We Don't Talk Enough About How Bad the Washington Post's Richard Cohen Is

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These days, it may seem like the New York Times has a monopoly on bad columnists, given its roster of legends like Thomas Friedman and Frank Bruni as well as the lethal duo of Bari Weiss and Bret Stephens (not to be confused with Brett Stevens, who is good and logical and my friend) pumping out bad takes by the boatload. But too often, it feels like we forget about the high (low?) quality of the Washington Post’s horrible op-ed writers. Case in point? Richard Cohen.

Cohen, who wrote in 1986 that jewelry store owners would be right to turn away black men for fear of being robbed and yet still has a job at the Post 32 years later, published a column last night in which he somehow took the most pisswarm take of the past week—that Democrats should respond to Donald Trump with civility, d*mn it—bottled it, and left it out on the counter for a couple of days.


Cohen’s targets are Official Antifa co-chairs Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, and Michael Avenatti—all of whom recently said some watered-down variation of “fuck civility,” a sentiment we at Splinter wholeheartedly endorse. And Cohen is sure to say in his column that he doesn’t think Holder was actually calling for violence when he said, “When they go low, we kick them,” during a speech in Georgia earlier this month.

But almost immediately, he goes off the rails:

The trouble with these statements is that here and there are people who don’t need encouragement to act uncivilly or even violently. Already, there has been an upsurge in confrontation that has made for ugly television. The confrontation two women had with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) — “Look at me,” one of them ordered — was difficult to watch and was used by pro-Brett M. Kavanaugh senators to their advantage. So, too, was the hounding of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in a D.C. restaurant. I admit it takes some effort to feel sorry for Cruz, but even he is entitled to a sense of security.


What Cohen conveniently leaves out here is that the televised confrontation of Flake by two survivors happened after Flake had announced he would vote to move Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination along. After the confrontation—as well as coaxing from Democratic senators—Flake announced that he wanted a one-week delay on the vote so the FBI could carry out its sham investigation into Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual assaults. If protesters hadn’t made their displeasure known, the confirmation might have happened sooner.

Beyond that, it must have been really hard for Cohen to watch a woman confront Flake, considering he himself was accused of “inappropriate behavior” towards a junior Post employee two decades ago and faced the grim, unfair consequences of being reassigned to another office in the same building. (At the time, Cohen said that the incident “was a personality dispute at an office,” but that “it had nothing to do with sexual harassment as the term applies today.”)


And speaking of assault, here’s what Cohen wrote in 2009 in praise of the Swiss government’s refusal to extradite director Roman Polanski on charges that he sexually assaulted a child:

There is no doubt that Polanski did what he did, which is have sex with a 13-year-old after plying her with booze. There is no doubt also that after all these years there is something stale about the case, not to mention a “victim,” Samantha Geimer, who has long ago forgiven her assailant and dearly wishes the whole thing would go away. So do I.


The rest of Cohen’s Monday night column is a microwaved rehash of the argument that protests and riots in the 1960s resulted in the election of the last president he appears to have been cognizant of, Richard Nixon. He does a throwback to one of his greatest hits, “People with conventional views’ are disgusted by Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray’s marriage and biracial children” (emphasis mine):

Nixon’s call for law and order was hardly innovative. Throughout the 20th century, right-wing movements made headway urging an end to (left-wing) demonstrations and coupling this with an attack on modernity — secularism, homosexuality and the usual list of prejudices. They all recognized that most voters feel uneasy with social change and absolutely abhor anything that portends violence or the lack of civility. It makes them feel unsafe and suggests, as does graffiti on a subway car, that worse will follow.


Then Cohen ends with a call for civility in spite of Trump, without detailing whatsoever what the end goal is while vaguely gesturing towards the Civil War and saying stuff like “Politics is not beanbag”:

“Going low” is not, like proper meds, going to restore Trump voters to sanity. It will, however, only further debase American politics and validate Trump. Politics is not beanbag — whatever that is — and a little larceny is not only permitted but required. But an uncivil society is a dangerous place with possibly horrendous consequences. Beware. The Civil War had nothing to do with manners, but it’s a warning nonetheless.


Really makes you think.

As horrible as Richard Cohen is at his job, though, it’s oddly validating when someone who’s displayed such an alarming lack of self-awareness during his entire career pops one of these takes out. Cohen and his ilk prove time and time again that they’re completely unequipped to process our present political moment, and so it makes the argument that we should stop listening to all of them that much stronger.