Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Richard Cohen's unfair comparison

Readers of this blog will know that I have not been an uncritical booster of Obama, though I am definitely supporting him for re-election. But Richard Cohen's WaPo column comparing Obama unfavorably to Robert Kennedy strikes me as somewhat unfair.

Cohen writes:
Kennedy had huge causes. End poverty. End the war. He challenged a sitting president over Vietnam. It could have cost him his career. It did cost him his life. The draft is long gone, and with it indignation about senseless wars. Poverty persists, but now it is mostly blamed on the poor. When it comes to the underclass, we are out of ideas . . . or patience. Or both. Pity Obama in this regard. It’s hard to summon us for a crusade that has already been fought and lost. We made war on poverty. Poverty hardly noticed.
If you accept the premise of this passage, then the fault lies more with the times than with Obama. 1968 was a different era. Yet Cohen then proceeds to ignore his own insight. I agree Obama should have been more vocal about climate change, about the plight of young black men many of whom are in prison or unemployed (or underemployed), and about some other matters, too. But Obama is who he is: his 2008 campaign was not an especially marked departure from the center of gravity of the Democratic party, which has shifted rightward since the days of RFK. For that matter, it's shifted rightward even since 1980, when Edward Kennedy gave his unforgettable speech at the Democratic convention of that year ("the dream will never die").

Richard Cohen knows this, which is another reason his column seems unfair. It has attracted a lot of comments on the WaPo site, or so I surmise from the fact that the "loading comments" function there seems to be groaning under the strain. But I haven't read any of the comments there except one or two. A lot of them, no doubt, won't  have anything to do with what Cohen wrote.

Added later: I don't agree, by the way, with Cohen's implicit blanket dismissal of the 'war on poverty', which had some real accomplishments. But that's a whole other subject.


hank_F_M said...


Cohen does seem a liitl unfair to RFK.

I saw the strom on the radar, hope you rode it out OK.

LFC said...

Thanks, the storm was not as bad as it might have been here; my electricity stayed on, contrary to past experience and my expectations.

But points further north, e.g. NYC and the Jersey shore, have been badly hit. A total of 8 million people are without power, I heard on the Newshour. I have lost power in other storms, and my thoughts are with everyone who is coping with that now, or struggling w/ flood damage or something even worse.
"Cohen does seem a little unfair to RFK."

I assume this is tongue-in-cheek.

LFC said...

Btw, another note about the storm in this area: the Postal Service, rather to my amazement, delivered on Monday. Basically everything else shut down -- no trash collection, no public transport -- but USPS delivered.