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August 19, 2005

Cohen's Column

Paul Krugman, in a column on Ohio's voting irregularities, says:

But few Americans have heard these facts. Perhaps journalists have felt that it would be divisive to cast doubt on the Bush administration's legitimacy. If so, their tender concern for the nation's feelings has gone for naught: Cindy Sheehan's supporters are camped in Crawford, and America is more bitterly divided than ever.

I like that "tender concern for the nation's feelings" line.  Not because of it's context in the Krugman column, but because of its applicability to one of Richard Cohen's.  After Digby gave it an offhand reference the other day, a friend with Nexis access dug up and sent me the Cohen piece he was referencing.  And, honestly, it's worse than you can imagine.  I'm going to reproduce it below the fold, and I highly recommend you make the jump.  The degree to which our pundits sold us out was pretty amazing.  While reading, see if you can imagine George Will or David Brooks putting the same sort of column-length knife in their nominee's back:

November 20, 2000.  Gore Can't Heal the Hurt.  Richard Cohen -- Washington Post

I voted for Al Gore. I did so because I have known him since he was a congressman from Tennessee. I admire his intellect, his seriousness of purpose, his capacity for hard work and study, his political values, his experience and his knowledge. That being said, I now think that under current circumstances he would not be the right man for the presidency. If I could, I would withdraw my vote. In the terminology of the moment, put me down as a hanging chad.

I still think precisely as I have about Gore. But those "current circumstances" I just mentioned change everything. Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.

Bush has incessantly proclaimed himself as that sort of guy--"a uniter, not a divider." The tendency is to dismiss that sort of chest-thumping as campaign nonsense, but in Bush's case it appears to be true. After all, the Bush boomlet began among his fellow Republican governors, each of whom probably thought the next president should be none other than himself.

So it says something about Bush that the governors were able to coalesce around him. Some of these governors knew Bush quite well, some hardly at all, but the fact remains that they all seemed to genuinely like the guy and respected his leadership abilities.

You hear the same sort of thing from people who worked with Bush in private enterprise. I talked with one of them once, a Democrat who disagreed with Bush on many issues. Yet he, too, praised Bush's leadership abilities, his talent for bringing order out of chaos and for reaching some sort of consensus. That man's testimony impressed me. His disagreements with Bush were real, his admiration for him profound.

Gore, on the other hand, has little of those abilities. His own party is sore at him for taking the one-two punch of peace and prosperity and running a race that is still not concluded. His performance was as erratic as his uniform-of-the-day: earth tones on Tuesday, business suit on Wednesday. The country sensed that either he did not know himself, or what he did know the country would not like.

Gore is hardly a political natural. He appears stiff, robotic, insincere even when he is not, and paradoxically unable to mask his ambition. He is the intimate of few people, almost no one's good buddy, and not comfortable--or is it just plain not good?--on television. But TV is as essential to the modern presidency as a white horse was to monarchs of old.

Could Al Gore rally the nation? Maybe. Could he go over the heads of Congress and get the country behind him? Maybe. I think, though, that Bush would be better at those things--and better, too, at restraining GOP Dobermans like Reps. Tom DeLay and J.C. Watts Jr. At the same time, it's not likely that a President Bush would be able to appoint Supreme Court justices ideologically similar to those he says he admires, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Simply put, he ain't got the votes.

John F. Kennedy won by a hair and under questionable circumstances, and yet his presidency was never considered illegitimate. Within a relatively short time, his approval rating hit an astounding 83 percent. But Kennedy was a man of manifest political talents, not to mention charisma. Bush is no Kennedy on a lot of levels--particularly his lack of intellectual curiosity--but Gore is almost Kennedy's antithesis. No one has ever applied the word "grace" to him.

I realize that one-term presidents can become two-term presidents, so it is not just the next year that matters. I realize, too, that Bush and Gore have real differences in their approach to government--differences that matter greatly to many people.

But what matters at the moment is the moment itself--a mere tick of the historic clock that could, if things continue, just stop it dead where it is. History does not guarantee that things will be as they have been. The first and most daunting task of the next president is not a tax bill or a Social Security plan but--as it was when Jerry Ford succeeded Richard Nixon--the healing of the country. I voted for Gore because he was the better man for the job. I can't help thinking that he no longer is.

The amazing thing isn't that Cohen thought these things, DC has a proud and often irritating culture of contrarianism and nothing is more respectable than the ability to admit that everything your allies believe is wrong.  No, what's so fantastic about this piece is that Cohen thought it over and made the judgment that he'd get more mileage out of publishing this shotgun blast on Gore than talking about voter irregularities or the electoral college.  That'd never happen on the other side, their pundits and columnists would never think that their career would prosper if only they stabbed George W. Bush in the back.


Richard Cohen, incidentally, got everything wrong.  He got it all very wrong.  Bush was not a uniter, he was not able (or indeed, interested) in restraining the extremists in his party, he did have the votes to confirm radical Supreme Court nominees, the country could stand more polarization, and the defining issues of the next term turned out not to be partisanship, but terrorism.  And yet he still has the same perch on one of the nation's best-read newspapers, he remains a "Democratic" intellectual, and he's supposedly one of those writers who makes the media a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Except, you know, when it counts. 

August 19, 2005 | Permalink


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Spot on!

Posted by: Ed Thibodeau | Aug 19, 2005 1:31:04 PM

I don't find Cohen's column remarkable, I would describe it as typical. It's a disease of the mind. The so-called 'left' or 'Democratic' or 'liberal' voices in the corporate press/media are none of those things.

They are, instead, simply voices that sometimes are consonant with Democrats and progressives. The right wing writers, in contrast, speak and act like Republicans. But that isn't really the issue here.

Cohen is not a very good writer. There are many writers in the blogosphere who are better, more thoughtful and more anchored to the reality of life in America outside the DC party circuit.

Lately I have been wondering why anyone reads those papers anymore, especially the columns. Those people obviously don't know any more than we do. Sure, they know DC gossip, but what good would knowing DC gossip do for the great majority of Americans?

Posted by: James E. Powell | Aug 20, 2005 4:37:51 AM

I don't like conspiracy theories, but complaints about the "liberal" MSM sometimes just are not that. Surely not here -- Cohen is a tool

Posted by: Joe | May 9, 2006 11:08:59 PM

I don't read the columns---unless one of my favorite blogger-essayists links to one!

Posted by: Joyful Alternative | Feb 28, 2007 4:19:19 PM

The truth is that these folks are best characterized not by their political views, which tend to be marginally liberal, but by their cowardice. It's amazing at how easy it is to intimidate them.

They would rather believe a lie than take on a big fight.

We saw it in the run-up to the Iraq war. We saw it after the 2000 election. To this very day, they are terrified of Republicans and what will happen to them if they take these guys on. Seriously, Iraq is a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions, Al Quaeda is on the march, and Fox News is able to terrify them into believing that if they mention it, their ratings will drop and they'll all be fired and end up in abject poverty.

It's unreal.

Posted by: anonymous | Feb 28, 2007 5:48:21 PM

You have to understand (and it's been obvious for years!) that the "liberal media" as defined by conservatives are not really liberal. They just aren't always doctrinaire, talking-point spewing conservatives. Plenty of the so-called liberal media are actually corporate-serving conservatives, not to mention cocktail frank chewing scum like Cohen.

Posted by: JP | Feb 28, 2007 6:10:55 PM

Cohen the "liberal" would undoubtedly commence a column in which racism was the topic thus: "Some of my best friends are black, but..."

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