Five Best Thursday Columns
Ta-Nehisi Coates on Ben Carson's sudden fame, Amy Davidson on David Brooks's philosophy of freedom, Jeremy Kessler on the national character of gay marriage, Lionel Tiger on the abusive Rutgers basketball coach, and James Kirchick on being a provocative art exhibit.
Ta-Nehisi Coates in The New York Times on Ben Carson's sudden fame The rise of Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson in the GOP pundit ranks is rooted in the party's desire for a "Conservative Black Hope, a lonesome outsider, willing to stare down the party of Obamacare and stand up for the party of voter ID," writes Ta-Nehisi Coates, who traces such a hope to the notion that black voters cast their ballots on behalf of President Obama's race, not his policies. "Does it matter that this abolitionist truth-teller serves at the leisure of an audience that is overwhelmingly white? Not really. Blacks are brainwashed slaves; you can’t expect them to know what’s in their interest," Coates explains, illustrating the mindset of a party that, in the second half of Obama's presidency, is looking for a star of its own. At the New York Daily News, John McWhorter adds that Carson is a conflicted example for young black Americans, who "are watching the right turn Carson into a fool by using him to make a hopelessly flabby case about racism."
Amy Davidson at The New Yorker on David Brooks's philosophy of freedom Why, asks Amy Davidson, does New York Times columnist David Brooks think he has a special purchase on the experience of gay Americans? Assessing his latest column, in which Brooks asserts that gay people are somehow limiting their freedom by fighting for marriage rights, Davidson notes that "Brooks treats gays and lesbians, en masse, like hedonistic teenagers who he’s pleased to see have just grown up." Brooks's column, she adds, "is the musing of the prince who thinks that the pauper is so much more free than he is—so lucky to be spared your aunt’s questions about when you are going to get married. It is blind to what those questions, or the lack of them, have really meant in people’s lives, as if there was no pain or reflection or growing old, no days when someone was turned away from visiting a hospital room." Brooks, as Justin Wolfers put it on Twitter, fails to that the "freedom to contract with your lover is an expansion, not a restriction of freedom."
Jeremy Kessler at n+1 on the national character of gay marriage The dual cases of Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor are not only about the legal status of gay couples, argues Jeremy Kessler; they pertain to national character, too. Kessler dissects the remarks of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wondered aloud at oral arguments last week if the federal government should be in the business of regulating marriage in the first place. "There is something appealing—even romantic—about [Kennedy's] legal vision, demarcating as it does intimate worlds and dignified individuals threatened by a distant bureaucracy," Kessler, who is something of a Kennedy expert, admits. "But—at least since the Civil War—Americans are citizens of the nation first, and creatures of a national legal culture. ... This culture shapes their bodies and minds, their moral views and life choices. The problem with DOMA is not that it is a powerful regulation of sexuality, but that it is an unfair one." The Guardian's Jason Farago praised Kessler's effort as "essential," for its approach to "the public character of marriage and why it matters for all Americans."
Lionel Tiger in The Wall Street Journal on the abusive Rutgers basketball coach Why did it take so long for Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was caught on tape throwing balls at the heads of players and calling them various epithets, to be fired? "Perhaps the answer," writes retired Rutgers professor Lionel Tiger, "is 'sports.'" Young men who play college sports, Tiger continues, "may harbor wispy dreams of big-money athletic careers and are willing to do and accept almost anything to make their bones. There is an undeniable general vulnerability among young males to accusations of wimpy softness. They are readily shamed into exertions often extreme and often perilous." Others agreed with Tiger's assertion that the administration, which fined Rice and sent him to an anger management course in December, sacrificed the welfare of players in hopes of building a better reputation. Take Metro New York's Kristian Dyer: "Rice's intolerable actions of physical and emotional abuse of student-athletes was covered up in the hopes that the master recruiter could turn the program into a winner."
James Kirchick at Tablet on being a provocative art exhibit The provocative art piece The Whole Truth, currently on display at the Jewish Museum in Berlin, places a Jewish person in a glass box, from which he or she solicits and answers questions about being Jewish. What's the point? James Kirchick, who volunteered to sit in the box, considers his experience: "To me, the 'Jew in a Box' is an ironic, meta-commentary on what it is like to live as a Jew in contemporary Germany: You feel sometimes that you are an endangered species—or, as the museum commentary puts it, 'a living exhibition object.'" Kirchick goes on: "As a Jew in Germany, you are confronted by your Jewishness, your difference, on a continual basis ... More often than not, I felt like a therapist for anxious Germans working through their fraught relationship to history." To be sure, the exhibit continues to attract confusion — and controversy. The Associated Press quoted one Israeli citizen, currently living in Germany, who thought the exhibit was "horrible" and "completely degrading": "The Jewish Museum absolutely missed the point if they wanted to do anything to improve the relations between Germans and Jews."