Commentary Magazine


Topic: Richard Cohen

They Want Their Dialogue

Some media pundits are not buying into the notion that the Reverend Wright affair is behind us, or more importantly, behind Barack Obama. Richard Cohen wants another speech. Stuart Taylor just wants some answers.

This is the danger with not getting all the answers out the first time around. It’s always tempting for politicians to skate by, saying as little as possible, especially if they’re uncertain what additional incriminating material might be out there. That natural inclination must have been particularly strong here, where Obama could bank on the media’s ludicrous resistance to probing the particulars of his association with Wright.

So the underlying issue–his relationship with Wright and toleration of Wright’s vitriol–is now compounded with the nagging sense that Obama has “ducked” a central problem with his candidacy. For those playing armchair psychologist (or just practicing standard punditry), the questions remain: Why not go before the media and answer all questions? Why not tell us why he sought out Wright to begin with? Why keep going to Wright’s church, with his kids no less?

Those inclined toward skepticism about Obama’s messianic grace or simply searching for a key to his personality may wonder, as Taylor does, whether this demonstrates a lack of courage and the ability to say “no” to friends and supporters–traits any president needs. Others will wonder if this is evidence of a deep form of political cynicism, the notion that you can play on white guilt (Give ‘em a nice speech on reconciliation) to avoid answering tough questions.

Regardless of the merits of the pundits’ concerns, it’s highly unlikely Obama will give another speech on the topic. Going back now would signal recognition of a huge strategic misstep. Whatever bed he’s made he will now have to lie in and whatever voters really think of him will not be known until they step into the booths in November. Because that is where irked or worried or angry voters have their final say.

Some media pundits are not buying into the notion that the Reverend Wright affair is behind us, or more importantly, behind Barack Obama. Richard Cohen wants another speech. Stuart Taylor just wants some answers.

This is the danger with not getting all the answers out the first time around. It’s always tempting for politicians to skate by, saying as little as possible, especially if they’re uncertain what additional incriminating material might be out there. That natural inclination must have been particularly strong here, where Obama could bank on the media’s ludicrous resistance to probing the particulars of his association with Wright.

So the underlying issue–his relationship with Wright and toleration of Wright’s vitriol–is now compounded with the nagging sense that Obama has “ducked” a central problem with his candidacy. For those playing armchair psychologist (or just practicing standard punditry), the questions remain: Why not go before the media and answer all questions? Why not tell us why he sought out Wright to begin with? Why keep going to Wright’s church, with his kids no less?

Those inclined toward skepticism about Obama’s messianic grace or simply searching for a key to his personality may wonder, as Taylor does, whether this demonstrates a lack of courage and the ability to say “no” to friends and supporters–traits any president needs. Others will wonder if this is evidence of a deep form of political cynicism, the notion that you can play on white guilt (Give ‘em a nice speech on reconciliation) to avoid answering tough questions.

Regardless of the merits of the pundits’ concerns, it’s highly unlikely Obama will give another speech on the topic. Going back now would signal recognition of a huge strategic misstep. Whatever bed he’s made he will now have to lie in and whatever voters really think of him will not be known until they step into the booths in November. Because that is where irked or worried or angry voters have their final say.

Read Less

Yes, They Can — What?

I finally got around to watching this Barack Obama video. You can imagine Hillary Clinton and her supporters watching it and similarly stylish but substance free ads and hollering at their TV or computer screens, “Yes we can do what, darn it?” For Obama, the harsh but frank answer is, “We can get beyond the Clintons.” There is plenty of polling data to indicate that many Democrats want to, but the Democratic race won’t end tonight (in large measure, because the proportional voting system will keep the race in equilibrium). Unfortunately for Obama, that sylish excitement is hard to sustain for weeks and weeks.

One additional advantage which Clinton has: newspaper columnists do not make up a majority of Democratic primary voters. Whether it is David Brooks’s chilling account of her treatment of Congressman Jim Cooper, who had the temerity to suggest a non-mandated health-care plan in 1993, or E.J. Dionne‘s description of the Obama “revival,” this is Obama-rooting mainstream media coverage that would make John McCain envious. But Richard Cohen takes the prize with his description of the Bill problem:

He remains, as Wordsworth might put it, too much with us. He was a good president with bad associations — beginning with Jim McDougal of Whitewater fame and ending with Marc Rich of pardon infamy. Bill Clinton has a tropism for the faintly corrupt, and his wife has more than a tropism for him. He would stalk her presidency as he has her campaign, and when she vows that she alone would rule the White House, she is talking personnel, not marriage. It ain’t the same.

It’s enough to make you hope that “they can.”

I finally got around to watching this Barack Obama video. You can imagine Hillary Clinton and her supporters watching it and similarly stylish but substance free ads and hollering at their TV or computer screens, “Yes we can do what, darn it?” For Obama, the harsh but frank answer is, “We can get beyond the Clintons.” There is plenty of polling data to indicate that many Democrats want to, but the Democratic race won’t end tonight (in large measure, because the proportional voting system will keep the race in equilibrium). Unfortunately for Obama, that sylish excitement is hard to sustain for weeks and weeks.

One additional advantage which Clinton has: newspaper columnists do not make up a majority of Democratic primary voters. Whether it is David Brooks’s chilling account of her treatment of Congressman Jim Cooper, who had the temerity to suggest a non-mandated health-care plan in 1993, or E.J. Dionne‘s description of the Obama “revival,” this is Obama-rooting mainstream media coverage that would make John McCain envious. But Richard Cohen takes the prize with his description of the Bill problem:

He remains, as Wordsworth might put it, too much with us. He was a good president with bad associations — beginning with Jim McDougal of Whitewater fame and ending with Marc Rich of pardon infamy. Bill Clinton has a tropism for the faintly corrupt, and his wife has more than a tropism for him. He would stalk her presidency as he has her campaign, and when she vows that she alone would rule the White House, she is talking personnel, not marriage. It ain’t the same.

It’s enough to make you hope that “they can.”

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Obama: The New Princess Diana?

This was Christopher Hitchens’s question a year after the death of Princess Diana, which brought forth a “frightful binging and gorging of sentimentality” from the British populace, odd in a nation stoic by reputation. The people of a stiff upper lip had quavered. Hitchens is hardly averse to sentimentality, some of his best writing causes a catch in the throat; it is bogus sentimentality that be abhors. The death of a “hyperactive debutante” didn’t merit the wall-to-wall coverage, acres of flowers, and very public, very group-therapyesque bereavement that it had inspired.

As a 24 year-old male — just the sort of demographic he has solidly won over — I should probably hide while admitting this, but I feel the same away about the Barack Obama phenomenon as Hitchens did about the mourning of Princess Diana. And I’ll risk sounding a little self-satisfied by predicting that should Obama not be the one sworn into office come January 2009, the country will look back on this current presidential campaign feeling a similar sort of collective embarrassment that the British felt about their mourning of “The People’s Princess.” We may even be asking ourselves “What the hell was that all about?” should Obama actually win the presidency, a year or so into his tenure when his unpreparedness becomes manifest.

CONTENTIONS contributor Fred Siegel has a brilliant essay up on the website of City Journal that lays waste to much of the mythology surrounding Barack Obama. Siegel highlights the naivete and contradictions behind Obama’s various claims, from his vow to invade Pakistan unilaterally to his belief that hosting a convention with Muslim nations will bring about the end of Islamic extremism. What is most obnoxious about the Obama candidacy is the belief that his mere presence in the White House will end the world’s problems, for instance, Andrew Sullivan’s assertion that the reason to support Obama, “First and foremost,” is “his face.”

Siegel’s piece is worth reading in full, but I’ll excerpt this short portion:

It will be ironic if in the name of post-partisanship we manage, with the contrivance of both Left and Right, to elect Oprah’s candidate, a man with a narrowly partisan record who has never demonstrated a capacity (rhetoric aside) either to lead or to govern. Only Clinton derangement syndrome can explain the alliance of so many otherwise thoughtful people of both parties who speak well of the candidacy of a man with scant knowledge of the world who has never been tested and has never run anything larger than a senatorial office. The question that we need to ask is whether this man—who candidly admits, “I’m not a manager”—can manage the vast apparatus of the federal government. Will packaging be enough to deal with our problems?

Those who think like Siegel are not uncommon, but you would never know it from the media, which long ago gave up on any pretense of objectivity and is firmly in the tank for Obama. After all, a competitive campaign is not only fun for the journalists covering it, it also translates into better ratings. For the same reason that, during the Diana spectacle, the British media didn’t bother to report on curmudgeonly, unpleasant arguments like the one Hitchens raised, questions about Obama’s fitness for office — for instance, the whole Jeremiah Wright thing — are going unexplored (Mormonism has become a crucial issue for Mitt Romney, yet what the Mormon Church says pales in comparison to Wright). When Richard Cohen brought up the issue last month, Alan Wolfe pronounced it “the single most despicable op-ed of this century so far.” Far from unique, Hitchens’s “revulsion” towards the lachrymose “had been plentiful at the time but didn’t stand a prayer of being reported by a deferential mass media that became an echo chamber and feedback loop to the blubbering classes.” Sound familiar? While Diana had her “Candle in the Wind,” we now get the hip-hop video “Yes We Can.”

It’s long past time that we pause, take a deep breath, and evaluate the presidential candidates using concrete criteria as opposed to vague pronouncements that this or that candidate can “unite” the country or “transcend” this or that division, whether it be racial or political or what have you. It may be that Barack Obama is the best candidate at this moment in time; ultimately, of course, that’s a purely subjective question. But I fear about the emotional baggage that people have invested in his candidacy, and what his most fervent supporters will believe about American democracy should he lose. The country will, in short, become irredeemable. Given the unchecked passion already on display, it may already be too late to save this election from becoming marked, like the decade-old death of a blond divorcée, for its “bogus emotion and mass credulity.”

This was Christopher Hitchens’s question a year after the death of Princess Diana, which brought forth a “frightful binging and gorging of sentimentality” from the British populace, odd in a nation stoic by reputation. The people of a stiff upper lip had quavered. Hitchens is hardly averse to sentimentality, some of his best writing causes a catch in the throat; it is bogus sentimentality that be abhors. The death of a “hyperactive debutante” didn’t merit the wall-to-wall coverage, acres of flowers, and very public, very group-therapyesque bereavement that it had inspired.

As a 24 year-old male — just the sort of demographic he has solidly won over — I should probably hide while admitting this, but I feel the same away about the Barack Obama phenomenon as Hitchens did about the mourning of Princess Diana. And I’ll risk sounding a little self-satisfied by predicting that should Obama not be the one sworn into office come January 2009, the country will look back on this current presidential campaign feeling a similar sort of collective embarrassment that the British felt about their mourning of “The People’s Princess.” We may even be asking ourselves “What the hell was that all about?” should Obama actually win the presidency, a year or so into his tenure when his unpreparedness becomes manifest.

CONTENTIONS contributor Fred Siegel has a brilliant essay up on the website of City Journal that lays waste to much of the mythology surrounding Barack Obama. Siegel highlights the naivete and contradictions behind Obama’s various claims, from his vow to invade Pakistan unilaterally to his belief that hosting a convention with Muslim nations will bring about the end of Islamic extremism. What is most obnoxious about the Obama candidacy is the belief that his mere presence in the White House will end the world’s problems, for instance, Andrew Sullivan’s assertion that the reason to support Obama, “First and foremost,” is “his face.”

Siegel’s piece is worth reading in full, but I’ll excerpt this short portion:

It will be ironic if in the name of post-partisanship we manage, with the contrivance of both Left and Right, to elect Oprah’s candidate, a man with a narrowly partisan record who has never demonstrated a capacity (rhetoric aside) either to lead or to govern. Only Clinton derangement syndrome can explain the alliance of so many otherwise thoughtful people of both parties who speak well of the candidacy of a man with scant knowledge of the world who has never been tested and has never run anything larger than a senatorial office. The question that we need to ask is whether this man—who candidly admits, “I’m not a manager”—can manage the vast apparatus of the federal government. Will packaging be enough to deal with our problems?

Those who think like Siegel are not uncommon, but you would never know it from the media, which long ago gave up on any pretense of objectivity and is firmly in the tank for Obama. After all, a competitive campaign is not only fun for the journalists covering it, it also translates into better ratings. For the same reason that, during the Diana spectacle, the British media didn’t bother to report on curmudgeonly, unpleasant arguments like the one Hitchens raised, questions about Obama’s fitness for office — for instance, the whole Jeremiah Wright thing — are going unexplored (Mormonism has become a crucial issue for Mitt Romney, yet what the Mormon Church says pales in comparison to Wright). When Richard Cohen brought up the issue last month, Alan Wolfe pronounced it “the single most despicable op-ed of this century so far.” Far from unique, Hitchens’s “revulsion” towards the lachrymose “had been plentiful at the time but didn’t stand a prayer of being reported by a deferential mass media that became an echo chamber and feedback loop to the blubbering classes.” Sound familiar? While Diana had her “Candle in the Wind,” we now get the hip-hop video “Yes We Can.”

It’s long past time that we pause, take a deep breath, and evaluate the presidential candidates using concrete criteria as opposed to vague pronouncements that this or that candidate can “unite” the country or “transcend” this or that division, whether it be racial or political or what have you. It may be that Barack Obama is the best candidate at this moment in time; ultimately, of course, that’s a purely subjective question. But I fear about the emotional baggage that people have invested in his candidacy, and what his most fervent supporters will believe about American democracy should he lose. The country will, in short, become irredeemable. Given the unchecked passion already on display, it may already be too late to save this election from becoming marked, like the decade-old death of a blond divorcée, for its “bogus emotion and mass credulity.”

Read Less

Jews, “Progressives,” and the New York Times

The New York Times took notice yesterday of a pamphlet-sized essay posted on the website of the American Jewish Committee. Written by Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University and titled “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” the essay describes the mounting assault on Israel by Jews on the Left. Rosenfeld cites, among others, the two Tonys—Kushner and Judt—and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, each of whom was in turn duly quoted in the Times story as protesting Rosenfeld’s characterization of them. The paper’s reporter, Patricia Cohen, seems to side with them in this dispute, slyly suggesting that the AJC has overstated the problem of anti-Semitism on the Jewish Left. Thereby, she neutralizes or buries the very problem the AJC was trying to expose.

No surprise there. In this matter, as it happens, the Times has long been not merely a reporting agency but a major player. For the past sixty years the newspaper has denied the Arab war against the Jewish state, just as in World War II it denied the German war against the Jewish people. Rather than telling its readers about Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism and describing how it shapes the societies in which it flourishes, rather than documenting the growing infiltration of Europe and America by this same poison, it speaks of anti-Semitism as if it were merely a figment, an occasion for fratricidal conflict among Jews themselves with no objective correlative in the real world. In this internal slugfest of accusation and counter-accusation, the offense itself disappears, and with it any serious discussion of its source, its gravity, or its spread.

Even more than those cited by Alvin Rosenfeld, it is the newspaper of record that has long displaced onto Israel’s moral ledger the misery that Arabs cause themselves. This morning’s edition carries a three-column story about a former Israeli government minister convicted of French-kissing a female soldier. This is evidently what the Times considers news. Not news, evidently, are the dozens of mutual kidnappings and murders committed by Fatah and Hamas. Dead Palestinians appear to interest the Times only insofar as their deaths can be laid at the feet of Israel.

Similarly, real existing anti-Semitism seems to interest the Times far less than does the drama of Jew-against-Jew in which the Times gets to name aggressors and victims. In this offhand, underhanded manner the paper’s editors and reporters abet the anti-Semitic lie that the existence of Israel “explains” the misery and rage of the people yelling for its destruction and for the destruction of all Jews everywhere.

The New York Times took notice yesterday of a pamphlet-sized essay posted on the website of the American Jewish Committee. Written by Alvin Rosenfeld of Indiana University and titled “‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism,” the essay describes the mounting assault on Israel by Jews on the Left. Rosenfeld cites, among others, the two Tonys—Kushner and Judt—and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, each of whom was in turn duly quoted in the Times story as protesting Rosenfeld’s characterization of them. The paper’s reporter, Patricia Cohen, seems to side with them in this dispute, slyly suggesting that the AJC has overstated the problem of anti-Semitism on the Jewish Left. Thereby, she neutralizes or buries the very problem the AJC was trying to expose.

No surprise there. In this matter, as it happens, the Times has long been not merely a reporting agency but a major player. For the past sixty years the newspaper has denied the Arab war against the Jewish state, just as in World War II it denied the German war against the Jewish people. Rather than telling its readers about Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism and describing how it shapes the societies in which it flourishes, rather than documenting the growing infiltration of Europe and America by this same poison, it speaks of anti-Semitism as if it were merely a figment, an occasion for fratricidal conflict among Jews themselves with no objective correlative in the real world. In this internal slugfest of accusation and counter-accusation, the offense itself disappears, and with it any serious discussion of its source, its gravity, or its spread.

Even more than those cited by Alvin Rosenfeld, it is the newspaper of record that has long displaced onto Israel’s moral ledger the misery that Arabs cause themselves. This morning’s edition carries a three-column story about a former Israeli government minister convicted of French-kissing a female soldier. This is evidently what the Times considers news. Not news, evidently, are the dozens of mutual kidnappings and murders committed by Fatah and Hamas. Dead Palestinians appear to interest the Times only insofar as their deaths can be laid at the feet of Israel.

Similarly, real existing anti-Semitism seems to interest the Times far less than does the drama of Jew-against-Jew in which the Times gets to name aggressors and victims. In this offhand, underhanded manner the paper’s editors and reporters abet the anti-Semitic lie that the existence of Israel “explains” the misery and rage of the people yelling for its destruction and for the destruction of all Jews everywhere.

Read Less




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