Just got around to reading all of Richard Cohen’s now notorious “gag-reflex” column in the Washington Post. Have to say that for the first six paragraphs it’s not offensive. I even agree with it. It sounds like something I could have written myself. In fact, I have written it myself or, at least, variations on Cohen’s themes here. That the Radical Right and Religious Right Wings of the Republican Party have taken over the GOP, that Ted Cruz has made himself the hero and tribune of those wings, putting himself in the best position to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016 over any and all challengers especially a “moderate” like Chris Christie, that Christie’s landslide re-election as governor of New Jersey will count for nothing with the voters who will decide the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary and thus decide the front runner for the nomination and probably the likely winner, those same Radical Right Wing and Right Wing Christians who are rallying around Ted Cruz.
But then Cohen misses the point of his own argument.
It begins with his noting that the Right Wing Christians want to nominate one of their own and Cruz is one of their own and Chris Christie definitely isn’t and probably won’t do a good job of pretending he is. Mitt Romney had to repudiate his Mormanism. Rick Santorum is nominally a Catholic but he knows how to talk like a Right Wing Christian and does it so well that it’s probable that in the matter of his religion he thinks and believes like one to the point that I doubt his belief in transubstantiation and the efficacy of good works.
But Christie is made of sterner stuff. He may not be the most devout Catholic in the pews every Sunday, but he’s not likely to pass as an evangelical Protestant. Even if he can force himself to mouth the words, the Fundamentalists will sense how he’s repressing his own gag reflex. And there’s where Cohen begins to go off track.
He leaves out a word.
Which means he leaves out another reason the Evangelical Right won't take to Chris Christie.
For forty years and more, the so-called liberal media has been assiduously failing to notice this about the Religious Right. They’ve been determinedly presenting the Right as just folks, well-meaning conservative types, who may be a step or two behind the times and given to occasional lapses that reveal their quaintly old-fashioned views, but essentially decent-minded with their hearts in the right places who really don’t mean what they say, they just get grumpy or forgetful some times is all, but they can be excused for a lot because when all’s said and done they are the real regular Americans.
Except, when all’s said and done, they actually hate most other regular Americans.
Catholics live in cities and have ethnic sounding names. Catholics are Kennedys. Catholics believe in transubstantiation and the efficacy of good works.
Catholics are others, part of the THEM and the Republican Right is united in one thing. Hating on THEM.
The Republican Right is a tribe of bigots and haters and since the Right controls the Party then, effectively, as Cohen the Republican Party is a party of bigots and haters.
Now comes Cohen’s notorious 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.
As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, no one thinks Cohen is confessing to his own nausea at the thought of a white man married to a black woman. He’s talking about the Tea Party types who we know are sickened by the thought. And enraged. And frightened. Just remember the reaction to the Cheerios ad this past summer.
But here’s the thing. He’s just said that the people who think like this aren’t racist.
He calls them “people with conventional views.”
But being sickened, enraged, and frightened at the thought of a bi-racial couple isn’t conventional. It hasn’t been conventional for going on two generations, at least. And even when it was conventional it was also racist. Racism itself was conventional. There are surely old people who still hold views that were “conventional” when they were very young, but those people’s views aren’t conventional today. They’re hide-bound, calcified, atrophied, ignorant, and racist. And anybody who isn’t old, and I mean well-over seventy, who holds those views can’t claim they’re just conventional.
It’s that exculpatory “conventional” that undoes Cohen. With it he is excusing racists. But he’s actually gone further. He’s excused a political party actively pursuing a racist agenda. “Today’s GOP is not racist.”
Cohen isn’t the only member of the Village Media in denial about the racism fueling the Republican opposition to everything President Obama tries to do. He isn’t the only one plugging his ears when Republican politicians boast about what they intend to do with their voter suppression efforts. He isn’t the only one refusing to see the Confederate flags waving at rallies. And while I haven’t seen Cohen doing it himself, if he has, he wouldn’t be the only one blaming the open contempt Republicans show for the President not on them but on the President’s “aloofness,” that is, on his refusal to grovel and shuffle and otherwise show them he knows his place in their company.
You are either a fool or a liar if you claim not to see how much of what is going on is intended to humiliate the black man who had the nerve to become President.
They’ve just announced they’re going to impeach Eric Holder and, never mind their trumped up charges, they’re going to do it just to show Holder he’s been uppity. But the fun for them includes another chance to embarrass the President and show him who are the real bosses in their America.
Cohen is on track to make this point in those first six paragraphs, and then he ignores the thrust of his own argument to go out of his way to give Republicans an excuse to deny what’s happened to their party.
Cohen’s column is headlined “Christie’s Tea Party Problem.” But the Tea Party isn’t just Chris Christie’s problem. It’s every Republican’s problem, because, as Cohen says, the Tea Party is running the Party and the Tea Party is a tribe of bigots, haters, and racists who don’t happen to hold “conventional views.” They are radical reactionaries who are trying to re-establish white supremacy as the law of the land.
Watch how pictures like this get used in the upcoming Republican Presidential campaign.
Ta-Nehisi Coates handles this much better than I have: Richard Cohen in Context.
Make sure you read all of Cohen’s column.