So, I tune in to HuffPo today and on its famously sensationalistic front page I find this:
Dammit, Richard! Can’t you behave? Didn’t you learn anything the last time, and the time before that? Liberals are very sensitive about such things and you should know better.
Because I don’t often read Cohen’s columns, I thought I would at least pay him the courtesy of reading his “racist column,” before I pronounced him a racist. That’s fair, isn’t it? I mean, even though the mothership of left-leaning news and opinion aggregators has pronounced him a bad guy, I want to be fair and see why that is. I’m funny that way.
It took me only one sentence to find out how HuffPo missed the boat on Cohen’s column. The most offensive thing in the piece had to be the parenthetical in the opening sentence:
The day after Chris Christie, the cuddly moderate conservative, won a landslide reelection as the Republican governor of Democratic New Jersey, I took the Internet Express out to Iowa, surveying its various newspapers, blogs and such to see how he might do in the GOP caucuses, won last time by Rick Santorum, neither cuddly nor moderate.
Chris Christie is a “cuddly moderate conservative”? Are you kidding me? Can you see how awesomely awful that description is? There’s not really much of anything cuddly or moderate about Christie’s ideology, as we have previously discussed on this blog, but compared to a non-cuddly and non-moderate nut like Rick Santorum, he looks that way to some observers. I sort of understand the reason for that spasm of false relativity among straight news reporters—they like the guy a lot—but for left-leaning columnists, calling Christie a moderate conservative represents an unacceptably distorted view of the landscape.
Just because the right-wing of the Republican Party is moving further and further into both absurdity and obscurity, doesn’t mean that rigid conservatives like Chris Christie get to be called “moderate.” I’ve also recently heard people refer to Ronald Reagan as a moderate conservative, a description that is also false. Trust The Erstwhile Conservative on this one, but as one of the Gipper’s biggest fans in the old days, I didn’t cheer him on because he was a moderate. Just the opposite. Even though he had to, of necessity, make deals with Democrats, he remained a die-hard conservative at heart. So, it’s just plain wrong to put the word moderate in the same sentence as either Reagan or Christie. And the editors of HuffPo, if they wanted to go after Cohen, should have criticized that gaffe.
But nope, the focus of the sensational headlines was Cohen’s alleged racism. Well, let’s take a look at the offending passage, cited in the HuffPo story (and, by now, widely excerpted and criticized all over the leftish sites):
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.
These comments were labeled “incendiary” by HuffPo. Huh? Incendiary? Hardly. The worst thing about this paragraph, when it is read in the context of the entire column, is that he definitively, without any qualification, says, “Today’s GOP is not racist.” We know for a fact that some fraction of the GOP is racist, although no one thinks the entire party is. But that’s not the point. Some liberals, as far as I can tell, are calling Cohen a racist mostly because of his use of the phrase, “People with conventional views,” which, they say, is wrong because conventional views on interracial marriage have changed. The HuffPo piece cites a Gallup poll showing 87 percent approval for such marriages (30 years ago it was at 43 percent; 50 years ago it was less than 10 percent).
Now, I don’t see how misusing the term “conventional” makes one a racist, and even a cursory reading of the column should have made it clear to anyone that Cohen is attacking the Tea Party and its anachronistic views: “If this is the future of the GOP, then it’s in the past.” And Cohen ends his piece with some advice to Chris Christie about not becoming a Tea Party guy who could win the rabidly conservative Iowa caucuses because then the “Joisey” governor would become “anathema to the rest of us.”
There wasn’t a damn thing racist about Cohen’s column. Essentially he is discussing what I have often labeled “white cultural angst,” the feeling among conservative Christian palefaces that they are losing their traditional stranglehold on the country. When Cohen says these folks don’t much recognize the country these days, he’s right about that and he’s not a racist for saying so.
But even though there was no racism in the column, there was something very offensive about it, at least for anyone who has looked at Christie’s conservatism objectively, without comparing it to the worst elements of his party. The offense is in assuming that a President Christie would hold policy positions that would be all that different from your average teapartier. Besides Christie’s record, as evidence for my claim I submit to you the following famous quote uttered in 2011 at that annual gathering of wingnuts known as the Conservative Political Action Conference:
If we don’t run Chris Christie, Romney will be the nominee and we’ll lose.
That wasn’t some milquetoast moderate who said that. It was the female version of Rush Limbaugh, the mean-spirited, liberal-hating Ann Coulter. She later told Fox, her home away from home, “I don’t care if [Chris Christie] wants to run, his country needs him, it appears.”
That was in 2011. Now, I admit that it is hard to take Ann Coulter seriously as a pundit, but many right-wingers love her, which is why they have made her wealthy by buying her books, and why Fox frequently books her as a guest on TV and radio. Thus, she makes noise in the right’s echo chamber that some hear as music, even if it’s mostly chin music. In any case, Coulter’s love for Christie wasn’t just a whim in 2011. In May of this year—this year, after the 2012 Christie-Obama love fest that pissed off nearly every teapartier in the country—she had this exchange with Sean Hannity on the radio:
COULTER: I’ve told you before: I have eyes only for Chris Christie.
HANNITY: Your buddy Chris Christie is out there sucking up to Obama this week. Don’t defend him.
COULTER: There seems to be a concerted movement by both liberals and conservatives to lie about Christie and make him seem more liberal than he really is.
Ann Coulter may be a lot of things, a lot of unseemly things, but she knows that Chris Christie, should he get elected president, would favor the kind of conservatism that Ted Cruz would love, especially if Christie governed with a Republican House and Senate. Oh, I know that lately she has fallen out of love with the New Jersey governor (she tweeted in June, “@GovChristie’s dead to me”) and withdrawn her support, but to further prove my point, look who she supports now:
Case closed. If Ted Cruz and Chris Christie are both suitable candidates for a liberal-hater like Ann Coulter, then obviously there are no significant ideological differences between them. And if Richard Cohen deserves any criticism from the left for his recent column, it is for assuming Chris Christie is some kind of moderate conservative we can all live with.
Because a lot of folks would find it very hard to live under President Christie and a Tea Party-dominated House and Senate.