That Richard Cohen has drunk deeply from a distillation of McCain hagiography and Kool-Aid is hardly new. Previous misadventures in his election year punditry include willful self-delusion and steadfast denial of the fact that the John McCain of yesteryear (who I had tremendous respect for as well!) is simply put, no more -- principles disintegrated in the wake of desperate political expedience.
Nevertheless, Cohen continues to thrust his fists against the Post and insist he sees the ghosts:
"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.
On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions -- not speeches -- that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam prisoner of war to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.
But I can paraphrase Kipling too! And I have to say that the McCain who embraces religious bigots, attempts to sell economic plans he knows and admits won't work, and openly seeks the assistance of the Rove political shop that subjected him, eight years ago, to the worst sort of base and deranged excrement flinging is no maverick -- he is a man who's talked to crowds and failed to keep his virtue.
Cohen's gift for specious reasoning is on display as well. As he's made clear before, the leading argument for McCain is the way he conducted himself as a POW. Here's what he says about Obama:
Obama argues that he himself stuck to the biggest gun of all: opposition to the war. He took that position when the war was enormously popular, the president who initiated it was even more popular and critics of both were slandered as unpatriotic. But at the time, Obama was a mere Illinois state senator, representing the (very) liberal Hyde Park area of Chicago. He either voiced his conscience or his district's leanings or (lucky fella) both. We will never know.
In the first place, I am going to have to ask that Cohen make the effort to familiarize himself with Hyde Park before he writes about it ever again. But more to the point, when, exactly, did everyone sit down and decide that the principles of Illinois State Senators didn't count for anything? At the time McCain was earning Cohen's respect, he wasn't a U.S. Senator either. Had McCain never been captured, would there still be a reason to respect the man? I guess we will never know.
But here's what Cohen's editors should know: the man is repeating himself. Today's fulmination hinges on the idea that Obama is "unknown." "I know that Barack Obama is a near-perfect political package," Cohen says, "I'm still not sure, though, what's in it." Back in January, Cohen was saying the same fracking thing: "But the rap on Obama is that he is a fog of a man. We know little about him, and, for all my admiration of him, I wonder about his mettle."
At what point does Cohen's failure to know Obama cease to be the candidate's fault and come to be properly seen as a function of a columnist's utter laziness?
Mark Ambinder, by the way, has opened up his comments here for people to provide a better answer to Cohen's question than the unnamed "prominent Democrat" did. For myself, I'd say that I admire the painstaking way Obama achieved a measure of death penalty reform by bridging the gaps between a number of disparate parties, but since he did that as an Illinois State Senator, I guess it doesn't count for anything!
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