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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Cohen’s Double Back-Flip

I did something today I almost never do: carefully read a Richard Cohen column. It’s rarely worth the effort, an observation I’d make, out of general civility, about almost no one in print other than the man who’s regularly wasted some of the most valuable journalistic real estate in the world–A Washington Post column–for decades.
Today Cohen executed an uncharacteristically original stunt, sort of a double-back flip. Clearly stung by a recent James Wolcott Vanity Fair article lampooning him along with David Broder and David Brooks as having a “man-crush” on John McCain, Cohen latest column contains what might initially look like a refreshing acknowledgement that McCain has repudiated much of the record that gained him his (exaggerated) reputation as a “maverick.” But before you could say “false moral equivalency,” Cohen went on to treat Barack Obama’s decision against accepting public financing in the general election as just as large a retreat to “politics as usual” as McCain’s extensive acceptance of the worst of conservative orthodoxy.
And then–here’s the second back-flip–Cohen says McCain can be indulged in his flip-flops, and Obama can’t, because the Republican “paid his dues” as a POW and a political war-horse, while Obama hasn’t done either.
You’d never know from reading Cohen’s shocked account of Obama’s “selfish” abandonment of public financing and his “socialist realist” explanation of same that Obama has already done more to delink big money and special interests from political campaigns than all the campaign finance initiatives ever enacted. Nor does Cohen seem aware that the public, if asked directly, would almost certainly, and by vast margins, prefer Obama’s approach to that of using taxpayer dollars to supplant large contributions. And worse still, Cohen contemptuously rejects the indisputable assertion by Obama that expenditures by “independent” 527 organizations, which McCain is counting on and Obama has of his own initiative shut down, make a mockery of the current campaign finance laws.
By such a wandering course does Richard Cohen wind up where he started: in the tank for John McCain, whose war record and once-upon-a-time, journalist-inflated “maverick” reputation apparently means his actual views and policy agenda for the country don’t much matter. “A presidential race is only incidentally about issues. It’s really about likability and character,” says Cohen breezily. That’s not a terribly surprising assertion coming from a man whose column is only incidentally journalism.

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