The sins of Richard Cohen have been well-documented. I don’t think I need to recount them all here. All that is important is that you realize that Cohen is one of the rare ‘liberals’ who applauded when Poppy Bush used the last Christmas Eve of his time in office to pardon anyone who got in trouble for Iran-Contra and might be able to implicate him in the crime. Cohen defended Scooter Libby to the hilt. And Cohen suggested that all our American torturers should get a mulligan. It seems that the one thing that Mr. Cohen really can’t stand is the idea that someone important in Washington DC might do jail time. He really has created a tremendous record as an apologist for elite law-breaking.

But now it seems that he has taken it a bit further. Now, he doesn’t think powerful politicians should question the integrity of other powerful politicians.

In “The Godfather Part II,” a senator from Nevada is portrayed as corrupt. His name is Pat Geary. In real life, a senator from Nevada is a jerk. His name is Harry Reid.

If that lede makes sense to you now or in retrospect please let me know why, but, in any case, Cohen is out of the box with an ad hominem. Harry Reid is a jerk. He’s a jerk because he made an accusation with inadequate proof. Let’s look at Cohen’s argument.

He has accused Mitt Romney of paying no taxes for 10 years. Romney denies the accusation and challenged Reid to put up or shut up. In an apparent response, Reid repeated the charges on the Senate floor. Countless aides have echoed their boss. They and he attribute their information to a source they will not name.

The timing is wrong here, as Harry Reid took to the Senate floor the first time prior to Mitt Romney making his comment about “putting up or shutting up.” When Cohen says that “countless aides have echoed their boss,” he reveals that he cannot count to two. As for not naming their source? Well….we’ll get to that.

Cohen continues:

Whether such a source exists, really, is beside the point. It could be that someone did indeed tell Reid that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years. Journalists get that sort of tip all the time, and their responsibility is (1) to check it out and (2) identify the source.

Cohen’s first mistake is to tell us that the accusation is beside the point. Actually, the key element here is whether or not Harry Reid really has a credible source, as he claims he does. Cohen’s second mistake is to equate the job of a politician with the job of journalist. Harry Reid has an important position with many duties to fulfill. Chasing down corroborating evidence that Romney is a tax-cheat is not in his job description. Cohen’s third mistake is to argue that a journalist has a responsibility to identify their sources. A journalist shouldn’t rely on only one source, but they have an obligation to protect the identities of their sources, not reveal them.

Obviously, Cohen has no argument, so we’re back to the ad hominem attack:

For Reid, this is yet another brazen and tasteless partisan attack. As majority leader, he has managed to sink the public image of the Senate even lower than it would otherwise be. He contributes to bad feelings, gridlock and the sense — nay, the reality — that everything is done for political advantage. Reid is a crass man, the very personification of the gaudy and kitschy Las Vegas Strip.

In philosophy, we might call this begging the question, as it assumes that Harry Reid is lying when he says he received a credible report that Romney didn’t pay his taxes for ten years, when that really is the question we are all trying to answer. But it goes beyond logical fallacy to some kind of dream land where Reid’s comment, rather than Republican intransigence, is the driver of gridlock in Washington. Moreover, Reid, who is a picture of moral rectitude and piety, is somehow depicted as the personification of Vegas kitsch. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t fool around. He doesn’t take bribes. He faces down the mafia. But Cohen suggests he embodies Las Vegas.

The politics of this squabble are delightful. But Reid has managed to draw both his party and his president into the gutter with him. When Reid accuses the Republicans of being overly partisan, he now lacks all credibility. For a long time it’s been difficult to believe anything he says. Now, it’s impossible.

These are strong words but, again, all Reid is saying is that someone credible told him that Romney didn’t pay his taxes for ten years. It’s not like he questioned the man’s birth certificate. If I said that someone told me that Richard Cohen is driving on an expired driver’s license, would that be gutter journalism? What if someone really did tell me that? Would I be mean and partisan to print it? After all, I’d be putting my credibility on the line and I’d look pretty stupid if Cohen produced a current driver’s license and called me an asshole.

Why is Cohen so upset that Harry Reid has made this accusation? And why does he think it reflects poorly on Obama?

As for Obama, he is tarnished by this episode. The fresh new face that promised us all a different kind of politics is suddenly looking cheesy. The soaring rhetoric that Obama used in his first campaign has come to ground in the mud of Harry Reid’s latter-day McCarthyism.

Cheesy? Obama looks cheesy? Raise your hands if you agree.

But the real outrage is the last word. McCarthy accused people of being communists without proof. If McCarthy had restricted himself to accusing people he had personally been advised were communists of being communists he wouldn’t have earned his terrible reputation. Either Romney paid his taxes or he did not. It’s an easy thing to clarify. Either Richard Cohen is driving on a suspended license or he is not. It’s not like he has to prove he isn’t a Muslim.

No one is saying that Mitt Romney is under the influence of a foreign government, and it’s ridiculous to make such a comparison.

But, for Richard Cohen, his desire to suck up to power is so great that he’ll leap to the defense of anyone powerful who is questioned too hard about their honesty or rectitude.

Mitt Romney is insulting the intelligence of an entire nation. And Cohen thinks he has the right to do that without being questioned.

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