Tuesday’s Richard Cohen column, where the long-time Washington Post writer asserts that “conventional” Americans “gag” at interracial couples, has managed to unite the entire political world against him.
But the offending bit shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Cohen’s piece, which managed to take bizarre swipes at both African-Americans and lesbians, represents something of an apotheosis for Cohen’s career, the past few years has been spent in something of an arms race with itself, stockpiling an ever-increasing stack of offensive comments about blacks, women, and LGBT Americans.
Cohen’s race problem dates back to 1986, when he defended store owners banning black boys from their places of business. For fear of crime, you see. The black community launched a massive wave of protests, the Post’s executive editor apologized, and even Cohen later admitted his critics were “mostly right.”
Fast forward to 2013, when Cohen used the same argument to defend George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was “understandably” suspicious of Trayvon Martin, because he was black, young and “wearing a uniform we all recognize.” Cohen concluded these musings with an argument for racial profiling based on a laughably basic statistical fallacy.
But lest you think Richard Cohen is blind to racism, never fear. He’s all over racism against white people — or, as it’s more commonly known, affirmative action. Because “for most Americans, race has become supremely irrelevant” (tell that to defender of profiling Richard Cohen), “it was not racists who were punished [by affirmative action] but all whites.”
In Cohenland, it’s not only whites who are victims of political correctness run amok, but also accused rapists. In his column defending Roman Polanski, he refers the 13 year old girl who the filmmaker raped after deliberately getting drunk as a “victim” (his quotes). Cohen concluded that there was “something stale about the case” and that he “dearly wishes the whole thing would go away.”
Cohen’s writing on gender in general is similarly horrifying. He bemoaned the rise of the use of smartphones for news consumption because print newspapers allowed “the first lady [to] adhere to gender orthodoxy and read the softer sections” while “just as in the old movies, papa could explain things, like what’s the purpose of NATO anymore.” He squealed over Daniel Craig’s “rippling muscle,” complaining that the expectation that the modern male beauty ideal exemplified by Our Bond made experience unsexy, especially to 23 year old girls. Totally coincidentally, Cohen had been accused of telling a 23 year old Post staffer to “stand up and turn around.”
Cohen grumbled that “every 20 years or so, some woman surfaces to accuse [Clarence Thomas] of being a male chauvinist pig — to resurrect an old term from the tie-dyed era — but falls frustratingly short of making a case for true sexual harassment.” Like, say, “stand up and turn around?” Cohen finds “the level of sexism applied” to Monica Lewinsky appalling, but wonders “where is the man for her?” He has worried about too many female acquaintances trying to kiss him. Richard Cohen does not like that.
Sexual orientation is a less-common subject of Cohen’s, but his writing on it isn’t much better. In 2005, his column blamed the spread of AIDS on “not only reckless but just plain disgusting” behavior by gay men. “It is the determination of some gays,” Richard Cohen determined, “to disregard all the rules for safe sex because being gay, they think, means you don’t have to follow any rules at all.”
Anticipating the charge of victim-blaming, Cohen wrote that “sometimes the victim needed to be blamed. This is the case now with gays when their behavior is both stupid and reckless.” No other causes of the spread of the plague beyond the perfidy of gays go mentioned in the piece.
It’s that deep simple-mindedness, that total incuriosity about a changing world that makes Cohen uniquely odious. There are talented, insightful critics of left-liberal positions on gender and race — Ross Douthat and John McWhorter immediately come to mind. But Cohen isn’t a culturally conservative intellectual; he’s just someone who passes off lazy stereotypes as profound insights.
There’s no better example of this than his 2009 column on Obamacare, which isn’t about health care reform so much as how much health care reform bores Richard Cohen. “For me, health-care reform is Missiles Redux — specifically the Reagan-era disputes over SS-20s and such.” Cohen complains about being “expected to know something about such matters, being a Washington columnist and all, but I could never keep the damn terms and numbers straight.” So he just throws up his hands: “The Soviet Union collapsed anyway.”
Richard Cohen doesn’t care to learn any more about missiles or health care than he knows about race, gender, or sexual orientation. But while he chooses not to write about the former, the latter appear to fascinate him. So his column becomes an evidence-free font of prejudice, the Platonic ideal of a useless old media dinosaur.