Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Richard Cohen: Vacuous and Contemptible

I haven't done any research on this, but to my knowledge nobody has ever accused WaPo columnist Richard Cohen of being well-informed, intellectually curious, talented, insightful or interesting. But his latest column, a piece on why Barack Obama should run for President titled, "Why Not Obama?", manages to be both vacuous and contemptible. The highlights:
Life itself -- its hard lessons -- cautions me to look with consummate cynicism on the Obama trial balloon. After all, the man has been in the United States Senate for a mere two years, and before that he served -- with distinction, we are told -- in the Illinois legislature, where, it seems, just staying out of jail is distinction enough. We know little about Obama's political performance, since he has performed so little. He is only 45, which is about the age of some of my suits. On the world stage, he would be a child.
Shorter Richard Cohen: I haven't bothered to do any research on Obama's record in the Senate or in the Illinois legislature, but I'll join everybody else in noting that he doesn't have much experience. But in Cohen's case, it's "consummate cynicism" based on "hard lessons" learned from "Life itself" talking, so you'd better pay attention. Never mind that this consummate cynicism only kicks in when it happens to agree with the conventional wisdom du jour. For starters, where was all that world-weary cynicism when Cohen was working himself into a bellicose frenzy in support of the Iraq war?

Cohen continues:
And yet I cheer his announcement that he might announce he is going to announce -- something like that. I say this not just because I have been following his career out of the corner of my eye -- my, my, ain't he a natural! -- but because I've actually been reading his speeches. The one he gave on the role of religion in politics was as smart a speech as I've ever read. It's the sort of thing John F. Kennedy could have given, only his would have been written by someone else, probably Ted Sorensen.
I wasn't crazy about Obama's religion speech. It struck me as a fairly maudlin embrace of public religiosity for the purpose of currying favor with the religious right. But that's neither here nor there. Cohen liked the speech, fair enough. But it's the sort of thing John F. Kennedy could have given? Except Ted Sorensen ("Ask not what your country can do for you...") would have written it? Meaning what exactly? I guess it means that Cohen really liked Obama's speech, and he's pimping the idea of Obama as a charismatic Democratic savior, so there's a natural tie-in with another speech he really liked by an established charismatic Democratic savior. But the comparison is ridiculous, and not just because religiosity was totally foreign to Kennedy's style. Kennedy was calling on people in the United States and throughout the world to transcend self-interest and work together to make the world a better place. Obama was saying "Vote for me, I'm not like those other Democrats who don't appreciate the legitimate role of religion in public life." Here's a link to the JFK speech. Here's a link to the Obama speech. JFK's inaugural address is to Obama's speech what The Brothers Karamazov is to The Pelican Brief.

But it gets better:
I cheer also because Obama is an African American -- an African father, an American mother. For someone like him to be a presidential candidate -- maybe even president -- says oodles about this country. After eight years of George W. Bush and his narcissistic foreign policy -- me, me, us, us -- it would be great to have a president who presents a different message just by his complexion and who compensates, if anything can, for how Iraq has tarnished America's reputation, particularly in the Third World.(Emphasis mine)
Cohen's crude and moronic tokenism pretty much speaks for itself, so I'll move on.

Here is the best part:
But mostly I want Obama to run because he would come into the race with no baggage on Iraq. Not from him would we hear excuses about how he was misled by the Bush administration into thinking there were weapons of mass destruction there. Obama not only was against the war when he ran for the Senate but he can claim -- as could the 21 Democratic senators who voted against the war resolution -- that it was possible to accept the "facts" at the time and still see that the war was unnecessary, if not downright stupid. It just makes me wince every time I hear John Kerry or John Edwards or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd or Hillary Clinton say they were misled, fooled, lied to or some other version of seduced and abandoned -- otherwise they would have voted the right way. This is disingenuous.
So it makes Cohen "wince" to hear this, does it? He thinks it is disingenuous for these politicians to claim they were had by the Bush Administration? Now see if you don't find it a bit disingenuous for Cohen to level this criticism at Kerry, Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Clinton given that he himself wrote this on February 6, 2003, on the eve of war, in the wake of Colin Powell's over-the-top performance at the U.N.:
The evidence he presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise. [...]

North Korea probably already has nuclear bombs. Iran may have a nuclear weapons program. Pakistan has the bomb, India and China too. All kinds of states -- stable, unstable and just plain nutty -- are making weapons of mass destruction. Pretty soon, any collection of fanatics with a chemistry set will pose a horrific threat. The world is steadily becoming less and less secure. Now is not the time for the United Nations to flinch.

As with Tevye, there is no "other hand" when it comes to Iraq. If anyone had any doubt, Powell proved that it has defied international law -- not to mention international norms concerning human rights -- and virtually dared the United Nations to put up or shut up. There is no other hand. There is no choice.
Did you get that? "Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude" that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. What did Cohen say at the time about the prospect of war on Iraq? "There is no choice."

[Minor edits after initial posting.]

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