Who’s Ignorant?

Dumb liberal op-ed pieces are legion, and generally we let them pass in silence. But this one by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post is such a howler that it deserves comment. Cohen’s theme is that Sarah Palin is ignorant; the evidence is her criticism of Michelle Obama’s famous observation, in connection with her husband’s Presidential nomination, that “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country….”
Given that pretty much everyone denounced Mrs. Obama’s comment at the time, it is not clear why Governor Palin’s reference to it in her forthcoming book, two years later, is worth a column. The only apparent explanation is the Left’s obsession with Palin. But Cohen’s reasoning tells us more about him than either Governor Palin or Mrs. Obama:

When I was 11, my father thought it was time to show my sister and me the nation’s capital. I have only vague memories of that trip – the heat, the expanse of the White House’s grounds, the Jefferson Memorial. I do remember we took Route 1 through Baltimore (no I-95 yet) and it was there that I saw my first sign with the word “colored” on it – a rooming house, I think. This was 1952, and the United States was an apartheid nation.

“An apartheid nation”? In 1952? Cohen refutes his own claim by writing that his drive through Maryland was the first time he had ever seen a “colored” sign. You didn’t see them where I lived, or where most Americans lived, either.

Michelle Obama quickly explained herself. She was proud of the turnout in the primaries – so many young people, etc. Evan Thomas, writing perceptively in Newsweek, thought – as I did – that she was saying something else.

Cohen and his fellow Democrat Thomas were happy to assume that Mrs. Obama meant something other than what she said. Sarah Palin and other observers were hardly obliged to do the same.

He dug into her senior thesis at Princeton – “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community” – to find a young woman who felt, or was made to feel, “more aware of my ‘blackness’ than ever before.” This was not a statement of racism. This was a statement of fact.

I don’t doubt that it is a statement of fact about Princeton. America’s elite educational institutions are unrelentingly race-conscious, and enforcement of liberal dogmas often results in an almost complete segregation by race.

It’s appalling that Palin and too many others fail to understand that fact – indeed so many facts of American history. They don’t offer the slightest hint that they can appreciate the history of the Obama family and that in Michelle’s case, her ancestors were slaves – Jim Robinson of South Carolina, her paternal great-great grandfather, being one.

Actually, I’m pretty sure that Sarah Palin knows all about slavery. But how does that history justify Mrs. Obama’s bitter complaint, and Cohen’s judgment that Palin is ignorant? To begin with, Mrs. Obama could be proud of her country for fighting a bloody civil war to abolish slavery. Beyond that, Obama was born in 1964. One would think that there were a great many occasions on which she should have been proud of her country, both retrospectively–victory in World War II, for example–and in her own lifetime.

Even after they were freed they were consigned to peonage, second-class citizens, forbidden to vote in much of the South, dissuaded from doing so in some of the North, relegated to separate schools, restaurants, churches, hotels, waiting rooms of train stations, the back of the bus, the other side of the tracks, the mortuary, the cemetery and, if whites could manage it, heaven itself.

Once again, Cohen conflates Mississippi with Minnesota. But his screed is weirdly out of tune: this is, after all, the First Lady of the United States of America he is talking about. Her experience has hardly been one of discrimination or deprivation.

It was the government that oppressed blacks, enforcing the laws that imprisoned them and hanged them for crimes grave and trivial, whipped them if they bolted for freedom and, in the Civil War, massacred them if they were captured fighting for the North.

This is one of those sentences that make you wonder whether the Washington Post has editors. Mrs. Obama said that she had never been proud of “her country” until her husband was nominated for President. Mr. Cohen evidently is under the misapprehension that she disclaimed pride in the Confederate States of America.

Why do politicians such as Palin and commentators such as Glenn Beck insist that African Americans go blank on their own history – as blank as apparently Palin and Beck are themselves? Why must they insist that blacks join them in embracing a repellent history that once caused America to go to war with itself?

Is Cohen seriously saying that the entire history of the United States is “repellent?” I think he means the history of the antebellum South; if so, I’ve never seen anyone argue that African-Americans should embrace that particular history. But how about embracing a history that includes a Declaration of Independence that represents an unprecedented charter of freedom; a civil war that was fought to make the promises of the Declaration real precisely for the slaves and their descendants–which is to say, Michelle Obama; a free economy that has brought prosperity and independence to many millions, including millions of African-Americans; an honorable role in world affairs without which, without saying more, the world would be a far worse place; and the nation’s ongoing efforts, including but not limited to the civil rights movement, to extend the benefits of liberty to every citizen? How dumb is it for Cohen to suggest that there is nothing in America’s history of which we should be proud?

Sarah Palin teases that she might run for president. But she is unqualified – not just in the (let me count the) usual ways, but because she does not know the country. She could not be the president of black America nor of Hispanic America. She knows more about grizzlies than she does about African Americans – and she clearly has more interest in the former than the latter.

HIspanic America? Where did that come from?

Did she once just pick up the phone and ask Michelle Obama what she meant by her remark? Did she ask about her background? What it was like at Princeton? [Ed.: Going to college at Princeton–the horror!] What it was like for her parents or her grandparents? I can offer a hint. If they were driving to Washington, they slowed down and stopped where the sign said “colored” – and the irritated Palins of the time angrily hit the horn and went on their way.

Among liberals, it is open season on Sarah Palin, her children, and–as may be the case here, Cohen’s writing is characteristically unclear–her parents or grandparents. But is there no limit to the self-indulgent stupidity that liberals can commit, if only Sarah Palin is its target?

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