Richard Cohen Insists That the Tea Party Hates Race-Mixing

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 13 2013 8:03 AM

Richard Cohen Insists That the Tea Party Hates Race-Mixing

I've tried my level damndest to ignore the latest Richard Cohen column controversy, because life is short and Cohen will stumble into another racial contretemps within six weeks or so. And I don't like the idea of a columnist being Mau-Mau'd out of a job because he's a casual bigot. The smarmy-sounding Fred Hiatt defense—that Cohen "isn’t afraid to take on subjects where culture and politics and emotion overlap"—isn't entirely wrong. Past-their-prime white guys have opinions, too.

No, the problem with Cohen's column was that he made an assertion about an entire class of people being racist, and did no work to prove it. Cohen claimed that people with "conventional" views might be spooked by Bill de Blasio's interracial marriage and the social change it represents. "What I was doing was expressing not my own views but those of extreme right-wing Republican tea party people," he told Paul Farhi. "I don’t have a problem with interracial marriage or same-sex marriage." In an interview with the Huffington Post, he asserted that "I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held," though "I don't think everybody in the Tea Party is like that, because I know there are blacks in the Tea Party. So they're not all racist."

That's still quite an assertion about a group of people Cohen didn't even try to talk to for his column. He could have asked Tea Partiers whether they were bothered by Clarence Thomas' marriage to a white woman, given that she took a (short-lived) role as a would-be Tea Party leader in 2009 and 2010. He could have asked about their reaction to FreedomWorks Outreach Director Deneen Borelli, whose husband, Tom, is white. Or, because anecdotal evidence is only worth so much, he could have "taken the Internet express" to and noticed that 85 percent of whites and 70 percent of elderly people are fine with interracial marriage. He could have shelled out for some current political science research, which suggests that "there is no difference between the racial attitudes of the general white population and self-identified tea party members."


He could have. Instead, Cohen made up a claim about a bunch of conservatives probably holding circa-1960 racial views. It's the sort of claim any columnist with sense or a work ethic would probably veto right away, but it jibes with a sterotype of conservatives, so even the publisher of the Washington Post gave it an attaboy.

To their credit, conservatives haven't made much of a "poor us!" fuss about the Cohen column. It's offensive to them, sure. But what do they care about a dim-witted columnist who only gets read when he trips over his words like a drunk uncle tumbling over the wedding cake?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

160 Countries Host Marches to Demand Action on Climate Change


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.