Richard Cohen is acting out again
My two-year-old has become very interested in what I call "We Don'ts." He likes to articulate all the rules of our household, even those he has so far honored only in the breach. "We don't climb the bookcase," he will intone solemnly. "We don't take off our diaper." "We don't throw food on the floor."
One way of looking at Richard Cohen's recent output, in his role as perhaps the least well-loved of Washington Post opinion columnists, is as an elaborate cry for help, a testing-of-boundaries familiar to parents of young children. Kids test their parents' resolve because, deep down, they need to know that there are secure limits in place. There are things we don't do, and it's not up to the kid to decide what they are. But poor Richard Cohen has been publishing his inane and shockingly out-of-touch commentary for decades, and there seems to be no one at the Post willing to lay down the law. "Now, Richard," someone surely ought to have said long before now, "we don't defend racism. We don't get all huffy when people point out that we're saying something racist. And we don't mistake our very narrow, totally incurious point of view for 'conventional wisdom.'"
We don't, but Cohen does, over and over. And today he managed to say something horrifying in an otherwise totally ignorable column about how, based on some Googling, he doesn't think Chris Christie would do well in the Iowa caucuses.
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.
Actually, Richard Cohen, we don't gag when we think about biracial families. And if we do, then in fact we are racist. That's what racism is.
Cohen is not wrong that many cultural (and political) conservatives find Bill de Blasio alarming. He is wrong to think that "Ew, gross, a white man married to a black woman and their half-white, half-black kids, how disgusting" is in any way a "conventional" view. Someone (Fred Hiatt) really ought to fire Richard Cohen already. We don't benefit from his take on current events. We really don't.
Update: Please also read Jason Linkins: Here's a Crazy Idea I Just Had: Someone Should Maybe Edit the Washington Post
About the Author
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.