A hypocrite comes clean, sort of.
Frank Rich, in his recent column “Everybody Hates Don Imus,” performs the useful and unusual public service of unmasking himself as a hypocrite. As a repeat guest and longtime listener of the shockingly hateful shock-jock’s show, Rich, with his weighty chops as a lead political columnist and former lead drama critic for our lead paper The New York Times, acknowledges that he helped make Imus a cultural icon. Forthrightly admitting his hypocrisy, Rich puts it this way: “[O]f course I was aware of….his obnoxious comments about minority groups,” but he says, “I wasn’t seriously bothered by much of it…because I saw him as equally offensive to everyone,” noting that Imus’ “crudest interludes struck me as burlesque.”
Rich then describes his epiphany: when he beheld the human beings in question, the Rutgers women’s basketball team in their press conference. Belatedly connecting Imus’ slur—it hurts to type it: “nappy-headed hos”—to these young African-American women—”exemplary” as Rich rightly describes them—Rich confesses: “You couldn’t watch it without feeling that some kind of crime had been committed.” Indeed: some kind of crime has been committed—in plain view and for a long time.
Going wobbly, however, Rich then sighs that “the biggest cliché of the debate so far is the constant reiteration that this will be a moment for a ‘national conversation’ about race, sex, and culture.” Cliché? Crying need may be cliché, but still, it’s crying. Seeking cover in the plural pronoun, he ticks off an agenda that “we” need to address—misogynistic hip-hop lyrics, the anti-Semitism of the film Borat, etc. Yes, Mr. Rich, “we” need to do this, and some of “we” have been at it a long time, but welcome to the Resistance anyway.
What a disappointment, then, that Rich closes out his confession in full defensive mode, with this kick-off to that overdue “national conversation”:
“And the fewer moralizing pundits and politicians, the better.”
Knocked flat on my “moralizing” back, I’d fire back: “And the fewer morally crippled hypocrites, the better, Frank Rich!” Pulling myself to my feet and assembling wits, I would add: Two-faced and riddled with bad faith as they are, hypocrites do not—repeat: do not—get to set the terms of the national conversation. Of all the types in the human parade, hypocrites anger me the most: they show the public a moral face—in the end, the most important face, as hypocrites craftily know—while, privately, they roll their eyes (or do worse). A “straight arrow,” I object to the moral weaseling. I object doubly because I have admired Rich’s astute post-9/11 columns on American politics and culture.
More likely Rich resorted to the “moralizer” epithet to ward off being force-fed the castor oil associated with moralizing—an association so potent in this culture that it silences many a sensibility. Funny, though, that in his mea culpa for one epithet (the h-word, “ho”), Rich employs another (the m-word, “moralizer”). (Also funny, Don Imus, instigating epithet-monger, now offers to take his medicine: “I dished it out for a long time and now it’s my time to take it.”) For those of us who speak out on things moral in this Weimar of an age, the toughest task is cudgeling our brains for the words and images and forms and historical parallels that won’t make teeth itch and won’t trigger the wallop that Rich delivered. As for my own credentials check: Consider me another flawed pilgrim trying to steer down the Road of Life with moral compass.
But, forget castor oil, enough with credentials. On with the conversation.