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November 12, 2013 1:03 PM Richard Cohen Discovers Iowa

By Ed Kilgore

As noted previously in this space, the WaPo columnist Richard Cohen can make you crazy even when you actually agree with his views. I learned that anew today upon reading his column about the frightening landscape the “moderate conservative” Chris Christie must navigate to assume his Beltway-appointed position as Republican nominee for president in 2016.

Bravely firing up his computer, Cohen takes a virtual tour (you get the sense he just recently figured out how to do this) of Republican sentiment in Iowa, and discovers it’s not exactly Chris Christie Country! Quel horreur! And so he shrewdly observes that Christie might need to figure out a way to avoid or neutralize Iowa and South Carolina if he wants to win the nomination. Congratulations, Richard! You’ve just joined, a bit late to be sure, the 2007 debate over Rudy Giuliani’s path to the presidency!

But having made high-school sense for a couple of graphs, Cohen then lurches into a an entirely gratuitous tangent exhibiting a grade-school understanding of the State’s Rights Democratic Party of 1948, a.k.a., the Dixiecrats.

Iowa not only is a serious obstacle for Christie and other Republican moderates, it also suggests something more ominous: the Dixiecrats of old. Officially the States’ Rights Democratic Party, they were breakaway Democrats whose primary issue was racial segregation. In its cause, they ran their own presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond, and almost cost Harry Truman the 1948 election. They didn’t care. Their objective was not to win — although that would have been nice — but to retain institutional, legal racism. They saw a way of life under attack and they feared its loss.

Is Cohen suggesting that Iowa Republicans are going to launch a third-party presidential run? No. So why bring up the Dixiecrats, whose goal (other than to protect state control of offshore oil resources) was to remind the national Democratic Party that the “solid South’s” support for the Donkey Ticket was contingent on its maintenance of silence on civil rights. No, they didn’t beat Truman, but the national party got the message, and the famous liberal icons Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 and JFK in 1960 kept their civil rights commitments pretty much on the down low, and the Dixiecrats mostly returned to the fold until 1964.

Cohen seems to have brought up the Dixiecrats because they were defending an outmoded way of life and so are Iowa Republicans, or the Tea Folk, or somebody who doesn’t like Chris Christie, and who are also:

People with conventional views [who] 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. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

So Iowa Republicans are like Dixiecrats, with “conventional” views that are racist and homophobic. But wait, just before that word salad, Cohen tell us that “[t]oday’s GOP is not racist.” I’m confused. And that’s before Cohen drags in poor old Merle Haggard to serve as a Tea Party avatar, with a 1982 song that expressed nostalgia for the days before, among other things, the Vietnam War was waged and Nixon lied to the country. Just think, says Cohen: that song has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube!

I shudder to think how Cohen will react when he finds out about Twitter.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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