for not pushing ahead with an investigation of the Bush administration, which some groups are calling for.

Of course that praise was tempered by other statements suggesting that Obama hung out with the Weather Underground, and his association with Jeremiah Wright.

Maher did his part as well, delivering an opening statement with 12 points on what is wrong with Republicans, and seemed to have special contempt for George W. Bush and Sarah Palin.

It all felt a bit like an episode of Maher's "Real Time" show on HBO, where one guest is always set up as the foil for the others -- and the overwhelmingly liberal audience. But it makes for good TV, and even better theater, and one can imagine these two combatants kicking back with a cocktail after the show, and having a good chuckle at what just transpired.

There are three more events scheduled for the "2009 Speaker Series: The Minds That Move the World." Former Vice President Al Gore will appear on April 1 to discuss climate change. On April 22, Chris Matthews will interview Tucker Carlson, Arianna Huffington and Paul Begala, and on May 28, Charlie Rose will interview James Carville and former Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove. Visit for more information.

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