Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

September 29, 2009

COHEN'S PERSISTENT CONFUSION.... Richard Cohen's columns are getting increasingly difficult to read, and even more difficult to understand.

Sooner or later it is going to occur to Barack Obama that he is the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the presidential candidate he no longer is. The election has been held, but the campaign goes on and on. The candidate has yet to become commander in chief.

Take last week's Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh. There, the candidate-in-full commandeered the television networks and the leaders of Britain and France to give the Iranians a dramatic warning. Yet another of their secret nuclear facilities had been revealed and Obama, as anyone could see, was determined to do something about it -- just don't ask what.

As criticism goes, this is pretty odd. President Obama talking to television reporters about current events from the White House is, apparently, not "presidential." Why? Because Richard Cohen says so. The public disagrees -- recent polls show Americans entirely comfortable with the amount of time the president spends communicating through the media -- but that apparently doesn't matter.

But more important is the notion that Obama, standing alongside British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was also not presidential enough in publicly revealing the existence of a secret Iranian nuclear facility. The problem, as Cohen sees it, is that the Western leaders warned Iran, but were vague about potential consequences.

It's unclear why Cohen found this so offensive. Obama's goal was to give the U.S. leverage, and put Iran on the defensive, in advance of this week's talks in Geneva -- representatives of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany, and Iran will meet, and Obama, Brown, and Sarkozy added an increased "sense of urgency" to the discussions.

Indeed, President Obama seems to have played this very well. After achieving a victory on Thursday with the U.N. Security Council, his remarks on Friday had exactly the intended effect. Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, said Obama "played Iran perfectly, to isolate Iran, unite all the other countries around him, with an open hand to Iran, and then he springs the trap." Even a Washington Times columnist noted, "Not only did the president look strong, he looked cunning."

So what is Cohen whining about?

The columnist added:

The trouble with Obama is that he gets into the moment and means what he says for that moment only. He meant what he said when he called Afghanistan a "war of necessity" -- and now is not necessarily so sure. He meant what he said about the public option in his health-care plan -- and then again maybe not. He would not prosecute CIA agents for getting rough with detainees -- and then again maybe he would.

Most tellingly, he gave Congress an August deadline for passage of health-care legislation -- "Now, if there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town . . . " -- and then let it pass. It seemed not to occur to Obama that a deadline comes with a consequence -- meet it or else.

Obama lost credibility with his deadline-that-never-was, and now he threatens to lose some more with his posturing toward Iran.

When Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity," he was talking about the merits of launching the war, not with the value in sticking with an ineffective policy in the country. That's not a flip-flop or a lack of commitment; it reflects an ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Obama has never wavered in his support for a public option. Obama's position on prosecuting torturers didn't shift at all, though the Justice Department had its own ideas.

Obama didn't "lose credibility" because Congress couldn't wrap up health care reform before August -- he gave lawmakers a target, which they missed. Nevertheless, the reform effort is further along than it's ever been, and that's due almost entirely to the president's efforts.

Cohen's entire piece sounds like he's trying too hard to complain about Obama for no particular reason. He wants Obama to "understand" he's the president and should act accordingly. I want Cohen to understand he's an influential media figure and should act accordingly, too.

Update: Tim Fernholz is thinking along the same lines.

Steve Benen 9:55 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Sooner or later it is going to occur to Richard Cohen that he is a senile old jackass who needs to retire and STFU.

Then again, maybe not.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on September 29, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

He wants to take David Broder's spot after Broder follows Safire's lead

Posted by: bill on September 29, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Well that does it. Time for a new president, time to call for his impeachment. I mean, it's only been 9 months right? I want my president to be on vacation, doing nothing. I don't want him on tv explaining policies and ideas. I don't want him to do the job that he was hired to do. So that settles it. Lets just get him out of DC. Who's with me?

SMH....I hate our media...

Posted by: JMY on September 29, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Has Cohen had a minor stroke?

Posted by: Go, Sestak! Or Hoeffel! on September 29, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Cohen has been even more of a hack than usual this week. I suspect he fears that Obama isn't going to kill enough Arabs to suit him.

Referring to yesterday's hackery, maybe he'd like Obama better if the President "seduced" a few 13 year olds.

Posted by: howie on September 29, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

"Acting presidential" means showing up for an annual press conference, taking lots of long vacations, and holding invitation-only "town hall meetings."

I'm sure Cohen would have disapproved of FDR's fireside chats as well.

Posted by: gummitch on September 29, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

I agree completely. Cohen has become increasingly erratic over the last several years, and he's often merely blathering. He's gone from prestigious columnist to cranky tipsy guy on the next bar stool, leaning over to offer his bleary, unsolicited insights on the TV news headlines.

Posted by: Jon on September 29, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

This is the man who said we needed to invade Iraq to fulfill our need for "therapeutic violence" as a response to 9/11.

That's pretty much when I gave up on him.

Posted by: Jim on September 29, 2009 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

He would not prosecute CIA agents for getting rough with detainees -- and then again maybe he would.

Before reading Cohen's column, I was unaware that the president had the power to prosecute anyone. Silly me, I thought only the Justice Department had that power, and that the president had no legitimate constitutional authority to order and/or forbid a criminal prosecution absent the DOJ's independent and professional assessment of the strength of the case.

Posted by: Stefan on September 29, 2009 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

He should have given Angela Merkel a backrub. Then he would seem more Presidential.

Posted by: John R on September 29, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Like many others in his profession, Cohen has only a vague conception how power operates in the real world; he's content merely to stand around the edges and scribble random thoughts.

Posted by: converse on September 29, 2009 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK


What in the world qualifies Cohen to judge the foreign policy approach of this administration? He's a journalist -- actually an opinion writer -- and he's as qualified to judge the administration as I am. In fact, given his support of the invasion of Iraq one could argue he's has demonstrated he's unqualified to judge what is effective foreign policy.

It's good to refute his criticism, but I don't think anyone should be surprised by him writing something nonsensical.

Posted by: rock on September 29, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Another presenting symptom that the country is going mad.

Posted by: Dr Lemming on September 29, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Re: "Cohen has become increasingly erratic over the last several years, ..."

I see a connection to the fact that his employers told him to stop chasing shirts while at work, as well as the deplorable lack of "therapeutic violence" Richard Cohen is getting.

Posted by: SRW1 on September 29, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

And FDR giving those dang Fireside Chats on that newfangled radio thing-a-ma-bob, that sure wasn't presidential. And he flew around the country in an airplane, which no president had done before, so that couldn't be presidential. And he stood there with Churchill and Stalin and talked about how they were going to defeat the Nazis and Imperial Japan, but he didn't say exactly how he would do that. That FDR guy wasn't presidential at all. Of course, 65 years later we judge him on what he accomplished, not so much on his style. Now THERE'S a lesson Obama might want to take to heart.

Posted by: kw on September 29, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Finding someone to write op-eds in return for a hefty paycheck must be more difficult than it seems. Else how to explain the continued presence of Cohen, Broder, Kristol, Will, Krauthammer, et al? They're all long past their "sell-by" dates, none is capable of surprising us with a fresh insight, yet they persist. The only possible explanation is that no other literate person in the entire world wants their jobs.

Posted by: Dennis-SGMM on September 29, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

"Cohen's entire piece sounds like he's trying too hard to complain about Obama for no particular reason."

Right. But I wouldn't limit this criticism to Cohen. These 17 words say it all about today's mainstream (corporate) media.

Posted by: Chris on September 29, 2009 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

This is the man who argued our High Schools don't need to teach algebra, because nobody actually uses that stuff in real life.

Why are you reading a word out of his mouth, much less taking him seriously?

Posted by: Anthony Damiani on September 29, 2009 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

"I want Cohen to understand he's an influential media figure and should act accordingly, too." - Mr. Benen

You are a kind and patient man Mr. Benen. Cohen really is doing the very best he can. Exhorting him to do better is generous but pretty pie in the sky.

Cohen is a lucky guy. He gets paid well to write incoherent tripe. I bet he has good health insurance too. Is there some sort of tenure for these guys? Do they get to stay on regardless of how junky and oblivious their output is? It sure seems that way.

It would be interesting to read the comments on his job review and see how they justify keeping him around. His contribution to any substantial conversation is below meager at best. Gerbil poop for the most part.

Posted by: burro on September 29, 2009 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

His problem is that Obama is unlike Bush, who only gave a handful of interviews in his first term.

Posted by: buckets on September 29, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

I want Cohen to understand he's an influential media figure and should act accordingly, too.

I want Richard Cohen to no longer be an influential media figure.

Along with his fellow WaPo op-ed writers David Broder, George Will, Fred Hiatt, Robert J. Samuelson, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson, Anne Applebaum, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Ruth Marcus.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on September 29, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

He's a blithering idiot, and his columns have read that way for years. My main complaint against the WaPo for publishing him is that he's supposed to be thought of as a liberal, some type of counter-weight on the other side of the political spectrum.

Posted by: Travis on September 29, 2009 at 10:39 AM | PERMALINK

Does the Post even have a columnist worth more than gerbil poop at this point? Is that where Ezra Klein is?
Otherwise, it's now indistinguishable from either the Washington Times or WSJ editorial pages.
And they all wonder why they're on the road to extinction.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on September 29, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

You know, I love reading this blog, and a few others, but I am REALLY getting tired of reading, and hearing, pronouncements from gasbags - of the left, right, or center. Cohen, Krauthammer, Broder, Friedman, Brooks, Dionne, etc etc., all bore me to tears these days when they make these sweeping judgements about the president. Any president. But, in this case, Obama was handed a big stinking steaming platter of shit from Bush, both domestically, and internationally, and most of the guys [and yes, they are mostly white guys] who have NEVER done anything but write and pontificate about him, have precious little to stand on. IT is going to take YEARS to repair the damage, and it is going to take a hell of a lot more than empty words from Georgetown and Manhattan to fix it.

Let's start an endowment, and put all of these dumb asses in a DC public classroom for 6 months; or a homeless shelter; or a free clinic. Maybe they would have a different spin...

Posted by: bigwisc on September 29, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Appearing "promiscuously on television"? What...did he borrow Hillary's plunging neckline?

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on September 29, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Please tell me I'm not the first to notice that Cohen referred to Obama as "appearing promiscuously on television."

Don't get me wrong, I understand the context. But I also suspect a biiiiiig subtext in using the adverb "promiscuously" to describe the first black President. I'm surprised he didn't just go full metal jacket and call him the Big Baby Daddy In Chief.

Posted by: slappy magoo on September 29, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

"This is the man who said we needed to invade Iraq to fulfill our need for "therapeutic violence" as a response to 9/11."

Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, one of our dumber and more ill-informed acquaintances made pretty much the same argument: "Well, we had to do SOMETHING!!" Two idiots: one blathering for free and one for big bucks.

Posted by: mandycat on September 29, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Just how does Mr. Cohen want the President to "look Presidential?" By wearing flight jackets and co-piloting jets onto the decks of aircraft carriers? By kicking back and "clearing brush" during natural disasters? By reading "My Pet Goat" to school kids during terrorist attacks? By giving Angela Merkel neck rubs at international conferences?

Good grief, this tripe is on the editorial page? It maybe qualifies for a back page Style section fluff piece.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on September 29, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

This must be the latest beltway conventional wisdom. "Obama is appearing on so many television shows. Who does he think he is, some Hollywood celebrity? How tawdry and undignified. He is besmirching the office of President."

Of course none of those pundits ever say that Lindsey Graham or John McCain is overexposed.

Posted by: kc on September 29, 2009 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Why do you consider Cohen to be an influential media figure? Because he has a WaPo column? I would argue that he is the least influential columnist around. He rarely writes anything of import. He is considered to be liberal but has no particularly liberal ideas or leanings. He dislikes Democrats and is supine before all Republicans. He is waste of column space. There have been times in my life where I read opinion columns voraciously; I always considered time spent reading him to be time wasted.

Posted by: rk on September 29, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

But this kind of criticism is prevalent across the political spectrum. Change Iran and Afghanistan references to Banking Crisis and Stimulus and you get a Krugman column. Throw in a few "spineless coward"s and "corporate lackey"s and you get a blog post.

Posted by: apm on September 29, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Edit:

Sooner or later it is going to occur to John McCain that he is not the president of the United States. As of yet, though, he does not act that way, appearing promiscuously on television and granting interviews like the president he is not.

Fixed.

Posted by: inkadu on September 29, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Silly me, I thought only the Justice Department had that power, and that the president had no legitimate constitutional authority to order and/or forbid a criminal prosecution absent the DOJ's independent and professional assessment of the strength of the case.

Posted by: Stefan on September 29, 2009 at 10:12 AM |

You do realize that the President is the head of the executive branch, which means that he, and he alone, is the top law enforcement official. DOJ and the Attorney General who head it are subordinates to the President and have no independent authority to disregard the President's decisions about who or what to prosecute.

This is why it is almost comical, were it not so pathetic, for Obama to hide behind his AG about the "decision" to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA agents for torture as somehow being out of his hands.

Posted by: Chicounsel on September 29, 2009 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

"You do realize that the President is the head of the executive branch, which means that he, and he alone, is the top law enforcement official. DOJ and the Attorney General who head it are subordinates to the President and have no independent authority to disregard the President's decisions about who or what to prosecute."

Yeah, that was true during the Bush years, but in actuality, the AG is supposed to have independent authority on who or what to prosecute.

Dude, are you supposed to be some kind of attorney?

Epic fail.

Posted by: bdop4 on September 29, 2009 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

DOJ and the Attorney General who head it are subordinates to the President and have no independent authority to disregard the President's decisions about who or what to prosecute.

Man, if only Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan had known about this. They could have have instructed their attorneys general to stand down from appointing independent counsels to investigate them and saved themselves a lot of hassle.

But seriously, you should really familiarize yourself with the law sometime. Start with the oath taken by each Attorney General, in which the candidate pledges to support and defend the Constitution, not to serve the president.

Posted by: trex on September 29, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, Chicounsel actually endorses politicizing the DOJ with the president directing prosecutions.
That huge rumbling sound you hear is every Founding Father rolling over in his grave. But wait, Nixon is givin the thumbs up!
And you wonder why most Americans have completely rejected scumbags like Rove, Cheney, and the rest of your ilk?

Posted by: Allan Snyder on September 29, 2009 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, another bit of Chi's ignorance to correct--the Attorney General has always been considered the top law enforcement officer in the country. The president is what's known as the "chief executive" as well as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
I know many others have said this, but I truly pity any clients unfortunate to have you as an attorney. That is, assuming any state grants licenses to graduates of online law schools in South America.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on September 29, 2009 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

Good to hear a GOP-er like Chicounsel argue that Bush is directly responsible for torture.

Posted by: Jon on September 29, 2009 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Peggy Noonan was prattling on in this vein on some Sunday gas-fest, it's the latest DC pompous Villager meme.

I've been trying to think of a word for their pretended sincerity and 'concern', and their imagined expertise in what is and is not Presidential, but I am completely stumped.

Pompous, stupid, selfish little pricks who are trying really hard to avoid letting anyone know that everything in their lives is motivated by spite?

What is the word for it?

Posted by: cld on September 29, 2009 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

I have followed Richie for a while; a few contradictions here and there is bearable. But this new low isn't. As a well-circulated columnist, this monumental misinterpretation of events is inconsistent with his status. His poor comments are, at a minimum, lending fodder to Fox's cannon. My worry is that this unsound argument becomes a gospel in the ears of the wacko right.

Please tell Richie to take a vacation.

Posted by: olu on September 29, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I never said I was a lawyer, y'all.

I'm a Chicago marriage counselor. My success rate is abysmal at that, too.

Posted by: Chico Unsel on September 29, 2009 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

His problem is that Obama is unlike Bush, who only gave a handful of interviews in his first term.

His real problem is that, unlike Bush, Obama comes out of these more numerous interviews better liked and respected than when he went in.

Posted by: shortstop on September 29, 2009 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Cohen is an idiot. Analysis of the mental diarrhea he calls his column is a waste of everyone's time.

Posted by: king buzzo on September 29, 2009 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

Richard Cohen is following the David Broder rules of "centrist" column writing. In order to appear independent every third column has to criticize his own side, and almost every column has to end by making it seem like, whatever is being criticized, that "both side do it".

Of course, it's this kind of logic that leads to conclusions like 2+2=5 (Bush says 2+2=6, Democrats say 2+4=4, ergo the centrist position is 5) but what the hell.

Posted by: ZH on September 29, 2009 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

To the rest of the world, Bush's refusal to have press conferences where he actually took questions and his attitude of generally not giving a damn about what the country thought were disgraceful. To pundits, it just reset the baseline and made any successor who acted like a normal president "overexposed."

Posted by: Redshift on September 29, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

That was one of the laziest columns I have read in years. Cohen really hasn't tried for awhile...

Posted by: Will on September 29, 2009 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

cohen has been doing this schtick for years. he's a moron of the highest order. i don't even bother to read him anymore. for that matter, i don't read the post at all anymore. if they reported that the sky was blue, i'd double-check.

Posted by: brendancalling on September 29, 2009 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

This is why it is almost comical, were it not so pathetic, for Obama to hide behind his AG about the "decision" to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA agents for torture as somehow being out of his hands.
Posted by: Chicounsel

Ah, just as we all decide to agree that Richard Cohenwrote the dumbest thing of the day, along comes Chicounsel to completely misrepresent th historical precedent of the Executive Branch.

I'll give Cohen a pass for just not trying very hard, but Chicounsel is just a flaming fool.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on September 29, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

To my various detractors:

trex: The appointment of independent counsels during the Reagan and Clinton years were done pursuant to law that required such an appointment to be made when there was credible evidence of wrongdoing that involved a person who was covered by that law.

Without such a law, the Attorney General possesses no inherent authority to appoint a special counsel if the President orders him not to do so.

bdop4 & Mr. Snyder: You really fail to understand the nature of the Presidency if you think that the Attorney General or the career prosecutors at DOJ has the ability to reject or even question a decision about who or what to prosecute that is made by the President.

If they disargee with a Presidental decision, they only have the option of resigning their positions. To use the CIA torture example, if DOJ and the AG conclude that war crimes were committed and they want to prosecute CIA agents and the President says "No", they have no authority to disregard that decision and prosecute anyway. The President would simply fire them for failing to obey his orders. Right?

Jon: If you believe that the decision to allow waterboarding and other enhanced techniques were torture, then we know exactly who is responsible for that decision. He's name is G.W Bush and he sitting in Crawford, Texas.

That is why it's so amusing to see Obama playing you guys for chumps if you think that any prosecutions are going to result from this review by the DOJ. President Prissypants doesn't have the stones to bring war crimes charge against W, let alone anybody else.

Posted by: Chicounsel on September 29, 2009 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is our version of a Supreme Leader, not given to making idle threats, setting idle deadlines, reversing course on momentous issues, creating a TV crisis where none existed or, unbelievably, pitching Chicago for the 2016 Olympics. Obama's the president. Time he understood that.
===========================

The truth hurts.

Posted by: Laughs on September 29, 2009 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

...Obama comes out of these...better liked and respected than when he went in." shortstop @ 12:53 PM.
Really, if the president can make himself clearly understood about whichever subject he is speaking on, why, then what need is there for people such as Richard Cohen?
I know, easy question...

"The president would simply fire them for failing to obey his orders." chicounsel @ 4:06 PM.
Only president I know of who fired upper-echelon members of the DoJ was Nixon. Refresh my memory, please; just how DID that turn out for him?
And this from someone claiming to "understand the nature of the Presidency" better than his detractors?

Posted by: Doug on September 29, 2009 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

maybe cohen would donate a few bucks to buy a texas pig farm so Obama can spend his time clearing brush

Posted by: freepatriot on September 29, 2009 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK
Post a comment









Remember personal info?










 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly