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September 18, 2007

A Very Bad Column

At some point, you have to respect the strength of Richard Cohen's determined commitment to triviality. Having failed to write a post-testimony column on Petraeus, he instead writes one on the MoveOn.org ad, and how Hillary Clinton's relative silence on it illuminates her "character problem." And on the day after she releases an important and detailed health plan, he glides over it in order to write:

Yesterday, Clinton announced her health-care plan. Good for her. But you never had any doubt, did you, that she was going to have one -- and a plan for everything else. The issue with Hillary Clinton is not whether she's smart or experienced but whether she has -- how do we say this? -- the character to be president. Behind her, after all, trails the lingering vapor of all those gates: Travel, File, Whitewater and other scandals to which she was a party only through marriage. In a hatless society, she is always wearing a question mark.

Yep, three scandals where she was exonerated of all wrongdoing. But that's okay, because Cohen isn't accusing her of wrongdoing, just suggesting that there are "vapors" of wrongdoing around her. Vapors that leave him too lightheaded to actually care about the policy documents she's offered. Vapors of wrongdoing that would, Cohen implies, have lifted had she forthrightly attacked MoveOn.org for their ad. Indeed, her unwillingness to do so makes one "wonder...about what makes Hillary run."

Well, maybe. I'm much more interested in what makes Richard Cohen write such superficial, stupid things. What would his grandfather say?

September 18, 2007 | Permalink


The column makes sense when you realize how narcissistic Cohen and his colleagues are. What Cohen's complaining about is that Clinton is refusing to spend time engaging with the matters that they find important right now. He's blaming her for refusing to show proper deference to what they want to talk about and write columns about, similar to the way that Iowa caucus-goers insist that visiting candidates advocate farm subsidies and ethanol.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 18, 2007 9:52:30 AM

Meanwhile, Giuliani has no real health care plan and doesn't seem to know or care much about actual policy, but did condemn the Moveon ad. Thus he is qualified to be president.

Richard Cohen is incapable of embarrassment.

Posted by: SDM | Sep 18, 2007 10:10:23 AM

Richard Cohen is both incapable and an embarrassment. Is it too late to revive the SCLM moniker?

Posted by: no relation to paris hilton | Sep 18, 2007 10:17:51 AM

The character to be President? As in, "that man is not Al Gore. That man is George Bush."


Posted by: Marshall | Sep 18, 2007 10:36:46 AM

Re "Yep, three scandals where she was exonerated of all wrongdoing."

Here is the Times from Oct 2000:

In his final report about the firing of seven longtime employees of the White House travel office released today, Robert W. Ray, the independent counsel, asserted that Hillary Rodham Clinton had given ''factually false'' sworn testimony when she minimized her role in the incident.

The disclosure of the 243-page report added several details about Mrs. Clinton's role, but its terse conclusions were announced last June when Mr. Ray said there was insufficient evidence to seek criminal charges against Mrs. Clinton.

And from the accompanying editorial:

The independent counsel Robert Ray has concluded that Hillary Rodham Clinton was ''factually false'' in sworn testimony about her role in the firing of seven members of the White House travel staff in 1993. At the same time he has concluded that he cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court that her statements were ''knowingly false,'' and therefore will not pursue criminal charges against her. Judging from the voluminous public record, Mr. Ray's decision to drop the case is legally sound. Judging from the same record, his characterization of Mrs. Clinton's account of her role in the matter also seems on the mark.

On Filegate she

And on Whitewater, we have this from the WaPo:

Bill and Hillary Clinton made "factually inaccurate" statements to federal investigators during the eight-year Whitewater probe, but there was not enough evidence to prove the Clintons committed perjury or obstructed justice, according to the final report of the independent counsel released yesterday.

Posted by: Tom Maguire | Sep 18, 2007 10:48:39 AM

You didn't even quote the worst part of the column.

Whatever the case, using "betray" - a word associated with treason - recalls the ugly McCarthy era, when for too many Republicans dissent corresponded with disloyalty. MoveOn.org and the late senator from Wisconsin share a certain fondness for the low blow.

Assuming that Cohen has been living on Mars for the last 6 years, he might not have noticed that McCarthyism is alive and well on the right. If he had only said that McCarthyism was dead, I might forgive him his use of the past tense and his implication that *now*, of course, Republicans would never stoop to equating dissent with disloyalty. But equating MoveOn with McCarthyism while ignoring the far more numerous and egregious examples of modern right-wing treason accusations (including well-publicized books titled "Treason", "The Enemy At Home" and "The Enemy Within") goes beyond gross incompetence and into the realm of deliberate dishonesty.

There is simply no way that he could make any good faith effort to do his job and come up with a statement like that. Ann Coulter's book comes up on the first page of Google results for "treason" and one click will bring you to the Amazon page that includes a summary of the book's thesis, including an attempt to vindicate McCarthy. It literally takes less than one minute to discover that right-wing accusations of treason are all over the place (if you somehow avoided knowing about it already).

When will Cohen call on Republican candidates to renounce Coulter, D'Souza and Savage?

Posted by: Chris | Sep 18, 2007 11:02:47 AM

Yeah, I had a similar reaction. There's a moment of sublime obliviousness when Cohen says "The MoveOn.org ad was the moment for Clinton to rise above hackdom." When are we going to see a comparable moment for Richard Cohen?

no relation to paris hilton

Me too, in case anyone was wondering.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Sep 18, 2007 11:03:23 AM

He's wrong about the issues he brings up to prove his point, but he's right character should be a factor. I would discuss the influence of lobbist money and whether that tells us anything about how committed she is to healthcare reform rather than these irrelevant talking points.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 18, 2007 11:11:40 AM

Akaison, what Cohen is talking about isn't character but 'character'--that is, the visceral impressions of lazy journalists easily distracted by shiny objects, the triviality of which they rationalize away by calling it 'character'. Yes, character matters--but that's not what Cohen is talking about at all.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Sep 18, 2007 11:18:25 AM

Tom Maguire, let me depose you under oath about decades-old business transactions, and see if you emerge without, in good faith, committing a few "factual inaccuracies."

Posted by: rea | Sep 18, 2007 11:22:00 AM

So even after the criminally abusive witch hunt has been exposed, some ossified Beltway cretin confuses being targeted by right wing flying monkey squadrons with actual wrongdoing. Cohen's a colossal twit for attempting to stir the warmed over cud about MoveOn.

What happened to the double standard requested by (and honored for) the glassier-eyed members the Republicult, officially the nation's most prominent criminal gang now that the Soprano saga is done?

Compliant media lapdogs like Cohen have no apparent problem with the Department of Hooey's request that any meaningful questioning of the administration (and their latest Prophet Figure) desist, at the very least, until the criminal not only completed the trial process* but in Scooter Libby's case, until he exhausted the appeals process.

I'm actually glad that Cohen and his pals keep bringing up "betrayal" and "betrayed us". Those phrases will linger beyond this immediate FU, and pro-Bush, pro-war apologists will be striggling to explain, not MoveOn.

*too many miscreants to list

Posted by: Ellie | Sep 18, 2007 11:53:56 AM

Today, Cohen wrote his silly column. Good for him. But you never had any doubt, did you, that he was going to have one -- and a silly column for everything else. Behind him, after all, trails the lingering vapor of all the fish his columns are used to wrap.

Posted by: clb72 | Sep 18, 2007 11:54:16 AM

Well, she did turn $1000 into $100,000 in shady commodities trading, in just a dozen trades over 10 months, making her the greatest commodities trader of all time.

It was really a bribe from the Tyson chicken people funneled through her broker.

Posted by: chris | Sep 18, 2007 11:56:37 AM

It was really a bribe...

Quick, call the US Attorney's office. I'm sure they'd be interested in investigating.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 18, 2007 12:15:40 PM

MoveOn's ad was shameful. All things being equal, I would count failure to disavow something like this as a serious ding to a candidate's character and they'd probably lose my vote. But things are far from equal.

I gave Bush the benefit of the doubt for a long time because he so obviously tried to do what he thought was the right thing, even to his own political detriment. I still think the guy has a certain amount of personal courage. But he's incompetent. He hires poorly. He can't manage his team. He can't communicate his ideas effectively. He can't negotiate. He can't lead.

So I'll be demoting the "character" criterion quite a way down the list this election in favor of competence and leadership. Hillary Clinton may have little executive experience but she is obviously competent and tough and subtle and hires superb people and never makes the same mistake twice. That puts her miles ahead of her Democratic opponents and some distance ahead of the Republican field as well.

But, on the competence scale, her failure to disavow the ad is in some respects more troubling than it would be as a character issue. The ad was so politically stupid that one has to question whether MoveOn really deserves a place at the grownups' table. That ad is guaranteed to be hung around Clinton's neck when she competes in the general election. All Clinton had to do was issue a tepid, "no big deal but not helpful" disavowal and she'd be off the hook with little damage done.

She didn't. It's a rare lapse in judgment.

I am Clinton's target voter. I'm a right-of-center, non-ideological, small-"l" libertarian pragmatist. I usually vote Republican. If she gets the votes of people like me, she'll be President. Right now, despite only trusting her to act consistently in her own best interest, Clinton has my vote come the general election. But the MoveOn debacle lost her a little ground with me. And character issues had nothing to do with it.

Posted by: TheRadicalModerate | Sep 18, 2007 12:24:07 PM

Good for Cohen. Clinton deserves a spanking for her political hack performance. She should have stepped up and distinguished herself for once for integrity. As Cohen mentions, there are so many gates in her background.

Watching the Harkin steak fry yesterday, I was reminded of the cattle futures fiasco. The barnacles keep accumulating on her boat & she doesn't know or is too arrogant to care.

My guess is number two in the last sentence above.

Posted by: daveinboca | Sep 18, 2007 12:25:34 PM

It's fascinating seeing folks like Tom Maguire still obsessing over the clenis.

In fact, I think they love having Hillary as a presidential front-runner because now they can obsess about the clagina, too.

It also fascinates me that folks like daveinboca deride Clinton's hackishness and lack of integrity with Bush occupying the White House. I'm not a huge fan of Hillary's and I don't subscribe to the belief that two wrongs make a right, but I can't help but to chuckle over the gripes Bush supporters have about Clinton.

I guess it all boils down to IOKIYAR for them.

Posted by: John S. | Sep 18, 2007 12:36:04 PM

Yep, three scandals where she was exonerated of all wrongdoing. But that's okay, because Cohen isn't accusing her of wrongdoing, just suggesting that there are "vapors" of wrongdoing around her.

And she gives Andrew Sullivan the "willies." And daveinboca thinks she has "barnacles." If nothing else, a Hillary presidency is sure to provide lots of fascinating new metaphors.

In fact, I think they love having Hillary as a presidential front-runner because now they can obsess about the clagina, too.

I'm not entirely sold on "clagina," John S. How about "The Hillva"?

Posted by: Uncle Kvetch | Sep 18, 2007 12:39:39 PM

TRM, you know, if you found the ad so disgraceful and you're so upset by it, I'm sure John McCain, Max Cleland, and John Kerry can offer you a shoulder to cry on. Grow up. There's no reason that poitical shills for the administration should be insulated from political ads attacking them.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 18, 2007 12:46:56 PM

One way she helped to get "exonerated" from Whitewater was to get her husband to fire the State Attorney investigating the Clinton Inc scheme.

When Gonazales fired eight attorneys, it was a Constitutional emergency in the fever swamps. When Billy Jeff fired fifty state attorneys, that was okay, as there is no fault on the left.

Thank God for Linda Tripp & DNA high-tech, or that serial liar would still claim he was above reproach. Tapes & semen are the only way to snare a wily coyote like Bill, and Hillary ain't far behind.

Posted by: daveinboca | Sep 18, 2007 12:48:50 PM

Moveon org's add was a disgrace - much too lukewarm, much too timid, of course - Petraeus isn't just a betrayer, but a collaborator in both the mass murder perpetrated against the Iraqis and the crushing of the American military, one of those dunce two-fers that will so distinguish the Bush administration in the history books: bad for humanity and bad for American interests.

What should have been focused on is shaking up the Pentagon, thoroughly purging it of the rightwing Rumsfeldian type, and reconceptualizing what it does and why it spends 800 billion some per year. It operates, basically, as a welfare system for the engineering/war mongering class, which reliably drives wars forward in the U.S. That definitely needs to stop. As the Dems continue to fail to capture the anger against this war, the anti-war faction will, necessarily, get more radical and pull away from the dems. It would be nice to see, for instance, demonstrations against the Post, which has operated vis a vis Iraq much like Rwandan radio operated vis a vis the Tutsis in 1994. Pretending the existentially corrupt D.C. gang of sycophants like Cohen and the Post editorial board are worth pleasing in any way is going to prove to be a big mistake, but one the establishment Dems will surely make. They have to keep their status with the low rent Georgetown set, after all.

Posted by: roger | Sep 18, 2007 12:48:52 PM

daveinboca - You're still pushing the "yeah but Clinton fired all 50" argument with respect to the US Attorney scandal? Seriously?

Posted by: Rob | Sep 18, 2007 12:56:51 PM

"as a welfare system for the engineering/war mongering class" just like the Democrats are a welfare system for the stoned slacker, unproductive layabout degenerates and completely corrupt educator unions and a number of other constituencies that consider themselves victims.

And 911 occurred because of which American faults? Puh-leeze enumerate them, roger, my favorite working class hero.

Posted by: daveinboca | Sep 18, 2007 1:00:58 PM

Rob, yeah, SERIOUSLY.

I guess you enjoy living by double standards, Rob. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Posted by: daveinboca | Sep 18, 2007 1:21:47 PM

Daveinboca, your slacker rant is a historical fiction. Democrats have traditionally been for the real workers, but - in the late forties and early fifties - the great military keynesian deal was sealed when the Dem leadership - under LBJ in the Senate threw the South a bone by pressuring the Pentagon to spend money on the godforsaken peckerwood states. Of course, that continues to this day - the blue states always contribute more to the Federal government, while the red states always parasitically take more. Meanwhile, of course, the white male warrior wannabes were lifted into the good life on a tide of taxpayer money, after which they promptly bitched about paying taxes - except, of course, for war. They wanted more and more money to go to the Pentagon. Naturally. After all, the drones love to live on honey.

As for 9/11, your cryptic comment is the usual nonsensical gargle. If there is one thing 9/11 proved, it was that after spending a 2 trillion dollars on a defense system to keep the U.S. from attack, it was completely useless. NORAD didn't help; the air force put planes out over the Atlantic, not knowing what the fuck was going on; and a hijacker with a homemade bomb and a box cutter was able to slam into the Pentagon as easy as you please.

Posted by: roger | Sep 18, 2007 1:23:30 PM

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