Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Bigots' Convention

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen put his foot in it again yesterday, writing about New York City's mayor-elect Bill de Blasio and his family.  De Blasio is white, his wife is black, his kids are biracial.  Cohen wrote this now widely-quoted paragraph:
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.
There's so much to object to here, like the strange segue from "today's GOP" to the "tea party", and the idea that black people and interracial couples are or used to be "the avant-garde."  What infuriated a lot of people was the second sentence about "people with conventional views."  Critics took for granted that Cohen was including himself in that group, and perhaps he was, since he had no real evidence for his claim that "conventional" people "must" repress a gag reflex just "considering" de Blasio's family.  True, outgoing Mayor Bloomberg accused de Blasio of running a "class-warfare and racist" campaign for "using his family to gain support."  OMFG, because like no other politician ever does that.  And there was one woman from Queens who told mayoral candidate Joe Lhota that de Blasio's kids were "sickening" -- though not, apparently, because they're biracial: it was because "We’re going to have two hippies in the mayor’s office. It’s sickening. I’ll be truthful. I hate to say that about children. But they’re not children anymore."  Lhota quickly dissociated himself from the woman's views.

Still, strictly speaking, I don't doubt that Cohen is right, if you take his remarks strictly on their face.  There "must", as he says, be people who are still revolted by the thought of a black/white married couple and their mixed-race children.  After all, the election and re-election of a mixed-race President of the US brought a lot of gut-level racism out into the open.  The trouble with Cohen's column, and the reason why people were right to jump on him, was that he characterized such people as "conventional."  If he'd used more accurate adjectives, like "reactionary, "bigoted," even "racist," then there'd have been no confusion about where Richard Cohen stands.

But of course, as a liberal, Cohen would never use such words, at least not for real racists.  (He might use them for people he considers racist against white people, though.)   He wouldn't call the Tea Party racist because he knows "there are blacks in the tea party. So they’re not all racist, unless I’m going to start doing mind reading about why those black people are there."  He responded to attacks on Monday's column by whining, and I bet you never saw this coming:
“The word racist is truly hurtful,” he said to Huffington Post. “It’s not who I am. It’s not who I ever was. It’s just not fair. It’s just not right.”
So you see, he wouldn't call people racists who throw up, just a little, in the back of their mouths at the thought of an interracial couple, because that would be truly hurtful.  It wouldn't be fair.  It wouldn't be right.  Never mind that Cohen himself, contrary to his fantasies, has a long history, visible in the public sphere (that is, in his published writings) of racist attitudes and statements.  But don't demonize him, bro, because it's not who he ever was.

I'm on tenterhooks to see if RWA1 will have anything to say about this.  He fumed about de Blasio during the election campaign, furious that a known Marxist was likely to become Mayor of New York City.  He had no comment on de Blasio's victory.  Surely he'll want to defend a fine establishment journalist like Richard Cohen, even if he is a flaming liberal, against Political Correctness run amok?  Or at least express his disgust at this distraction from the real issue, namely the imminent prospect of America's greatest city being turned into a Communist gulag?  We shall see.