Category Archives: Richard Cohen

Treason season

Richard Cohen, liberal columnist, goes after Hilary:

>The swipe at Petraeus was contained in a full-page ad the antiwar group placed in the New York Times last week. It charged that Petraeus was “cooking the books” about conditions in Iraq and cited statements of his that have turned out to be either (1) not true, (2) no longer true, (3) possibly not true or (4) like everything else in Iraq, impossible to tell. Whatever the case, using “betray” — a word associated with treasonrecalls the ugly McCarthy era, when for too many Republicans dissent corresponded with disloyalty. and the late senator from Wisconsin share a certain fondness for the low blow.

According to Cohen, has challenged the accuracy or reliability of Petraeus’s testimony. But Cohen doesn’t bother with that question–which is, after all, the question. Instead he goes after someone who does not directly and vociferously condemn something which (a) she had nothing to do with and (b) may turn out to be true. Is it true? Cohen doesn’t care.

Aside from that obvious point, Cohen also forgets that as recently as right now Republicans–mainline Republicans–charge Americans who respectfully disagree with our glorious and victorious war strategy with actual treason (not the stretched out metaphorical kind you infer from the word “betray” in an ad you did not write). Think of Dick Cheney admonishing the Senate not to debate. Or perhaps, Petraeus (courtesy of Glenn Greenwald):

>Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) asked Army Lt. Gen. David H . Petraeus during his confirmation hearing yesterday if Senate resolutions condemning White House Iraq policy “would give the enemy some comfort.”

>Petraeus agreed they would, saying, “That’s correct, sir.”

Giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” is the definition of treason. Which definition, by the way, does not include “betray.”

Ad Hominize

Props to Richard Cohen for verbing:

>Kucinich is an odd guy for whom the killer appellation “perennial presidential candidate” is lethally applied. But he is on to something here. It is easy enough to ad hominize him to the margins — ya know, the skinny guy among the “real” presidential candidates — but at a given moment, and this is one, he’s the only one on that stage who articulates a genuine sense of betrayal. He is not out merely to win the nomination but to hold the Bush administration — particularly Cheney — accountable. In this he will fail. What Cheney has done is not impeachable. It is merely unforgivable.

Other than the “skinny guy” comment, however, it’s not really ad hominem. The observation about Kucinich is that he won’t get anywhere with his charges. Why should that be a surprise? Cohen has proclaimed what Cheney has done as unimpeachable.

Evil problems

The other day Richard Cohen–liberal columnist for the post–declared Monica Goodling, preemptive 5th taker to be innocent, like Scooter Libby (who was found guilty on four counts), of any crime. Did he have special knowledge of her case? Nope. He simply declared, “Monica, you’ve done nothing wrong.” In a similar vein of prejudging events, Cohen moves in to analyze the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech. He writes:

>In my day, Fort Dix, N.J., billed itself as the home of the Ultimate Weapon. That weapon, depicted by a heroic statue at the front gate, was the lowly infantryman armed only with his rifle and appearing to shout something like “Follow me!” This was the Army’s way of countering the glamour of the other services, particularly the Air Force. It took boots on the ground — not planes overhead — to really win a war. It took, in short, the ultimate weapon. No one could kill better.

Maybe. Cohen continues:

>Now from Blacksburg, Va., comes additional evidence that there is nothing as dangerous as a single man and nothing as unpredictable as the mind of man. The man who is said to be responsible for all those killings, 32 in all, will be examined down to microscopic detail. But no matter what anyone says, Cho Seung Hui was just mad. Other terms will be applied to him and, of course, he’s already being called a loner, but the simple fact is that he was mad — maybe not for long, but when it mattered, long enough.

Scoring political points about gun control or the lack thereof before they have counted the dead is bad enough. Turning a real event into a broad moral lesson–one that it doesn’t even teach–is worse. As anyone who has read the accounts of the life of the shooter knows, his actions had been predicted (and feared) by many students and faculty. That’s one of the things that’s so appalling. But let’s not mind the facts–Cohen says–as a matter of fact, let’s proclaim that the facts won’t matter–the facts that is that will come out when we study what happened–for Cohen knows the answer: he was just mad.

Accounts have it that the killer left a long and rambling note explaining his actions. No matter. Let’s not wait to read it, Cohen says, because we already know the answer. Well, if that’s the case, then there is nothing more predictable than the human mind: Cohen knows without inquiry what it’s up to.


Richard Cohen, liberal pundit, has examined the evidence and concluded that Monica Goodling is not a criminal:

>In the end, though, some thought has to be given to why Monica Goodling feels obligated to take the Fifth rather than merely telling Congress what happened in the AG’s office. She’s no criminal — but what could happen to her surely is.

That’s not good news for Goodling. For according to Cohen, neither was Scooter Libby:

>No lawyer is going to be thrilled about letting a client testify in today’s political environment. Remember, please, that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was not convicted of the crime that the special prosecutor was appointed to find — who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame — but of lying to a grand jury. In fact, the compulsively compulsive Patrick Fitzgerald not only knew early on who the leaker was but also that no law had been violated. No matter. Fitzgerald valiantly persisted, jailing Judith Miller of the New York Times for refusing to reveal her sources and, in the end, nailing Libby. It was a magnificent victory, proving once again that there is nothing more dangerous to the republic than a special prosecutor with money to spend.


It’s difficult to have a discussion when your interlocutor constantly questions your motives. Motive questioning and motive analysis constitute too much commentary these days. Even someone we enjoy reading, the Daily Howler, frequently goes for the motive. It’s disappointing in his case because he has the solid analysis; he just doesn’t need to hypothesize about motives.

The most debilitating and potentially poisonous kind of motive-questioning is racism. Call someone a racist and no matter what the argument, it doesn’t matter; racists can’t make sound arguments.

In this vein, noted playwright David Mamet suggests that criticisms of Israel amount to anti-semitism:

>That the Western press consistently characterizes the Israeli actions as immoral is anti-Semitism. What state does not have the right to defend itself–it is the central tenet of statehood.

Rush Limbaugh couldn’t agree more. For him Jews who question Israel’s actions are self-hating Jews. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post has also argued this.

But it’s not the company he keeps that makes Mamet’s claim specious. In the first place, it’s false. Worse than that, he doesn’t provide any evidence for it. Second, a case can be made that, regardless of the justice of the cause, the means Israel have chosen are immoral. Of the myriad choices for responding to the kidnapping of the two soldiers (click here for some context), was it right that Israel chose invasion and bombing?

The question for Mamet, and for all of the others who make the anti-semitism claim, is whether the means in this case are justified. It should be obvious to anyone–even though sadly it is not–that questioning the means the State of Israel has chosen in this particular case does not amount to unjustified and global hatred of Jews.

A game of pong

In today’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen aligns himself with such bellicose pundits as Victor Davis Hanson as he argues for unhinged and indiscriminate violence against any and all associated (if only geographically) with Hezbollah terrorists. To suggest otherwise, as he *imagines* serious people have done, is pernicious anti-semitism:

>It also includes a whole bunch of European newspapers whose editorial pages call for Israel to respond, *it seems*, with only one missile for every one tossed its way. Such neat proportion is a recipe for doom.

>The dire consequences of proportionality are so clear that *it makes you wonder* if it is a fig leaf for anti-Israel sentiment in general. [emphasis mine]

Two points. First, those who have urged restraint have not suggested (and even Cohen admits as much with “it seems”) Israel engage in a game of missile pong–one for one. Proportionality is a principle of just war–of *jus in bello* to be exact. Those who urge it have rightly suggested that Israel not obliterate innocent civilians who are no more capable of controlling Hezbollah than Israel is. This argument is made on two independent grounds. First, it’s morally wrong to kill civilians. Second, as a matter of prudence, Israel cannot achieve its goal of eliminating Hezbollah by advertising for it’s most extravagant claims–that Israel engages in terrorism.

Second, to criticize Isreal’s reaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers (remember that) is not anti-semitic:

>These calls for proportionality rankle. They fall on my ears not as genteel expressions of fairness, some ditsy Marquess of Queensberry idea of war, *but as ugly sentiments pregnant with antipathy toward the only democratic state in the Middle East.* After the Holocaust, after 1,000 years of mayhem and murder, the only proportionality that counts is zero for zero. If Israel’s enemies want that, they can have it in a moment. [emphasis mine].

First, no one seriously urges the kind of silly military policy Cohen suggests; second, sometimes, believe it or not, Israel can be in the wrong–not because it’s *Israel*, but just because, like anyone or anything human, it errs.

So, Cohen, show how Israel is not wrong this time, not how anyone who criticizes them secretly wishes its annihilation.


It’s hard to say the author of the following in today’s Washington Post has in mind a straw man: we have seen in recent days on this site various iterations of the argument he attacks. Read the whole thing, but especially:

>Unfortunately — as the United States itself discovered during World War II and Vietnam, to cite just two examples — strategic bombing has almost never worked. Far from bringing about the intended softening of the opposition, bombing tends to rally people behind their own leaders and cause them to dig in against outsiders who, whatever the justification, are destroying their homeland.

While this point had already been made by Mr.Grey in a comment a few days ago, it’s worth repeating.


Richard Cohen, one of the Washington Post’s “liberals” pens a column on gay marriage: he’s for it. In arguing for it, however, he makes the following puzzling distinction:

>Gay marriage, like abortion, is a highly emotional issue and, at the moment, commands nowhere near overwhelming support. Depending on how the question is asked, and the polling organization itself, anywhere from 40 to nearly 60 percent of Americans oppose same-sex marriage. If the latter figure is accurate, permitting same-sex marriage by judicial fiat would produce yet another protracted fight over yet another social issue. Roe has been bad enough, thank you.

Then he says,

>Yet the case for same-sex marriage is so much clearer and easier to make than the complexities that produced the tortured reasoning of Roe . It is based primarily on the easily understood and widely accepted words of the Declaration of Independence: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness .” Since none of the counterarguments can prove any damage at all to society, the New York state high court missed a chance to further an education process and, justly, grant to homosexuals and lesbians the benefits of marriage so casually granted to heterosexuals. Way before getting to 316, it’s clear one of the benefits is as American as apple pie: the pursuit of happiness itself.

It’s hard to appreciate Cohen’s distinction between these two cases: abortion and gay marriage raise fundamental constitutional questions (especially when people organize to deny access to them). It’s obvious to many that gay marriage and the right to abortion follow from simple constitutional principles (and so are the proper objects of judicial review–what he calls “judicial fiat”).

But it’s not obvious to some disproportionately vocal and (at times) violent individuals. They think such things do not follow easily from the foundational principles of the constitution. While they are likely wrong, Cohen ought to show them how they are wrong. Merely claiming that gay marriage, but not (puzzlingly) reproductive rights, follow from the “pursuit of happiness” begs the question in the most textbook fashion: he asserts without argument what he needs to demonstrate.


Richard Cohen of the *Washington Post* laments today of the deluge of emails he received regarding a recent op-ed of his wherein he criticized Stephen Colbert’s performance at the White House Correspondents’ dinner. Most of the emails, Cohen notes, vituperated. And on account of all of the criticism he received, he concludes that the “left” runs a serious risk of blowing their advantage.

That would be a fine argument if only it had premises. For immediately after claiming this, Cohen writes:

>Truth to tell, I peeked into only a few of the e-mails.

And so he completely undermines his own thesis. The rest of the column confuses the criticism of a few crazies with the very real and intellectually substantial opposition to the policies of the current administration, not to mention, by the way, the behavior of the media in accommodating the administration’s views and the arguments. Cohen ought to know that everyone who stands up in public and pronounces on sensitive topics (such as sports, food, movies or perhaps even religious or political views) invites criticism. Some of this criticism will be silly; it will attack the person rather than the argument. Such criticism, when not offered by a serious person or a political administration, should be ignored.

Despite not either facing the real criticism of his performance (*if* there was any) or properly framing the pointless *ad hominem* attacks, Cohen charges on and draws the following comparison:

>The hatred is back. I know it’s only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations. I can appreciate some of it. Institution after institution failed America — the presidency, Congress and the press. They all endorsed a war to rid Iraq of what it did not have. Now, though, that gullibility is being matched by war critics who are so hyped on their own sanctimony that they will obliterate distinctions, punishing their friends for apostasy and, by so doing, aiding their enemies. If that’s going to be the case, then Iraq is a war its critics will lose twice — once because they couldn’t stop it and once more at the polls.

Let’s get this straight. Cohen concludes that the gullibility of the people whose email he hasn’t read and whose arguments don’t amount to anything compares to the behavior of the institutions that have failed America. That’s just astounding.

If Cohen wants to argue that leftist vitriol is hurting America, then he should do two things: (a) examine the evidence of actual public and prevalent leftist arguments and (b) compare it in quality and in quantity to rightist vitriol. If he did this, no one would wonder why the crazy behavior of a few emailing lefties compares to that of the government and its supporters on the internet, radio and television.

Rules for the breaking

Despite the originary fallaciousness of the whole affair–a schoolyard ad hominem attack on Joseph Wilson–we haven’t bothered to comment on all of the silliness surrounding the Judith Miller jailing. No *serious* person would argue that Judith Miller deserves to be jailed *now* for her shoddy Iraq WMD coverage (as with much of the media, perhaps far below what might be considered minimally competent source and fact research), but that doesn’t stop the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen from bravely taking on some in the blogosphere who would argue as much. What Cohen does in much of today’s piece is not really fallacioius, it’s just silly. Why waste precious space in a newspaper of national circulation refuting the opinions of people who refute themselves? Cohen’s failures lie elsewhere. In particular, it consists in his insistence on the absolute applicability of the confidentiality pledge:

Whatever her politics, whatever her journalistic sins (if any), whatever the whatevers, she is in jail officially for keeping her pledge not to reveal the identity of a confidential source. (If that’s not the case, then we don’t know otherwise.) That pledge is no different than the one Bob Woodward made to Mark (Deep Throat) Felt or, if you will, the one I made to my sources back when I was revealing some unsavory facts about Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Only Agnew’s unexpected, but deeply appreciated, resignation saved me from going to jail. Like Miller, I thought my word was my word. Jail was something a journalist had to endure on occasion. It is, to quote “The Godfather’s” Hyman Roth, “the business we have chosen.”

The problem is that not all confidentiality pledges are the same–nor should the be. No one–not even a journalist–should be bound to a confidentiality pledge made to someone who is planning to murder someone, for instance. The question, obscured by many (including Bill Keller at the *New York Times*) is whether *in this instance* a confidentiality pledge applies. Inalienable rights have exceptions, one would think that professional standards of journalists would have exceptions as well (the alternative is the fallacy of accident). Cohen should discuss–or should at least be aware of the fact–that some have argued convincingly (the leaking was a crime, for instance) that this case is a very obvious exception.

Weapons of mass distraction

Sometimes op-ed writers in the major dailies opt out of arguments altogether. Such was the case–as far as we could tell–this weekend. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post even admitted that he was too tired of arguments to make any. Props to Cohen, for we might have squandered precious time pointing out that fact. But we didn’t have to look far–as far as John Leo’s column in US News in fact–for our daily sustenance of nonsense in the guise of intelligible discourse.

In discussing Thomas Frank’s recent book What’s the matter with Kansas? Leo poses the following question:

Frank is stupefied that abortion, evolution, and gay marriage are major political issues and that 80 percent of the state’s voters backed George W. Bush in 2000. Why are they wasting their voting power on cultural and social issues instead of pursuing their own self-interest?

In answering this question for Frank, Leo illustrates for us the beguiling rhetorical technique of attempting to distract the reader with the powerful odor of a urine-scented cross:

Part of the problem is that liberals who focus sharply on economics tend to have no feel for noneconomic issues that so many of us care deeply about. Right at the start of his book, Frank cites the controversy (which he apparently considers stupid) over Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ: “because some artist decides to shock the hicks by dunking Jesus in urine, the entire planet must remake itself along the lines preferred by the Republican Party, U.S.A.” But “the hicks” had a point: Alleged art that traduces religion was now supported and often funded by the same sensitive people who quickly took down or painted over works of art that offended the sensibilities of blacks, American Indians, or women. A new value system was descending on the culture. And under that system, not only were prayers disappearing from the schools (a good idea, in my opinion), but student valedictory speeches that included a line of praise for God were being censored, and small schoolchildren, asked to draw a picture of anyone they admired, were being reprimanded if they drew Jesus.

Leo supports his analysis of the liberals’ (a silly unsupported generalization repeated throughout the piece) lack of rural cultural sensitivity with a series of extreme examples that have nothing to do with the orignal issues mentioned–abortion, evolution, and gay marriage–and everything to do with shocking us into agreement. Since Leo clearly disagrees with Frank’s argument–that Kansans ignore their own economic self-interest and vote instead on social issues on account of hickdom–he should stick to the social issues in question, rather than charging the fictitious liberals with hyprocisy (the ones who “quickly took down or painted over works of art that offended the sensibilities of blacks, American Indians, or women”) and distracting us with peripheral and largely undocumented (save the explicit reference to Andres Serrano)episodes from the culture wars of the 90’s. One might even reasonably claim that these hyberbolic examples have nothing to do with abortion and gay marriage (which are not art forms or otherwise required at school graduations) and evolution (which is not a moral issue, but has everything to do with high school graduation).

Assuming that we’ve been wholly distracted by the urine-scented cross and the removal of Jesus portraits from admiring religious youngsters, Leo completes his shift to “morality” (again–evolution?). Putting himself inside the head of the clueless liberal, Leo argues:

The left usually chalks this up to fear of change, hardening arteries, racism, or some other insulting cause.

But that’s ridiculous! Not everyone in Kansas suffers from arteriosclerosis! And indeed they do not. Nor would anyone seriously hold the moldly straw man of an argument Leo attributes to the left.

But not content with the ineffective but sneaky reverse straw man, Leo employs the more straightforward tactic of oversimplifying, exaggerating, and ridiculing peripheral positions of one’s argumentative opponent:

But the real reason is that ordinary Americans no longer feel that they can transmit their culture to their young–the schools and media make that almost impossible now. (One indicator is the home-schooling movement, which includes 1.1 million children, a number sure to keep rising.) The multicultural and universalist side of the new morality undercuts community and mocks patriotism. America and the West, we are told, are nothing to be proud of, merely entrenched systems of domination. The courts increasingly reflect the law-school culture, which is nearly as one-sided as the campus culture.

The fact that there might exist someone who holds this panoply of views does not do anything to make its attribution to the “left” any less ridiculous and irresponsible. This argument, with its irrelevant evidence and its unsupported generalizations about campus and law-school culture, compounded with the previous argument’s National Endowment for the Arts’ funded distraction, make for first class logical balderdash.

So much ink has been spilled in the service of the defeat of outlandishly fictitious opponents by stealth weapons of mass distraction.