Here's what passes for a "liberal" at the Washington Post

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Richard Cohen, the Washington Post's torture-loving "liberal" columnist who denounces liberals as "leftists" and "communists" and who was so certain of the validity of President Bush's case for war in Iraq he sneered that only a "fool or possibly a Frenchman" could fail to see its wisdom, once again demonstrates the absurdity of the notion that the Post is a liberal paper.

The problem with Cohen's column today isn't that arguing against hate crimes legislation constitutes apostasy; it's the way in which he argues against hate crime legislation that causes the skin to crawl.

Cohen begins by noting what he calls New York City's "hate-crime spree, culminating early this month with the torture of three men in the Bronx, purportedly for being gay," which he follows by asserting:

Almost as bad as hate crimes themselves is the designation. It is a little piece of totalitarian nonsense, a way for prosecutors to punish miscreants for their thoughts or speech, both of which used to be protected by the Constitution (I am an originalist in this regard).

Really? Calling the torture of three gay men a "hate crime" is almost as bad as torturing three gay men? That the Washington Post would publish such warped anti-gay moral equivalence doesn't really surprise me; that it would come from the paper's purportedly liberal columnist is, however, quite disappointing.

Later, Cohen really drives home the point that it's absurd to think of him as a liberal:

Hate-crime laws combine the touching conservative belief in the unerring efficacy of deterrence (which rises to its absurd and hideous apogee with executions) with the liberal belief that when it comes to particular groups, basic rights may be suspended. Thus we get affirmative action in which certain people are advantaged at the expense of other people based entirely on race or ethnicity.

For the sake of argument, let's stipulate to Cohen's description of affirmative action as the suspension of basic rights for particular groups. Even stipulating to that, it's absolutely astonishing that Richard Cohen thinks that suspending basic rights for particular groups is an inherently liberal belief. Is he somehow unaware of conservative opposition to basic rights for gay people? Or does Richard Cohen only notice the suspension of basic rights when it happens to people like him?

This is a consistent pattern for Richard Cohen, the Post's very own Archie Bunker. He opposes affirmative action with the well-off white man's certainty that "everyone knows" race "has become supremely irrelevant." The only example of the denial of basic rights that he, a straight white man, can think of is liberal advocacy of affirmative action, rather than, say, conservative denial of marriage rights to gays. And when faced with evidence of a 44 year old man drugging and raping a 13 year old girl, Cohen refers to it as a seduction and suggests the girl was no "victim."

Cohen just can't see past his own privilege. That's clear in his failure to understand that people who are targeted for violent crime are more affected by it than those who are not:

The standard rationale for hate-crime laws is that hate crimes, to quote the proclamation Quinn and the police commissioner issued that day, "tear at the very fabric of our free society." To wit, if one gay man is mugged, other gays are intimidated. A whole class of people is affected. Maybe so. But if there is a rape in the park, women will stay away. And there are whole areas of town -- any town -- where I wouldn't go in an armored car on account of a fear of crime. Crime affects everyone.

Read that again: Richard Cohen really believes that he is as affected by a random mugging across town as a gay person is by roving packs of thugs who target gays for violent attacks. Actually, it's worse than that: the implication of the passage above is that Richard Cohen thinks that he as intimidated by roving packs of thugs who target gays for violent attacks as are gays who are the targets of those attacks.

Early in Cohen's column, he asks rhetorically "Is, somehow, the life of a homosexual more valuable than the life of a heterosexual?" Of course, proponents of hate crimes legislation do not argue that the life of a gay man is "more valuable" than the life of a straight man. They argue that hate crimes do additional harm to society that merits additional punishment. Regardless of whether you agree with that, it's simply dishonest for Cohen to suggest that supporters of hate crimes legislation are saying one life is more valuable than another.

But the dishonesty might not be the worst part. The worst part might be the narrow-casting. If Cohen believes, as a matter of principle, that the severity of punishment for a crime should not depend in part on who the victim is, I have to wonder why I can't find a column in which he has argued against harsher penalties for cop-killers. Somehow, it's only enhanced punishment for those who kill gays and racial minorities Cohen is moved to repeatedly denounce.

Yes, "repeatedly": Cohen has written similar columns in the past, including an August 18, 2005 column in which he concluded: "Making hate a crime reflects the political power of the injured groups -- gays, Jews, women, blacks, etc." Yep, women and gays are The Powerful, and well-off white men like Richard Cohen are the oppressed.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination
The Washington Post
Richard Cohen
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.