It is getting increasingly difficult to keep track of all the idiotic columns written about the Tea Party. But as we become inured to all the hyperventilating from Frank Rich, Eugene Robinson, and Bob Herbert, all the predictions of an American Beer Hall Putsch, we risk ignoring the consistently entertaining stupidity of America's minor league pundits. Take this latest entry the genre, an overwritten, undercooked piece from Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen that compares the Tea Party and its allies to the National Guardsmen that cut down four protesting students at Kent State in 1970.
First, the awesomely bad writing: "Lately, [Internet radio station Pandora] has repeatedly played the Neil Young song "Ohio": "What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground?" On the bike, I have to repress a tear….The hills slow me. I grind at them, going so slowly that when the song comes on I can listen intently to the lyrics. The line about the woman dead on the ground hits with concussive force. I feel I knew her."
It gets worse: "I longed for a chance to cover [the Kent State shootings], but I was young and raw, and the journalistic sluggers whooshed out of the newsroom, hailed a cab, jumped a plane and wrote the story—the story. The story will keep you sane." And this column will drive you insane, with its awful, awful stylistic impression of New Journalism.
But, if you can believe it, it gets even worse. The massacre at Kent State, Cohen says, was the byproduct of the extreme rhetoric of the late 1960s right…not unlike all that nasty stuff you hear from today's Tea Party! "On my bike, I recalled those days and wondered if they have not returned. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words–that singsong rebuttal notwithstanding–can kill."
Like actor and political scientist Jon Hamm, Cohen bemoans "all this talk about 'taking back America' (from whom?)" we hear from conservatives and Tea Party activists. But it's an entirely appropriate sentiment, one that fails to exercise Richard Cohen, when Howard Dean writes a book called Winning Back America. Or when liberal radio host Thom Hartmann issued his 2004 call to arms, We the People: A Call to Take Back America. Give me a minute to find Cohen's column lamenting The Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel's 2004 book Taking Back America: and Taking Down the Radical Right. Or this straight-to-the-remainder-table book from James Carville and Paul Begala. Or maybe Cohen's cable was on the fritz when, just this weekend, MSNBC blowhard Ed Schultz gathered on the mall to tell people that "This is a defining moment in America. Are you American? This is no time to back down. This is time to fight for America." Why do we have to fight for America? Who is attacking America?
You get the idea.
Whether or not he likes or approves of it, the Tea Party is a movement of "dissent" against the government, but Cohen still manages to bring up the tired talking point about "turn[ing] dissent into treason, which, in a way, was the worst treason of all." Those who shouted down the 60s antiwar movement "made dissidents into the storied 'other' who had nothing in common with the rest of us. They were not opponents; they were the enemy: Fire!" You see the parallels in the Tea Party movement yet?
And no, Richard Cohen doesn't catch the irony: The dissent of Kent State protesters, he thinks, was met with deadly force because of rhetoric that "otherized them," that turned them into a domestic enemy. Pretty much exactly what Richard Cohen is doing to the dissidents of the Tea Party movement. But he disagrees with those people, so…