Monday, August 15, 2011

Catch of the Day

Steve Benen calls out WaPo's Richard Cohen -- the "hackiest pundit in America' -- for saying that Rick Perry looks like a president while Michele Bachmann doesn't.

What's amazing here isn't just that Cohen's instinctive sexist and racist assumptions (and, really, there's no other way to put it) aren't just several years behind the reality of a world in which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were the two most likely to win presidential candidates last time around, but that this sort of thinking is so far behind where most of the culture is. Yes, once upon a time movie presidents all looked like Henry Fonda and Walter Huston. But a quick check of wikipedia reveals that recent presidents have included Danny Glover, Blair Underwood, Louis Gossett, Jr., Chris Rock, Michael Dorn, Morgan Freeman, Jimmy Smits, Geena Davis, Patricia I need to go on? Well, I suppose I should mention Mary McDonnell, although I suppose that doesn't count on a technicality, but's worth mentioning that not all presidents are glamorous. At any rate, yes there are still plenty of James Cromwells and James Caans, but Hollywood loves its black presidents, and is gradually getting used to the idea of women in the White House, too. Which means that Richard Cohen is not only years behind reality, but he's also years behind where the rest of the culture is.


  1. I stopped reading Cohen after he wrote this, in September 2003:

    "George Bush won last time out because Al Gore lost. He won at a time when the world seemed safe, when it was unimaginable that the World Trade Center would become a hole in the ground. He won because he seemed the more genuine man, an aw-shucks guy who we could take a chance on. We took the chance."

    We did? You can argue about many aspects of the 2000 election, but it's not in dispute that nearly half a million more of "us" voted for Gore than for Bush. How is that evidence that "we" found Bush more likeable?

    I don't know what the deal is with Cohen; yeah, he's a hack, but how exactly does that work? Does he mistake the chitchat at his own dinner parties for a Gallup poll? Does he just assume that whatever some officials decide, or whatever conventional wisdom was when he was younger, is ipso facto a profound expression of America's core beliefs? He does seem to assign just amazing degrees of legitimacy to conventional wisdom, to the point of forgetting not just lots of movies but the actual vote in a presidential election -- an event I'm pretty sure his own newspaper did cover.

  2. I'm no fan of Cohen, and I totally agree with the placement of him as the nation's hackiest pundit. In fact, the column is his usual trivial fluff. However, I think you and Benen are reading more than is warranted into his offhand statement about Perry "looking" like a president. First, let's look at the paragraph in context:

    I can think of no reason why anyone who, for some unaccountable reason, supports Michele Bachmann will not move over to Perry. He is her equal in social issues, which is her strength, but he is a much better campaigner — as he showed the other day in Waterloo, Iowa. He retailed a GOP dinner, going from table to table, while Bachmann made a Lady Gaga entrance — rock music, lights, phalanx of security — and just perfunctorily met with the ordinary people she claims both to be and to represent. Perry, who actually looks like a president (also the late Rory Calhoun), will raise far more money and breeze by her. Au revoir, Michele.

    I don't think Cohen was suggesting here that maleness or whiteness are necessary for a presidential "look." I think he was likely talking about a mixture of physical attractiveness and professional demeanor. Arguably, Bachmann has one but not the other, whereas Perry has both. He may have advocated secession, but at least he doesn't have a glazed expression!

    Benen asks whether pundits would ever suggest that Obama "looks like a president." Actually, many pundits did say that Obama "looks presidential" around when McCain's campaign was imploding in late 2008. Jay Cost described Obama as "looking like a president." For that matter, I don't recall ever hearing anyone describe John Edwards, a handsome white male, as "looking like a president."

    As analysis goes, Cohen's is as superficial as they come, but I don't see it as sexist or racist.

  3. ^ I concur with Kylopod's comment. The actual quote seems to me to refer more to the way the candidates present themselves than to their physical appearance.

    Or, more simply: There are lots of ways in which Michelle Bachmann doesn't look or seem like a president, and none of them have to do with her being a woman.

  4. I think Steve and Jonathan have the 'looks like' bit right. Rick Perry looks like Rory Calhoun in terms of physical appearance. The structure of the clause is: looks like (Calhoun AND president). Unless Rory Calhoun had Perry-like mannerisms, or unless Cohen is randomly using zeugma* for no reason, he's talking about physical appearance on the president side too.

    *an example of zeugma: "She drove her car into a lamppost and her mother crazy."

  5. Well, the reactionary Left is all about walling people off by gender, race, class, etc., and so a conservative woman must naturally be destroyed in that environment, as by definition she's a threat to that ancien political structure. Conservative women, conservative blacks... they are always to be destroyed by the hardcore Left, even if it means pumping up some W. Bush sound-alike (and you know how much those BDSers hate doing that).

    Cohen is just doing what all of the wizened and drooly lefties do. To do otherwise is to watch a cobbled-together coalition begin to fragment, and it will not survive that fragmentation.

  6. Anon,

    Assuming that you're the same Anonymous who has been around here for the last week or so...welcome, and I hope you stick around. But if you do, I hope you try harder! All I'm hearing is repetition of GOP talking points -- that's no fun for anyone. E.g. this is an absolutely implausible comment; it appears to rest on the assumption that Richard Cohen is part of the "left" while Steve Benen isn't, which no one who reads them both regularly is going to believe.

    Anyway, of course everyone is welcome to post what they want (with the exception that I will if necessary zap stuff to keep the tone and spirit around here respectful).

    One repeated request to all regular Anons -- it helps the flow of conversation if you will post under some consistent handle.

  7. Mr. Bernstein,

    To be honest, I don't have a clue who Steve Benen is.

    I do know who Richard Cohen is, and he is a part of the ancien lefty regime, obviously. That's who's cognizant of and threatened by the Bachmann's of this world, and thus you'll see the visceral reactions we're seeing about her, and from all of the establishment Left. If this passes, and spreads, they're cooked, and they darn well know it. Electorally, they cannot survive in any context but the current contrived fragmentation.

    They must remain ever vigilant re skin pigmentation and chromosomes... or else.

    The "talking points" meme is getting a bit old now. You can't silence people, much as the Left has attempted to do so these past few years. They will speak, and then they will vote. You can silence them on your blog, of course, but that would be more a statement about you.

    It's a plain blog about politics. I'm just giving you some historical reality re politics. The things you're reading are a reflection of that historical reality. They are unwelcome by lefty dogmatists, I realize. That doesn't make them any less true or relevant.

    2010 was a statement. On current trajectory, 2012 will be another. Both are/will be statements about the Left. So the only question is, will the Left figure out what those statements are, and make use of them?

    And no matter what you think about anything... there's always a bottom line. Do you lefties want a bunch of Republican stooges waltzing to electoral victories because you allowed yourselves to be chained to rigid leftist dogma that the People are clearly rejecting?

    They're not embracing Republicans. They're rejecting leftists. Skinny it down, and that's what you're seeing. Now, you just gotta figure out how to keep from getting rejected. The other guys aren't your concern, and I don't believe they are the electorate's concern right now. The Left appears to be their concern.

    That's my plain read.

  8. Just to be clear then, Anon, you are saying that Rick Perry, who Cohen approves of as "presidential", is some sort of darling of the Establishment Left? That's hard to believe.

    You make an interesting point about the left's clear and evident discomfort with the rise of conservative women politicians, though. Palin has thrown American politics for an almighty loop, a very interesting development that seems to be having a massive knock-on effect for the engagement (and the public engagement) of Republican women. I have to say, I like it even though I don't yet understand it.

    Also, I have to mention, good Lord, your rhetoric is already tiring. Jonathan welcomes you to the blog and tells you to post anything you like, and you whine that he's trying to silence you. Get a grip.

  9. Anon,

    You are pretty clearly wrong about Richard Cohen; if you follow the link up top, you'll find that he (among other things) is a Clarence Thomas fan, which yet again pretty much undermines your point.


    I'm not convinced that "the left" does have any particular discomfort with "conservative women politicians." Neither Palin nor Bachmann is a very good test case. It's a longstanding talking point among conservatives, but I don't much see any evidence that it's true.

  10. No, Tybalt, that's not what I'm saying. What I did say is pretty clear, so read it through again.

    I'm not whining about Mr. Bernstein's warning about "zapping" what he deems inappropriate. It's his blog, he included that in a post directed at me, and I commented on it. I'm not too much worried about it, frankly, as while I appreciate his kind invitation to remain, I doubt there's much for me here. I look at this as a brief missionary visit. I think you lefties complaining about my boring posts might want to wake up and smell the coffee. What you're seeing these days is real, no matter if you find it unwelcome and "boring".

    It's a plain blog about politics, and the plain truth is that the Left is getting whacked pretty much across the board these days, and I see no let up in the whackings. And it ain't because the People like their opposition... this is a straight up whacking directed at the Left. Be bored... be angry at the boring... but best to recognize plain truth when you see it.



    Mr. Bernstein,

    I'll take a guess and say that I've been reading Cohen long before you were born. He is a card carrying member of the lefty establishment. Now, he may not be out there with today's fringe type lefties, the ones who are pushing the policies that the People are rejecting right now, but he is a part of the skin pigmentation and chromosome cognizant lefty establishment. I adjudge this from many years reading him. Points of divergence from that overall political mindset are acknowledged, but I don't believe they displace the overall body of his work.

    Richard Cohen more than most understands that pigmentation and chromosomes are critical to his tribe's political fortunes.

  11. I must say, as a rigid dogmatist leftist, I for one look forward to the attacks that Bachmann is about to come under -- successfully, I expect -- from my comrades Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, those pillars of the hardcore establishment Left.

  12. "What I did say is pretty clear, so read it through again."

    That's what passes for clarity 'round your parts? Missionary, indeed. (I didn't find it clear at all - your argument seems that Cohen rubbishes Bachmann because he carries the water for some kind of Left cabal, which doesn't explain at all why he finds Rick Perry so awesomely Presidential).

    As for your argument that "pigmentation and chromosomes" (how adorable!) are some sort of Lefty plot to defeat the will of the People, let me guess... white male, right? Awesome.

  13. On the topic of "looking like a President" -- Does Rick Perry have the look of someone who is likely to be elected President? It seems to me that American voters seem to value a "I'm a regular guy (person)" vibe in their candidates, and don't like what they take to be "phoniness." Rick Perry's whole look -- the hair, the clothes -- seems the opposite; it appears slick, not "real."

    Is there any evidence to back up my hunch on this matter? I'm not sure how one would measure "phoniness" or "slickness," but doesn't the overly well-coiffed candidate tend to lose? Look at John Kerry, for example. My pet theory is that this helps explain the relative lack of successful female candidates for high office, since female candidates are so often obviously wearing make up, have spent a lot of effort on their hair -- are they sending a "phony" vibe to voters?


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