Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Americans Can't Read

The controversy over a Washington Post column about Chris Christie confirms that, in the wake of cable TV and Internet shrieking, Americans have become illiterate.

Writing about Christie’s chances in an Iowa primary dominated by Tea Party prejudices, Richard Cohen notes, “People with conventional views 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.”

Now Cohen, whose column is actually a liberal lament over far Right bigotry, is accused by respectable observers of being (wait for it) a “power-worshipping bigot” who is “denouncing miscegenation and race mixing” and is forced to defend himself by telling the Huffington Post, "I didn't write one line, I wrote a column...about Tea Party extremism and I was not expressing my views, I was expressing the views of what I think some people in the Tea Party held."

All this brings to mind one of Philip Roth’s novels, “The Human Stain,” a brilliant tale in which a respected professor uses the word “spooks” in class, meaning ghosts or phantoms, and is accused of a racial slur and brought down.

In Roth’s convoluted irony, the professor passing for Jewish is actually a light-skinned black man posing as white in a society that would not otherwise accept him.

But never mind literature, we are talking here about simple literacy. Are we drowning in the devaluation of words to the point where someone’s clear intention can be taken out of context and used to club him?

To make all this perfectly clear, I am white, Jewish and considered fairly liberal. Does defending Cohen make me a closet bigot?

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