Wash. Post's Cohen's double standard: Clinton's acts disqualifying, while McCain's numerous inconsistencies and falsehoods are "understandable"

››› ››› LAUREN AUERBACH

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote of Sen. John McCain: "He's an honorable man who has fudged and ducked and swallowed the truth on occasion ... but always, I think, for understandable although not necessarily admirable reasons." By contrast, Cohen accused Sen. Hillary Clinton of "want[ing] to become president so badly that she has made the goal more important than how she gets there -- and now she has rendered herself incapable of doing an essential part of the job."

In his April 22 Washington Post column, Richard Cohen asserted of Sen. John McCain: "He's an honorable man who has fudged and ducked and swallowed the truth on occasion -- about the acceptability of the Confederate flag, for instance -- but always, I think, for understandable although not necessarily admirable reasons." By contrast, Cohen described Sen. Hillary Clinton's remarks about being under sniper fire in Bosnia as a "polygraph buster" and said of Clinton: "She wants to become president so badly that she has made the goal more important than how she gets there." But McCain "fudged and ducked" on the issue of the Confederate flag -- the only example of McCain's inconsistency, evasions, and falsehoods offered by Cohen -- presumably for the same reason that Cohen ascribes to Clinton: He wanted to be elected president. But rather than describing McCain's flag statements as disqualifying, as he did with Clinton, Cohen declared them "understandable"; rather than asserting that McCain's acts have "rendered [him] incapable of doing an essential part of the job," Cohen wrote that, in contrast with Clinton, "John McCain could do it" -- that is, restore trust in the U.S. government.

Moreover, Cohen pointed only to McCain's reversing his position on "the acceptability of the Confederate flag" as evidence that McCain had "fudged and ducked and swallowed the truth on occasion." But Media Matters for America has documented McCain's growing list of false assertions and inconsistencies, which include: his repeated claim that he voted against the Bush tax cuts because they weren't paired with spending cuts -- a different reason from the one he gave in 2001 when he voted against the tax cuts; his false claim that he called for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation; his misrepresentations of statements by Sen. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney; his admittedly false assertion that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq; and his reversals on immigration, taxes, and the religious right. Cohen mentioned none of these false assertions or inconsistencies, instead broadly pronouncing McCain's "fudg[ing] and duck[ing] and swallow[ing] the truth" as "understandable," even though McCain committed those acts in the course of running for president.

In a February 12 column, Cohen did identify McCain's capacity for "pandering" in order to win. Then, he wrote that McCain "has modified his immigration proposal and reversed himself on taxes. In some cases -- as when he admitted to pandering about the Confederate flag during the 2000 South Carolina primary -- his confessions of error have been bracing." Cohen also wrote: "For McCain to attempt to appease his right-wing critics would vitiate the main plank in his platform: his persona. He has already tarnished his image a bit by misstating Mitt Romney's position on Iraq, and now he would appear as just another political opportunist if he became more conservative than thou." But while pronouncing Clinton's candidacy irreparably damaged in his most recent column, Cohen continues to ignore the numerous instances of McCain's evasions and falsehoods that would seemingly, in Cohen's words, make him "appear as just another political opportunist," and, if given attention by media figures like Cohen, could "render[]" McCain "incapable" of restoring the public's trust in the government.

Cohen also asserted that Clinton "has gone too far -- too much disturbing stuff, some of it shocking in its coarseness." Cohen added: "For instance, she added the coy 'as far as I know' to her '60 Minutes' statement that Obama is not a Muslim." In fact, during an interview on the March 2 edition of CBS' 60 Minutes, Clinton repeatedly made clear that she believes Obama is not a Muslim and likened the false rumors about Obama's religion to false rumors about her, as Media Matters has repeatedly documented.

From Cohen's April 22 Washington Post column:

It is the same with Clinton. It is hard to think of anyone who has worked longer or sacrificed more for the presidency. She is indomitable, steadfast, gutsy and all those other things we know -- smart, for instance. She also can be, in private and sometimes in public, charming and awfully good company. Her wilderness -- that mess about Monica, a pain so exquisite even John Yoo (George W. Bush's former torture consultant) would have winced -- would seem to entitle her to some sort of reward, a happy ending for her if not for us.

But she has gone too far -- too much disturbing stuff, some of it shocking in its coarseness. For instance, she added the coy "as far as I know" to her "60 Minutes" statement that Obama is not a Muslim. More important, she offered a weak and disingenuous defense of her Senate vote in support of going to war in Iraq. But more recently came her stunning Moses Moment, that polygraph buster about being under sniper fire in Bosnia. It was a defining time in her campaign, not because she exaggerated or lied -- call it what you want -- but because the statement was hurled into a gale of contrary evidence, including eyewitnesses and video: a serene welcoming ceremony, complete with the requisite young girl bestowing the requisite gift. No snipers. No avoiding the obvious, either: Sometimes Hillary Clinton just can't help herself.

The story was nuts -- and Clinton herself has been at a loss to explain it. But for many voters, it encapsulated their suspicion, their anxiety, their hesitation about Clinton: She lies. The consequences for her were ruinous. In a Post-ABC News poll, only 39 percent of voters said they consider Clinton honest and trustworthy. This is a damning indictment.

The Financial Times last week billboarded an opinion column "Bush's worst legacy" and wondered whether it was Iraq or fiscal policy. The menu of choices in this case is so vast as to induce vertigo, but let me suggest that Bush's "worst legacy" is what he has done to whatever trust Americans still had in their government. This administration's incessant lying, its secrecy -- its creepy Cheneyism with its petty justifications for torture and violation of privacy -- is its worst legacy, one that will endure long after Wal-Mart opens a branch in Sadr City. Only an idiot would trust this government.

And so it will be the job, the obligation, the solemn task of the next president to restore that trust. John McCain could do it. He's an honorable man who has fudged and ducked and swallowed the truth on occasion -- about the acceptability of the Confederate flag, for instance -- but always, I think, for understandable although not necessarily admirable reasons. Barack Obama could do it. We are learning that he, too, can do the F's -- fudge, fib or forget. I don't believe him on the Second Amendment -- and he says one thing on NAFTA in Ohio and a campaign adviser whispers another to Canada by way of reassurance. But these are minor matters, the "You look beautiful tonight, dear" fibs of marriage that have their functional equivalent in politics. They are necessary. They lubricate life itself.

But with Clinton, it's a different story. She planted her foot in the unforgiving pitch of self-caricature. Now, about 60 percent of the electorate doubts her honesty. The image has hardened. She wants to become president so badly that she has made the goal more important than how she gets there -- and now she has rendered herself incapable of doing an essential part of the job. Her plight is virtually biblical. Her own Jordan is too wide to cross.

Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Richard Cohen
Stories/Interests
John McCain, Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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