Richard Cohen is beneath contempt. In all the years I read the Washington Post, I never saw a column of his that was not cheap and tedious. Sure, I’ll fisk E.J. Dionne, because Dionne is a Dem apparatchik in journalist’s clothing, announcing the party line. His columns thus rise to the level of argument. Cohen’s collective works, on the other hand, amount to nothing but the assorted mental burps and prejudices of a man who’s done nothing but pen a newspaper column since 1976.
So this is not me taking notice of Richard Cohen. This is me examining what Richard Cohen said that has everyone so worked up. The offending graph:
Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled — about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.
Let’s parse, shall we?
- “Today’s GOP is not racist…but it is deeply troubled.” This is the standard You’re-not-racist-but-you-are progressive construction. It allow’s progs to make generalizations about conservatives while sparing any actual conservatives who might be in the room. It’s a variant of the Maybe-not-you-but-you-can’t-deny association smear. So far, so typical.
- “…about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be avant-garde”. This is the oh-the-poor-terrified-dears patronisation. You see, conservatives don’t merely dissent from progressive dogma on these subjects. We are filled with troubles about them. We are maiden aunts reaching for our smelling salts at the sight of these kids with their rock n’ roll and their eight-track tapes.
- “People with conventional views must suppress a gag reflex when…” And having built the strawman, you put words in his mouth. The idea that objection to interracial marriage constitutes an intrinsic or even significant part of conservatism is a non-starter, but never mind. If Reagan triumphs, they’re going to take the vote away from women. It’s just who those people are.
What seems to be the problem is Cohen’s use of “conventional.” For Cohen’s generation, “conventional” and “conservative” were synonymous. In saying “People with conventional views”, Cohen obviously refers to the “troubled” not-racist-but-racist right. However, “conventional” has a more common meaning, that of “conforming or adhering to accepted standards.” And if you so remove the context and replace Cohen’s intent with the conventional meaning, then it sounds as though he’s saying interracial marriage is something that makes normal people sick.
But why do that to a fellow leftie? Simple. Because the rituals of racism-dissociation, as limned by Shelby Steele in his magnificent meditation, White Guilt, demand no less. The appearance of racism is all that matters, and all that white progressives need to prove their Not-Racism to themselves and anyone else. Blacks who participate in this ritual get the frisson of sticking it to an old white man, who’s probably racist anyway, because they all are, am I right?
Thus is Richard Cohen, making a tiresome accusation of racism against conservatives, hoist by his own petard. That those who attack him disagree not a jot from his premise doesn’t make the irony any less delicious.