November 13, 2013

Let me explain what Richard Cohen, a person of conventional views, meant by "People with conventional views."

I gestured at the Richard Cohen vortex last evening, and I wasn't going to help silly people with their nonproblem, but I woke up feeling a little merciful, so, here, let me help.

As far as I can tell — and I'm guessing because I don't see the value of looking too long into chaos — the younger generation just doesn't read the word "conventional" the same way we oldies do. (I'm 62, and Cohen is 72.) The sentence that got him in trouble with the sensitive youths of America was:
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.
I suspect that Cohen thought he'd found a cute and clever way to kick conservatives and had zero reason to think that his readers would do anything other than assume that he was kicking conservatives, since that's what liberals always do. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would think that old Cohen would do anything other than state a... conventional view.

Okay. See what I did? I used "conventional" in the pejorative way that oldies do. I happen to like to kick liberals, mostly because they think so damned well of themselves and I find that tedious and cloying.

Richard Cohen — the one we're talking about here (i.e., not my ex-husband) — is the sort of liberal who says the usual things that liberals say. It's quite dull. Why would he suddenly be anything else? To me, he is conventional, a conventional liberal, and older folks think we're sticking in the dagger when we call people "conventional."

But when Cohen (complacently, predictably liberal) said "conventional views," he didn't mean liberals, even though liberals (including, notably, him) are quite conventional. He meant those other guys — the bad guys — and he had no idea that anyone could think of him as anything other than one of the good guys — the liberals — because that's how conventional he was!

Now, I will close the door on these boring people and let them fight amongst themselves. I hope they benefit from the exercise and emerge from it with more vigor and discernment.

36 comments:

surfed said...

They won't. You have led a Forlorn Hope Professor.

Toons said...

Mr. Cohen is described in today's DailyMail as, "..a conservative Washington Post columnist"
Hilarious.

Paco Wové said...

Mostly it convinces me that The Youth of Today, with their fancy college degrees and mountains of student debt, can't read. Then I go into a corner and weep for the country.

traditionalguy said...

So their furious discussion was all about racial difference as shown in skin color, eye color and hair color...and that's all there is.

What depressing simpletons the Liberals have become on both sides of their Puritanical Censorship Games.

Henry said...

As I commented to the previous post, Lowder runs into the same rhetorical problem as Cohen.

Whereas Cohen tries to use "conventional" to mean "conservative", Lowder wants marginalize conservatives and "conventional" won't serve. Lowder knows better than to claim the dichotomy of "normal" (all correct-thinking liberals) and "not normal" (wrong-thinking conservatives). The normative claim is both logically unsound and sociologically suspect (especially so in queer- and gender-studies).

So Lowder is also at a loss. He needs a blanket term to imply his normative case without actually declaring it outright.

So he settles on "anti-modern", a strange and essentially meaningless construction that he can invest with any meaning he chooses.

Thus the rhetorical conventions of the conventional liberal.

Bill R said...

He said the word "Jehovah".

It's just like 30 AD. Jehovah has nothing to do with it. It's just that people who stray from the strict observance of public piety must be stoned to death. This demonstrates the power and moral superiority of both the priesthood and the mob.

The funny part is always when the victim tries to explain himself. "All I said was 'this halibut is good enough...'"

Ann Althouse said...

"As I commented to the previous post, Lowder runs into the same rhetorical problem as Cohen."

I didn't link to the Lowder piece in this post and used him as an observer of the chaos in the previous post.

I thought the quote that I used shows that there was vortex around Cohen.

As for reading the whole Lowder piece and understanding it… I've got to admit that's something I never bothered to do.

In other words, I don't think Lowder is too significant here. I'd rather go back to Yglesias or whoever began this misreading, except that I think this whole thing is a distraction. Perhaps it was concocted as a distraction from the real clusterfuck that belongs center stage right now: Obamacare.

(And if not Obamacare, how about: IRS or Syria or whatever other major problems are getting crowded out?)

PeterJ said...

Today Richard Cohen explains all: "What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea-party people."
But none of my extreme right-wing Republican tea-party people seem to hold those views, Richard! (I took a quick poll.)

Curious George said...

"I hope they benefit from the exercise and emerge from it with more vigor and discernment."

Guess there is a first time for everything.

But this kind of genius is typical of what I see from liberal "friends":

"There may be more thorough takedowns of Cohen's latest dreck, but this is the most enjoyable one I've read. It's amazing what some people can get paid to do. Shame on the WaPo for paying him to do it."

So I wouldn't bet on it.

Abe Mathews said...

Funny, I am as conventional as a right winger could be, from flyover country besides and I never thought a thing like that when I saw a picture of the new NY mayor and family. Cohen's simplistic understanding mirrors that of many of my liberal friends.

Marshal said...

Paco Wové said...
Mostly it convinces me that The Youth of Today, with their fancy college degrees and mountains of student debt, can't read.


Their entire education consists of finding new ways to call non-leftists racist / sexist / homophobic. Why would anyone be surprised that's all they can do?

Henry said...

In other words, I don't think Lowder is too significant here

I'm not sure any of these characters are significant - Cohen, Yglesias, and whoever else piled on. There are a whole host of people whose views so conform to their prejudices that they never say anything interesting --anything trenchant as it were.

I thought Lowder's exegesis was interesting as a kind of rhetorical car crash. He actually comes close to blurting out a truth about the liberal world view -- that it is an assertion of normative thinking -- but veers all over the road to avoid such clarity.

Brando said...

I guess these "conventional" Tea Party types are so uncomfortable with racially mixed marriages they would have to reject Clarence Thomas' white wife out of hand. Oh wait....

It's a lot easier to oppose a group of people when you can assign hateful beliefs to them. Much easier than challenging what they actually say and do.

Big Mike said...

I happen to like to kick liberals, mostly because they think so damned well of themselves and I find that tedious and cloying.

You too, Professor?!? Life in Madison must be wearing.

Now, I will close the door on these boring people and let them fight amongst themselves. I hope they benefit from the exercise and emerge from it with more vigor and discernment.

Progressives? Discernment? After all those years in Madison to still have such a quaint hope.

jacksonjay said...

I'm curious about how this guy converted the Lesbian. Does that make me "conventional" or "unconventional"?

SJ said...

You know, I've got family in one of the more rural parts of Ohio.

They are, politically speaking, somewhere between conservative and middle-of-the-road.

But there are several mixed-race marriages in that branch of the family. At least one of those marriages dates back to the 1970s.

This is just one story--one anecdote, not data. But there has been no racial tension that I could detect inside that branch of the family, or between the family and other residents in that area.

Why does this Mr. Cohen state that "conventional-thinking" persons feel a visceral dislike of inter-racial marriage? What anecdote (or data) does he have in mind?

Who is he thinking of, the "conventional-thinking" people that he used to run with? Why do I not recognize them?

tim maguire said...

You know, just yesterday I almost used the word "cloying" when I meant "coy".

And here it is one day later and you use that same rare word, but properly.

Anthony said...

Look at the bright sode, Cohen has manged to unite left and right in the this country, something no one else has been able to do. Granted it is united in outrage but still, it is a start.

Peter Friedman said...

Professor--I'll agree with you that he was referring to members of the GOP as "conventional" people, but he also stated flat out that those the "GOP is not racist."

So he seems to believe that someone who gags at the site of an interracial couple is not a racist.

Do you agree?

madAsHell said...

I dunno. I thought bangin' a lesbian was on everyone's bucket list.

Ralph Hyatt said...

I think in Mr Cohen's mind it really is still 1963 and the "conventional" thinking among the peasantry is opposed to inter-racial marriage.

Meanwhile, here in 2013, young adults are going to my brother-in-law's Elk Lodge in a rural community in Tennessee to line dance to hip-hop music.

rhhardin said...

Leftists don't believe in perverse consequences.

At the beginning of time, they were right half the time.

But now all the problems that respond well to direct action have been fixed.

What's left is problems that respond to direct action with perverse consequences.

That's why they're problems today.

It's evolution.

Problems develop resistance to direct action.

The left doesn't believe in evolution.

wildswan said...

rh Hardin said:
What's left is problems that respond to direct action with perverse consequences.

That's why they're problems today.

It's evolution.

Problems develop resistance to direct action.

I'm just going to shut the door on Richard Cohen as suggested and meditate on "Problems develop resistance to direct action" or maybe "Problems develop resistance to conventional action after two generations" - e.g., seventy years after Roosevelt government intervention as in Obamacare starts to create problems, not solve them.

jacksonjay said...


I dunno. I thought bangin' a lesbian was on everyone's bucket list.

We talkin about Ellen's girl Portia or Rosie O'Donnell?

Crunchy Frog said...

I dunno. I thought bangin' a lesbian was on everyone's bucket list.

Which lesbian? Lipstick or lumberjack?

Crunchy Frog said...

Once again, we have a case of liberal projection. Old fart Cohen has to work hard at suppressing his own racist instincts, so he a) assumes everyone else has them, and b) overcompensates trying to assuage his own putative white guilt.

Sam L. said...

Yeah, old RC is just so...out of touch.

Hyphenated American said...

Does anyone remember how conventional political activists got upset when they found out that tiger woods had affairs with white women? Or that some white people adopted black kids?

Hyphenated American said...

Btw, are post modernists anti modern? I would like someone to do reconstruction of this structure?

Ambrose said...

To this conventional right winger, DeBlasio's lovely family may be his only redeeming quality.

richardsson said...

Cohen, way back when, wrote a piece praising John McCain to the skies. He was the kind of Republican the Republicans need, was the gist of the piece. I emailed him a note saying, "You phony so-and-so, the minute McCain becomes the Republican nominee, you'll start ripping him to shreds." And in 2008, that's what he did.

Sigivald said...

Brando said: It's a lot easier to oppose a group of people when you can assign hateful beliefs to them. Much easier than challenging what they actually say and do.

That should be in large letters at the top of a whole lot of websites.

Problem is, I suspect that the people who most need to understand it - and I've seen them on both left and right* - would simply assume it was directed at The Other, not themselves.

(* Mostly on the left, but that might be because I see a lot more reflexive Left than reflexive Right, because I live surrounded by Progressives.

I do know that to a large extent it's simply normal human behavior, not specific to any ideology or party affiliation.)

Lydia said...

I think a large portion of the lefties attacking Cohen over this are using it as an excuse to go after him. He's long riled them in various ways, like supporting Israel over the Palestinians, calling for bombing Iran, and just generally having a rather non-PC point of view. They really hate it when a man of the left does not stick to the party line.

n.n said...

Watch the children and "children", Cohen. There is your answer.

Cohen has become what he dreads most: conservative, but not American conservative, so there is still hope. He either does not comprehend or appreciate the concept of liberalism. He failed to span the generation gap, and the philosophy has not yet been recycled.

paul a'barge said...

Man, when Althouse kicks ass, she really, really kicks ass.

I mean, every once in a while (and it's not all that infrequent) you have to sit back, remember to breathe and watch laser-like flames fly across the Internet.

Burn, baby. Burn.

Thers said...

You need to apologize to GWPDA.