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« June 2010 »

Memo to Richard Cohen: YOU WISH.

At the end of yesterday's column, we had just finished insulting and excoriating Washington Post columnist, stand-up-comic wannabe, and complete waste of many, many expense-account lunches Richard Cohen, thanks to the publication of his hilariously-titled column, "Barack Obama's Enigmatic Intellectualism".

To recap - Obama's foreign policy has no heart, because he doesn't love Israel enough. He's America's first cyborg president, which you can tell just by looking at his body language when he talks about that foreign policy problem, the Gulf oil spill. But it's OK, because his dad ran away and his mother ran off to Indonesia. It's just, you know. Unfortunate. Because his lack of emotion makes Richard Cohen sad.

As you may recall, early on in yesterday's column I pointed out how Cohen played right into conservative paranoia about Obama by asking the same kind of coded questions that teabaggers ask when they question his religion, his country of origin, or, more accurately, his subservience to the white race. Cohen must have realized this, because we start today's in-depth fuck-you to Cohen with the walkback. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"The consequences are unfortunate. Obama's opaqueness has enabled his enemies -- they are not mere critics -- to define him as they choose. He becomes a socialist, which he is not, or a Muslim, which he also is not. Even his allies are confused. The left thought he was a leftie. He's not. The right, too, thought he was a leftie. He is, above all, a pragmatist. This makes it a lot easier to say what he is not than what he is."

Bear with me, because this paragraph is seriously fucking dense with fucking sense. Right out of the gate, Cohen uses the passive-aggressive voice to essentially place the ultimate blame for the crazy talk about Obama on Obama. I mean, it's unfortunate, sure, but it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been dressed like that, right?

Then Richard Cohen motherfucking lies. Lefties never thought Barack Obama was a leftie. Leftist disappointment with Obama comes from his backtracking on specific center-left campaign promises he made, like closing Gitmo, ending Bush-era executive overreach, and getting us out of our ridiculous wars. Not out of some mistaken belief that he actually was a bonafide liberal. The right thought he was a leftie, yeah, but today's right would have thought Richard Nixon was a fucking hippie, so what do they know?

But my favorite part is that last sentence. Cohen follows saying what Obama is by telling us that what he is makes it easier to say what he isn't than what he is. That's not just sophistry. That's sophistry backflipping through a ring of fire, with everything going great up until sophistry farts and is incinerated in its own blue flame.

And now, only now, do we get to the money shot, in which Cohen gruntingly fires off a moist fusillade at the very idea of intelligence.

"Fortune has not smiled on Obama's presidency. His one uncontested attribute -- a shimmering intellect -- has become suspect. A world of smart guys has turned against us. Everyone at Goldman Sachs is smart, but they seem to have the amorality mocked by the songwriter Tom Lehrer in his send-up of the celebrated American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, a former Nazi (' "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun')."

Let's start at the end. First, we have Cohen once again, possibly subconsciously, trying to burnish his comedy credentials by quoting Tom Lehrer. It's just sad. But back to the central premise - that intelligence itself has been devalued because the guys at Goldman Sachs were smart yet amoral, you know, just like a parody of a Nazi scientist! If you walk the implications forward and backward, the implication is clear. Obama's intellect also lacks morality, which means he's kind of like a Nazi. Which would explain his half-throated support of Israel.

Cohen, of course, would be SHOCKED that I'd unpacked his semiotics that way. Because I put more effort into unpacking it than he did packing it. I'm like the TSA agent who found his anal beads. But it's all in there, as a direct consequence of over a year and a half now of trying to write about Obama's "otherness" without sounding racist. With all that twisting and dodging and sidestepping, it's inevitable that sometimes it'll accidentally venture into Nazi Germany.

"The oil industry is full of smart people, and so is the mortgage industry. Smart people seem to have brought us nothing but trouble. Smarts without values is dangerous -- threatening, scary, virtually un-American. This is why a succession of archconservative eccentrics have succeeded. Their values are obvious, often shockingly so. We know what they want, just not how they are ever going to get it. Experience has become a handicap and inexperience a virtue. Smart is out. Dumb is in."

And this is where, had old traditions still been in place and Richard Cohen was spouting this bullshit from atop a soap box in the town square, I would have pelted the motherfucker right in his Orville Redenbacher-looking mush with whatever overripe produce I could find. SMART WAS NEVER IN. If it were, you'd have cyclical gaps in your curriculum vitae, asshole.

Big Oil isn't any smarter than a crack dealer. They have what we want, they know we'll pay for it. That's the extent of their smarts. The mortgage industry wasn't smart. Smart isn't having slightly more information than your mark so that you can rip them off. And the reason a succession of archconservative eccentrics have succeeded is not because intellectualism has failed, it's because punks like Richard Cohen keep taking them seriously. But enough of this. Richard Cohen had a premise, dammit, and despite spending the entire column on diversions from it, since he's two paragraphs from the end, it's at long last time to return to that premise!

"Foreign policy is the realm where a president comes closest to ruling by diktat. By command decision, the war in Afghanistan has been escalated, yet it seems to lack an urgent moral component. It has an apparent end date even though girls may not yet be able to attend school and the Taliban may rule again. In some respects, I agree -- the earlier out of Afghanistan, the better -- but if we are to stay even for a while, it has to be for reasons that have to do with principle. Somewhat the same thing applies to China. It's okay to trade with China. It's okay to hate it, too. "

Um, diktat? Really? Is Richard Cohen suggesting that the president doesn't have the authority to make command decisions about a war? Because while I'm certainly suspicious about Obama's willingness to exceed executive power, I've never begrudged him this one. And as for the war's moral component? Look, asswipe. It's not Obama's job to make sure you still feel good about the stupid fucking war stupid fucking Bush started and stupid fucking you supported. Also, Barack Obama didn't invent TRADING WITH CHINA. Why would you even say something like that? You can't possibly be trying to get me to rage-stroke, but you couldn't have done a better job if you were chock full of intent.

How can Richard Cohen possibly end a love letter to cognitive impairment like this? Do you even need to ask?

"Pragmatism is fine -- as long as it is complicated by regret. But that indispensable wince is precisely what Obama doesn't show. It is not essential that he get angry or cry. It is essential, though, that he show us who he is. As of now, we haven't a clue."

What do you mean "we", kemosabe?