Richard Cohen’s Attack on Obama

Richard Cohen has a particularly nasty column today in which he demands that Barack Obama make some kind of public repudiation of Louis Farrakhan. I suppose it’s always a worthwhile venture to say something nasty about anti-Semites, but normally there is some catalyzing event that warrants it…like the anti-Semite says something anti-Semitic, for example. Farrakhan hasn’t mouthed off recently, so that isn’t Cohen’s problem. Cohen’s problem is that Barack Obama’s church has a magazine. And that magazine issues an annual award in the name of Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright’s daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said “truly epitomized greatness.” That man is Louis Farrakhan.

Now, Louis Farrakhan is a complex man and his career shouldn’t be whittled down to his anti-Semitism, as if that horrible characteristic fully negates everything else he has ever done. But his anti-Semitism, which is really beyond debate, should preclude him from winning awards for his “depth of analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation.” I agree with Cohen about that. What I don’t agree with is that it is a worthwhile use of Cohen’s highly coveted Washington Post editorial space to inject this non-controversy into the debate. Cohen surely knows that Barack Obama has no desire to repudiate his own pastor. Obama has already acknowledged that he and his pastor have some differences of opinion. And Cohen already extracted a disavowal of Farrakhan from Obama’s campaign manager, David Axelrod. But that doesn’t slow Cohen down.

It’s important to state right off that nothing in Obama’s record suggests he harbors anti-Semitic views or agrees with Wright when it comes to Farrakhan. Instead, as Obama’s top campaign aide, David Axelrod, points out, Obama often has said that he and his minister sometimes disagree. Farrakhan, Axelrod told me, is one of those instances.

Fine. But where I differ with Axelrod and, I assume, Obama is that praise for an anti-Semitic demagogue is not a minor difference or an intrachurch issue. The Obama camp takes the view that its candidate, now that he has been told about the award, is under no obligation to speak out on the Farrakhan matter. It was not Obama’s church that made the award but a magazine. This is a distinction without much of a difference. And given who the parishioner is, the obligation to speak out is all the greater. He could be the next American president. Where is his sense of outrage?

It’s not enough for Obama to distance himself from Farrakhan and his own pastor, Cohen demands that he show ‘outrage’ over an award in a magazine. Forgive me if I think this is taking things rather too far. It isn’t like Barack Obama campaigned at Bob Jones University or held a rally with some anti-Semitic group. Respect for the private nature of Obama’s relationship with his pastor should argue in favor of providing a measure of slack in this instance.

But let me be honest. It appears this is the season to turn Barack Obama into a genuine black man. Richard Cohen seems to me to be engaging in the effort with Clintonian gusto. He wants to tie Farrakhan around Obama’s neck ‘by any means necessary’. Let Obama denounce one of Chicago’s most powerful religious figures, or let him not. Either way, Cohen has injected race and controversy into the campaign, and not for a genuinely honorable purpose.

28 comments for “Richard Cohen’s Attack on Obama

  1. January 16, 2008 at 10:15 am

    It takes a village to have a witch hunt:

    Cohen may have gotten his material here.  Or they may have had a “common inspiration” at the same time.

  2. January 15, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Greg Sargent  has an Obama response.

  3. January 15, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I am waiting for Richard Cohen to apologize for his part in subverting the marketing for Betamaxes and 8-tracks. I keep waiting and he won’t apologize, that bastard!

  4. January 15, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Its not just the GOP that likes this stuff, its the Clintons.

    Anything and everything that will postion Obama as a “black” candidate will alienate white voters.

    His greatest strength and threat to Hillary is the fact that for many whites they hardly notice his race (or religion, or sex, or…)

  5. January 15, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Isn’t this the same Dick that hawked the Iraq War just to come back a few years later asking for a mulligan? To hell with him too…

  6. January 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Oh great, let’s hear Mayor Bloomberg’s take.

  7. January 15, 2008 at 12:45 pm
  8. January 15, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    This is just a taste of what is to come. If we get to the point where it looks like Obama might get the nomination “all hell will break loose.” The racist neocon pundits in the MSM will wage an all-out war to label him as anti-semetic. As you suggest in the post, these individuals do not have honorable motives.

  9. January 15, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    We are beginning to see the formulation of the narrative which our corporate “liberal media” has settled on in this election cycle, and it is just as reprehensible, idiotic and demonstrably false as all those that have come before.

    The thing that makes it so different this time is that it’s genesis is from within the bowels of the Democratic Party machine, which will ultimately be the victim most negatively affected by its existence.  It did not need to be created and built from within some dark and mysterious 527 or cut from whole cloth by a pseudo-Republican operative group like the Swift Boaters.  It has come from within the “friendly confines” of the home camp.  And as much as Hillary Clinton would like to distance herself from much of it, she has to face the fact that she has not demonstrably put forth any effort to quell the tide of these lies, rumors and innuendo.

    A self induced Democratic implosion is certainly within the realm of possibility here.  Both the Hillary camp and the Obama camp need to have a serious gut check moment on whether they want to continue down this path.  Very soon here this whole narrative will become self perpetuating and it will be beyond the power of anyone to stop it.  Just like “Gore says he created the internet”, “discovered Love Canal”, “is a fake and a liar” and “needs Naomi Wolf to bring out his alpha male” this whole narrative will become most assuredly “TRUE” in the minds of voters.

    And when it all comes back and bites them in the ass, Democrats will all stand around once again, looking at each other in bewilderment, and be totally and genuinely oblivious to just exactly how they f@$%ed it up and once more managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

  10. January 15, 2008 at 11:55 am

    I think that Obama should answer Cohen’s demand that he apologize for Farrakhan’s anti-semitism with a demand for Cohen to apologize for sexually harassing his coworkers and wrecking Peter jennings marriage.

    No, the two issues don’t have anything to do with each other. Then again, neither do barack obama and louis farrakhan.

    Richard cohen is a moron.

  11. January 15, 2008 at 11:33 am

    So Obama joins a church in 1991 that awarded LF an award in 1982. But since LF made an arguably anti-semetic remark in 1984 (earliest I can find) Obama has to condemn his church?

    Guess HRC decided no truce.

  12. January 15, 2008 at 11:18 am

    What a Dick.  Really.

  13. January 15, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I read that this morning.  You have to give Cohen credit for writing the perfect hit piece.  It’s like he created a new game – the six degrees of Louis Farrakhan, and linked Obama that way.

    But what makes this really effective is that he  links Obama and Farrakhan in the headline and that headline will go out all over the tubes.  So even people who don’t read the piece can see the headline on their RSS feeds, etc.  

    And of course he ends with the obligatory disclaimer that lets him keep his hands clean “I don’t for a moment think that Obama shares Wright’s views on Farrakhan. But …”

    Pretty damn effective piece of writing.

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