Gag reflex

Does wishing Richard Cohen would change his name to Conlon or Coleman or Concetti make me a terrible bigot?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

25 thoughts on “Gag reflex”

  1. No, Mark, it does not make you a bigot. However, when it comes to discouraging intermarriage across ethnic lines, . . .

  2. No. But none of those other groups want him either.
    And if it helps, it seems like he may be gong senile. He just had a column out stating that he didn’t think slavery was all that bad (until he saw a movie saying otherwise).

    1. I have to…well, not stand up for, but at least rise in a bit of a crouch to defend Cohen on the “12 Years A Slave” column. I thought it was pretty good. Judge for yourself. But its lead sentence is unfortunate–“I sometimes think I have spent years unlearning what I learned earlier in my life”–as it suggests Cohen will only reach full wisdom once he’s through decomposing.

      1. …it seems like he may be going senile…

        Could be the results of all those transfats in his doughnuts.

      2. John, I understand that back in the day, he was probably taught some lies. However, that day was in the 1950’s, and he’s had well over a half-century to learn better.

        1. … and during at least a few decades of that half-century, he was a national columnist, *paid* for knowledge and wisdom.

      3. Parts of that column are good – but not the first paragraph. And it is shallow, it talks about the power of the movie, but doesn’t connect it to modern day denialists who still teach kids the lies about slavery, or who deny the basic humanity of others (i.e. racists). It targets Gone with the Wind as silly, but that was a movie that came out in the 30s. It’s basic point was “we sure were awful back in 1840” but doesn’t tie it to the injustices of today. So, it might be ok as a movie review, but is still pretty bad as a column about how we live today. If Cohen still had this sort of benign mis-impression, the column should have called out the major items that contributed to that mis-impresion.

        1. The movie Gone with the Wind is one of the most pernicious–and lasting!–pieces of racist propaganda ever made. Good for him for calling it out, and for calling it silly which, in context, is exactly right. And Cohen does a very good job of describing the sort of racist education I received. But man! even as a child, I knew better than to believe a slave could be content with his or her lot in life.

          It’s not everything I’d want in a column, and I’d sure be writing something different, but it’s real good. Not great.

          That said, Cohen is a tool. And I’m really sick of even this very limited defense of a single column that isn’t as terrible as most of his stuff. It’s like having to hold my nose to defend Clinton against impeachment.

  3. Don’t worry, at least around here, we don’t believe in collective guilt. Cohen’s membership in any particular tribe is not the issue — His views are not worse because he happens to be Jewish and it would not be any better for anyone if he identified himself with a different ethnic group.

  4. Even though he’s not that old (72), Cohen has been an alter kocker for a couple of decades. His clueless racism, sexism, and general obliviousness would be garden variety old-Jewish-man from the generation before him, when a Jew from New Jersey might have worked behind a meat counter or as a foreman in a garment factory. The amazing thing about Cohen is how the working-to-lower-middle-class Jewish sensibility from the middle of the last century has hung on in a guy who writes for the Post in 2013.

    1. This is very hard on earlier generations of lower class Jewish men–not to mention being untrue. Most of those I knew and know are progressive and anti-racist.

      For example, from Samuel Gompers on up the labor movement organizers have had heavy Jewish representation.

      I concede that Richard Cohen appears to be a schmuck. But, the “tradition” he appears to come out of has more to do with the Ku Klux Klan than anything Jewish.

      1. I’m thinking less Samuel Gompers and more Jackie Mason. Although most of the A.F. of L. unions were solidly racist. And even the ILGWU has a checkered history when it comes to admitting black and Puerto Rican workers and allowing them to serve as officers.

        Yes, there’s a strong tradition of civil rights activism among Jews. There’s also quite a bit of racism.

        I remember 40 or so years ago hearing a Jewish woman complaining how the schwartzes were ruining her neighborhood. What do they do that bothers you, I asked. “They put purple curtains in their windows!” she said, bitterly. True story. That’s Cohen-style racism for you, right there.

  5. The KKK jab is a bit much. I don’t think this incident is clear evidence of racism so much as a staggering cluelessness. I imagine him hearing, “I was a slave in Egypt” and thinking, “Yeah, good times, eh?”

  6. I think BooMan is on to something:

    “But this is what happens during the Tertiary Stage of syphilis. People stop making sense, and they may even begin blurting out racially insensitive remarks that have no logical or temporal connection to anything.

    “I recommend that Cohen pursue a prolonged treatment of intravenous penicillin, followed by a comfortable retirement… public dementia and writing opinion columns are two things that do not go together.”

  7. If I wanted to joke, Mark, yes, you are being a bigot, because all conventional people know that the only bigotry is calling bigots ‘bigot’ 🙂

  8. IMO the criticism of Cohen from liberals is extremely cynical. Looking at that article, he was clearly doing an article in the “clinging to guns and religion” genre, one of those periodic efforts where the writer virtuously bends over backwards to avoid explicitly calling Tea Partiers racists while implying it. The paragraph with the “gag” sentence is all about saying “these guys are incredible racists, opposed even to miscegenation” but couched instead as “these poor threatened folks, their country is slipping away from them and they feel under siege as black people lie with white people.” There’s a reason the right isn’t defending him and doing their race-card dance – they know full well they were being targeted.

    But he goofed on the wording, so now everyone on internet who dislikes him gets to pretend Richard Cohen approves of gag reflexes to interracial marriage. When that reading makes a complete nonsense of the article rhetorically. I suppose it’s fine if it’s just about pushing out a despised writer, but seems like integrity should cut against this method.

  9. The bit immediately before the “gag” sentence makes it plain imo:

    Iowa not only is a serious obstacle for Christie and other Republican moderates, it also suggests something more ominous: the Dixiecrats of old. Officially the States’ Rights Democratic Party, they were breakaway Democrats whose primary issue was racial segregation. In its cause, they ran their own presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond, and almost cost Harry Truman the 1948 election. They didn’t care. Their objective was not to win — although that would have been nice — but to retain institutional, legal racism. They saw a way of life under attack and they feared its loss.

    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…

    The whole point of this article is to say they aren’t racist-racist, but while it’s not the old time racism it’s “troubled” in very much the same spirit. The idea that someone *defending* intuitions against cross-racial relationships would open with the Dixiecrats and Strom Thurmond beggars belief, and it is deeply disappointing to see so many respected people act like he was in fact saying “opposing interracial marriage is not racist.”

  10. I’m an oldish person with many conventional views. I support marriage, compulsory public schooling, science, Shakespeare, flamenco, Oxford University, the Church of England, progressive taxation, universal health care, prescriptive grammar, and so boringly on. Cohen isn’t implying, he’s asserting, that people like me are stone racists. It’s an appalling insult. The best you can say in his defence is that he can’t write.

  11. The racist part is bending over backwards to be nice about racists and putting racism squarely in the mainstream (‘people with conventional views’.) It puts the speaker in the mainstream of racism, if you will.

    Think of a German in 1970 saying, “People with conventional views [from 1939], though not anti-Semitic, are understandably deeply troubled to see Jews owning property.” Surely that would fit well in a neo-Nazi rag?

    It’s obvious where his heart is, even though his brain is half-heartedly working on it.

    No, I don’t think we need to mainstream racism as some sort of harmless fuddy-duddy anachronism.

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