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June 24, 2008

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Reading Cohen for the last several years has left me seriously wondering whether he has a bottom line. His columns keep getting worse.

of course he has a bottom line: John McCain is a fine and upstanding maverick of a war hero.

it's irrelevant that he can't maintain a position for more than one election cycle because John McCain is a fine and upstanding maverick of a war hero!

mancrush

Cohen also says that we don't yet know Obama's bottom line, yet Cohen knows that he moved it. What?

Ever since that retrospective on the Iraq war in which Cohen basically said that he had been wrong, but he had been "right" to be wrong, with the implication that those who were right were somehow "wrong" to be right, I've had trouble reading him without involuntary spasms.

McCain has been around long enough that most high information types have informed opinions of him independent of what pundits may say.

McCain is a Republican by virtue of his home being in Arizona at the time he began his political career. If one is going to serve a republican population one is going to run as a republican. And Arizona, home of Barry Goldwater, was as republican as could be back then.

If he began his career in Boston he would have been a Democrat. But he would have been the same McCain deep down within.

During his public career the essential McCain, a man of courage and honor, has always been evident to those willing to look beyond the political give and take that is part and parcel of being a Senator.

McCain was courted by Kerry to be his Vice Presidential nominee in 2004. If this had worked out all of the people criticizing him now would have been voting for him then. Same guy. He hasn't changed.

I like McCain. I like him for who he is more than for what his political views are which I often disagree with. I think Cohen hit on something about McCain that people see but are not quite able to articulate about a politician.

I like him for who he is more than for what his political views are which I often disagree with.

What ARE his political views? Especially about torture -- why has he worked so hard to keep Bush, Cheney and others from being charged with torturing innocent men?

I'm sorry, but I've still got David Brooks and the "Obama - elitist - Applebee's Salad Bar" Op-Ed slated as my worst of 2008, to date.

So, what you're saying, ken, is that McCain doesn't have any principles that he wouldn't subordinate to the pursuit of power?

Bob Somerby has been pointing this out as SOP for years. The rule is: "[W]hen you discuss McCain’s lack of integrity, you have to praise his integrity first."

Cohen here has just changed to order a bit.

Er, "changed *the* order..."

I still think that the one about campus liberals ravishing our virgins is best.

Reminds me of Bonnie Erbe, who's channeled her disappointment at Clinton's failure to win the nomination into Obama bashing (though perhaps she's not quite ready for No Quarter):

From where I sit, flip-flopping is an unbeatable addiction for Obama. For McCain, by comparison, it's an occasional foible.

most high information types have informed opinions of him

Is "ken" really the archetype of a "high information type"?

If so, is there some inoculation against this curse for the rest of us?

Shorter ken: I'd like to have a beer with John McCain, and this has proven to be a great way to select presidents in the past.

Not to mention the fact that one's ability to withstand torture really doesn't say much about their character. It may speak to their tolerance for pain, or their suggestability, or their will power. But does that equate to character? I don't think so.

Particularly where, in the years since his captivity, McCain has betrayed so many of his apparent convictions without any threat of compulsion at all.

Based on an interview with Kerry, it was McCain's staff that approached him about the VP spot. In addition, he also attempted to change parties to caucus with the Dems if he could gain more power as a result...now that is a maverick. Sounds kind of like Liebermann, but I wouldn't imagine that the DEms would nominate Liebermann for President even if he did come back on the reservation.

If President McCain were captured by the North Vietnamese, he would not accept an early release.

Good to know.

Cohen could have put his point better, but he's got a valid point. We don't know what McCain's "bottom line" is, other than, "I will not give the VietCong a propaganda coup," but we do know for sure that he has one. This is valuable information about a Presidential candidate, because, as Cohen says, character is part of the job.

I think judgment is at least as important as character, and I don't think much of McCain's judgment. But Cohen is right: it's a strong point in McCain's favor, almost the only one, and Obama harms himself when he shows he is weak where McCain is strong.

I would have preferred to see Cohen reverse the order of his points, so that his argument ran: we know McCain has a bottom line, but we can't tell where it is. He has a strong character, but we can't tell whether it is actually stronger than Obama's in practice as to the sorts of challenges they would face as President. After all, we have often seen people who will not fold against an enemy in wartime compromise themselves badly in the political arena. So McCain's history is not the only important fact even about his character.

But Cohen could not write about this question neutrally, he would have had to favor one or the other candidate. That he chose to favor the current underdog does not necessarily show bias towards McCain. Hyping the race, handicapping the contestants, is standard media methodology.

trilobite, I sure don't see it. Does that mean that the prisoners who were more compliant with their viet kong captors had less character than mccain? From what I have read, some of those men were convinced about the immorality of the US's civilian bombings and were thus more likely to be open to the viet kong. Did they have less character? Did those who hoped to bring about a quicker reunion with family and loved ones show less character?

Does that mean that the prisoners who were more compliant with their viet kong captors had less character than mccain?

McCain has acknowledged his own "compliance" with much of what he was tortured into doing. The "bottom line," though, was not accepting early release.

McCain deserves respect, etc., etc., but it should be reality-based.

"This is our moment, and our country is depending on us," he said. "So join me, and declare your independence from this broken system, and let's build the first general election campaign that's truly funded by the American people"
-Cha-Ching

Obama’s father wrote of how he coveted the wealth that Asians and Europeans were able to generate in Kenya. Obama’s father’s solution was identical to Mugabe’s solution; take away stuff from the wealth generators. We’ve got a pretty good data point on how that tends to work out.

Obama calls himself young but he is not. He is in his mid-forties. What is notable is that he has accomplished nothing in those years. He was put in charge of the Harvard Law Review but didn’t write anything. After being granted the best education that America has to offer, he chose to spend his time as a ‘community organizer’, creating ‘non-judgmental nurturing atmospheres’. Then to the Chicago Wards and Rezko.

I judge that Obama harbors the same self-esteem issues that his father held. His life choices indicate that he does. The fact that he threw his grandmother, followed by his spiritual mentor, followed by his congregation, followed by his fundraising pledges under the bus, should tell us something. The electorate means less to Obama than his disowned friends.

When he ways ‘this is our moment’, what he really means is ‘this is my moment.’ Obama is similar to his father. McCain is at least confused about what he wants.

I still think that the one about campus liberals ravishing our virgins is best.

No fair, Hilzoy, that's Townhall. You need to pick a more mainstream source; we want a properly Oscar-like ambiance that gives due reverence to Villagers.

Plus, mainstream op-eds have to respect more stylistic and rhetorical conventions. It's like comparing free verse with highly structured poetry. The constrained form adds to the artistry, even if some breathtaking examples of expression are precluded.

Or more simply, no fair picking low-hanging fruit!

William Kristol's recent op-ed in the NY Times on how MoveOn.org hates all military people is far, far worse.

McCain resisted the North Vietnamese.
McCain embraced the "agents of intolerance".
Enough said.

Well, one more thing:
Randy "Duke" Cunningham was a better warrior than McCain. The Dukester was a bona fide fighter ace -- one of the original Top Guns.
I say, "DUKE for President!"

-- TP

Pasota, Wasn't the "early release" offered by the VK inconsistent with the orders in place that directed first-in, first-out? Wouldn't McCain have faced severe consequences if he had accepted? Was he principled or merely risk-averse?

Im still waiting for these folks who think military qualifications are sine qua non for Presidential aspirations to retroactively endorse war hero John Kerry over war-avoiding George Bush...

I judge that Obama harbors the same self-esteem issues that his father held.

Would that the posting rules allowed for a similar deconstruction of your psyche. It would have the additional benefit of not following some bizarre Lamarkian theory of psychological inheritance of traits.

Obama calls himself young but he is not. He is in his mid-forties.
He says that he is tall, but there are guys in the NBA a foot taller than he! He says that he is black, but he is nowhere near as dark as his bestest friend Robert Mugabe! Besides, you're only as young as you feel, and I just know in my bones that Obama feels really, really old!

Sophie, is that a rhetorical question? I have no idea. I'd cut McCain a ton of slack on his motivations though considering he was being tortured.

The bottom line is that Cohen and many journalists simply can't get past McCain's torture in Vietnam. They'll forgive him any sin because of his heroism 40 years ago.

Democrats hoped that a similar halo would envelop John Kerry. Republicans, realizing this, launched the swift-boat campaign to discredit and destroy it, and they succeeded. I have a sinking feeling that if McCain's halo is allowed to stand as is, he will ride it to victory.

During his public career the essential McCain, a man of courage and honor, has always been evident to those willing to look beyond the political give and take that is part and parcel of being a Senator.

If you ignore his actions as a Senator, his actions as a Senator reflect courage and honor. Gotcha.

McCain was courted by Kerry to be his Vice Presidential nominee in 2004. If this had worked out all of the people criticizing him now would have been voting for him then. Same guy. He hasn't changed.

True. I would've held my nose and voted for him for Veep. Not really sure that that means I must support him for president. Or even if that's what you're arguing. Are you suggesting that we can't criticize him bc he mighta-coulda been the Dem VP candidate in '04?
There really isn't anyone that John Kerry would've reasonably picked for VP that would've made me not vote for him. It's not like he was going to pick Castro. That constitutes possibly the faintest political endorsement I could possibly give: "So-and-so would not have caused me to vote for George Bush over John Kerry by being John Kerry's Veep candidate in '04". Seriously, Id take Kerry-Quayle over Bush-Cheney in '04. Id take Kerry-Gingrich over Bush-Cheney in '04. Id certainly take McCain-Romney over Bush-Cheney in '04. None of which immunizes McCain from criticism.

Obama calls himself young but he is not.

This is quite relative. For an American president, he would be quite young at ~47.42, the 5th youngest to take office. The average age of a US president when assuming office is ~55.27, with a standard deviation of ~6.39. The youngest to date upon taking office is T. Roosevelt at ~42.25, and the oldest is Reagan at ~69.92 (McCain would beat this at ~72.42).

Richard Cohen: As [McCain's] North Vietnamese captors found out, there is only so far he will go, and then his pride or his sense of honor takes over. . . . Obama might have a similar bottom line, core principles for which, in some sense, he is willing to die. If so, we don't know what they are...

Cohen seems to be inviting the suggestion that Obama be tortured to find out.

Pasota, not really. I wondered if that was the decision you were referring to which purportedly demonstrates McCain's character, and whether you agreed that mccain would have been violating orders if he decided otherwise.
When I first heard that McCain refused early release when offered it seemed like a very principled, selfless decision. Then I learned that there were orders in place which prohibited McCain from taking early release, and I was less impressed. He was following orders, and would have probably have found himself in a raft of trouble when he returned home had he done otherwise.

I don't mean to denigrate his experience or his service. But I don't think he should be canonized for those experiences either. And I don't think they provide dispositive information about leadership or character.

If David Duke had held up under torture in Vietnam, ought we vote for him for president, or even give him serious consideration?

It doesn't diminish the admirable qualities that helped John McCain hold under torture to suggest that they are neither necessary nor sufficient to show Presidential mettle.

After Colbert did the WHCD, Cohen wrote one of the most unintentionally hilarious columns of all time, "So Not Funny." First, he says that Colbert wasn't funny (meanwhile, what happened was the #1 download on iTunes and his show ratings were up over 30%), and that he, Richard Cohen, knows this because---I swear he wrote this, "I'm a funny guy."

Absolutely slayed me. Reminded me of LT repeating how he was a "classy guy" as he ragged on his teammates for not beating the Patriots for him.

And never once have I found Cohen to even be mildly witty, never mind funny. I dunno; maybe he's the type of guy who thinks that sleeping with the wife of your best friend is a good prank.

I don't mean to denigrate his experience or his service. But I don't think he should be canonized for those experiences either.

That's what I was getting at when I pointed out that McCain's conduct as a POW was (understandably, to say the least) more of a mixed bag than it's usually portrayed as and said, "McCain deserves respect, etc., etc., but it should be reality-based."

I think there's something unseemly and ultimately dishonest about the Richard Cohen types who want to distort McCain's war experience for political reasons or in service of a convenient "narrative." It's the flip side of swiftboating Kerry. It's manipulative and demeaning.

It's the flip side of swiftboating Kerry. It's manipulative and demeaning.

True. One wonders in passing what the sclm's reaction would be to partisan Dems suggesting that McCain faked, exaggerated, or self-inflicted his injuries. Would we get dispassionate repeating of the allegations under the guise of he-said she-said reporting?
I think not. (And rightly so).

After being granted the best education that America has to offer, he chose to spend his time as a ‘community organizer’, creating ‘non-judgmental nurturing atmospheres’.

Yeah, he should have been bombing shit instead of trying to help people.

And the rest of that meager resume! Constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago, best selling author, State Senator, becoming the third black to be elected to the U.S. Senate, presumptive Democratic nominee.

Where's the man who flew sorties against a country that didn't have an air force? Bah. Obama, having been given everything by an absentee father, (unlike McCain whose father and grandfather were merely Navy brass and whose second wife is worth 100 million) what does he really have to offer on his own merits?

The fact that he threw his grandmother, followed by his spiritual mentor, followed by his congregation, followed by his fundraising pledges under the bus, should tell us something.

That it's a very slow bus or Obama has a damn fast arm?

I don't reproach him at all for this, but the notion that McCain was unbreakable by N. Vietnamese torture is simply not true. They got him to record a confession of war crimes.

Like I said, it's not discreditable at all, but his surrogates and admirers shouldn't pretend it didn't happen.

magistra: That it's a very slow bus or Obama has a damn fast arm?

" he threw his grandmother, followed by his spiritual mentor, followed by his congregation, followed by his fundraising pledges under the bus"

I think throwing the whole congregation would probably make the bus crash quite soon. After that, Obama wouldn't need a very fast arm, though he would need to be fairly stubborn and persistent, because it would take quite a long time.

Though there's a traditional folk song, the sort little kids are not taught in school, that seems quite appropriate to this assertion. It's called, as far as I ever heard, "O ye canna shove yer Granny aff a bus".

I imagine that Obama is such a slickster that he convinced them to throw themselves under the bus.

Oh, and I second Publius' nomination.

Whatever consequences McCain would have faced for accepting early release would hardly have compared to what the Viet Cong had in store for him. I think it safe to assume that McCain had no illusions what lay ahead for him when he refused release. Faced with a temptation like that, how many people would have failed?

McCain deserves our acclaim as a war hero. He does not deserve an automatic free pass on everything else.

gee, why would richard cohen thinks a man who cheats on his wife had "character"? i wonder...

"Not to mention the fact that one's ability to withstand torture really doesn't say much about their character."

What does this have to do with John McCain? He's never claimed that he's "withstood" torture. He's always claimed that he broke under torture. Read his autobiography, or any account of his:

[...]
In his 1999 autobiography, "Faith of My Fathers," McCain describes how he was severely injured when his plane was shot down over Hanoi - and how his North Vietnamese interrogators used his injuries to extract information.

"Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate," he wrote.

Story Continues Below

"I thought they were bluffing and refused to provide any information beyond my name, rank and serial number, and date of birth. They knocked me around a little to force my cooperation."

The punishment finally worked, McCain said. "Eventually, I gave them my ship's name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant."

Recalling how he gave up military information to his interrogators, McCain said: "I regret very much having done so. The information was of no real use to the Vietnamese, but the Code of Conduct for American Prisoners of War orders us to refrain from providing any information beyond our names, rank and serial number."

The episode wasn't the only instance when McCain broke under physical pressure.

Just after his release in May 1973, he detailed his experience as a P.O.W. in a lengthy account in U.S. News & World Report.

He described the day Hanoi Hilton guards beat him "from pillar to post, kicking and laughing and scratching. After a few hours of that, ropes were put on me and I sat that night bound with ropes."

"For the next four days, I was beaten every two to three hours by different guards . . . Finally, I reached the lowest point of my 5 1/2 years in North Vietnam. I was at the point of suicide, because I saw that I was reaching the end of my rope."

McCain was taken to an interrogation room and ordered to sign a document confessing to war crimes. "I signed it," he recalled. "It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities."

"I had learned what we all learned over there," McCain said. "Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine."

Who is it that can "withstand torture," outside a comic book, and what would that person have to do with John McCain?

"We don't know what McCain's 'bottom line' is, other than, 'I will not give the VietCong a propaganda coup,'"

Hmm? He didn't accept early release, but that's all. You can't really torture someone into sticking to a decision they'd have to stick to after they were out of enemy hands.

"Obama’s father wrote of how he coveted the wealth that Asians and Europeans were able to generate in Kenya. Obama’s father’s solution was identical to Mugabe’s solution; take away stuff from the wealth generators."

Cite?

It would help, Bill, if you're going to make claims, to give the cite without being asked. It would help your credibility no end.

If, of course, such cites existed.

"William Kristol's recent op-ed in the NY Times"

For the record, Kristol doesn't have to write, and he wouldn't be given, a single op-ed piece in the Times. He's a columnist for the NY Times, same as Dowd, Friedman, Krugman, etc.

"Where's the man who flew sorties against a country that didn't have an air force?"

Dunno; which country are you referring to? :-)

Who are these guys, anyway? :-)

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