Well, the bad old Richard Cohen we all know and loathe is back
. He writes today about Robert Torricelli, sort of.
What he's really writing about, of course, is the former Narcissist-in-Chief:
Once upon a time, Democratic politicians modeled themselves after John F. Kennedy. They would thrust a hand into their suit pocket, use self-deprecatory wit, pretend to have read books and declaim in backward-flowing sentences -- "Ask not . . ." Trouble was, as Lloyd Bentsen famously said of Dan Quayle, none of them was JFK.
Is he saying that JFK also "pretend(ed) to have read books?" I can certainly believe it, I'm just wondering...
Now the model appears to be Bill Clinton. Unlike Kennedy, it is not Clinton's style that is emulated, nor his eloquence and wit. It is his tenacity, his refusal to quit no matter what. This, above all, is what Robert Torricelli tried to duplicate when he sought reelection to the Senate from New Jersey. And this, more than anything else, accounts for the debacle facing New Jersey Democrats and the party in general. If it loses control of the Senate, it just might be on account of the example set by Bill Clinton.
Because it's all
about Bill Clinton. Everything is. Cohen's unrequited love for Bill is simply embarrassing to watch, although as with his hero, embarrassment and shame are emotions that are clearly alien to Mr. Cohen (see his previous column for ample evidence of that).
Clinton's shadow was all over the Torricelli campaign. Given Torricelli's own driving ambition, it's hard to say that Clinton's example was the sole reason Torricelli sought reelection. But Torricelli offered us a peep into this thinking when he said, in effect, that he had failed to live up to the Clinton Standard.
Oh, please. Torricelli is plenty responsible all by himself. Does any sane person really believe that if Clinton hadn't escaped impeachment, Torricelli would have slunk off meekly into the night without a fight?
"President Clinton called several times today from Great Britain," Torricelli said in his speech announcing he was quitting. "We recalled all the fights that we were in together, all the times I went to the White House and told him in the darkest days that what I admired about him is that 'you never give up -- you never compromise, you never stop, you never give up.' . . . I admire that man so much."
Of course, Clinton's problems were all self-inflicted. Had he not been an entirely corrupt shell of a human being who cared for nothing except the gratification of his ego and his vile desires, he would not have had any dark days in the White House.
This quality of Clinton's -- the sheer ability to get out of bed in the morning when you or I would have pulled the covers over our heads -- is indeed one of Clinton's great attributes. Sometimes -- in New Hampshire after Gennifer Flowers or in the White House after Monica Lewinsky -- I could only marvel at his ability to keep going. A lesser man would have quit.
"You or I" would not have done what Clinton did; well, I
wouldn't have, and nor would any remotely decent man. Based on Richard's history with interns, as noted last time we discussed him, maybe he has more in common with Clinton that bears thinking about in any detail.
The fact that he shamelessly pressed on fighting entirely legitimate charges brought on by his disgusting and dishonest behavior, lying through his teeth at every opportunity, is not
a matter for admiration. You might as well say that you admire John Gotti for his refusal to "give in" to prosecutors.
But Clinton is a bad model for other politicians. In the first place, few of them have his charm -- or, in the impeachment era, his enemies. Torricelli was facing an unobjectionable Republican named Doug Forrester and not that Talibanic inquisitor, Ken Starr, and the goon squad that supported him in Congress.
"Talibanic?" Um...it's called following the law, Richard. You might want to learn about that sometime.
And as for Clinton's charm, well, it obviously works better on some people than others. Funny that...
Second, Clinton's offenses were not about job performance but about sex. His critics tried to make abuse of power and perjury the issue, but at heart it was always about sex -- something about which most Democrats, and even a few Republicans, have some knowledge. We all have our secret lives, whether real or fantasy -- and thank God for us that no Ken Starr calls us to account for them.
Well, there was also massive campaign finance corruption; selling of trade mission seats; selling of the Lincoln Bedroom; a foreign policy that was remarkable in its lack of concern for our national security; I could go on, but it's all on the record.
It was never "about sex," no matter how often Richard and other water-carriers for Clinton try to claim that it was.
Torricelli's "mistake" -- his characterization -- was not about sex but about corruption. It is a nasty word and maybe too expansive for what Torricelli did. But he did take gifts from a campaign contributor, for which he was "severely admonished" by his Senate colleagues. What's more, he came cheap -- a Rolex watch, some suits, a TV set. This was almost an insult to New Jersey's heritage of industrial-strength corruption. Tony Soprano would be appalled.
Note how he uses quotes around mistake - it's clear that Richard believes that Torricelli's only real mistake was getting caught.
And, by the way, Richard, Tony Soprano isn't a real person. And using pop culture references isn't going to get the NY Times to offer you a column like Mo Dowd's got. Sorry, but the truth hurts, I guess.
Still, a near-indictment by the U.S. attorney and a hard slap from the Senate should have amounted to a pink slip. But Torricelli clearly thought he could pull a Clinton. After all, he had his hero's verbal dexterity and, more than that, his hero's precedent to follow. He was not fighting for the rest of his term, though, but for a renewal of his contract. All his opponent had to do was remind voters over and over again that Torricelli was an ethical mess. Torricelli never could gain traction. He beat himself to a pulp.
No, what he didn't have was the blind, mindless adoration of lemminglike followers who were willing to ignore any crime, any transgression, anything at all, because they were so blinded by Clinton's "charm".
In the New York gubernatorial contest, Andrew Cuomo needed Bill Clinton's blessing to pull out of the Democratic primary race. Clinton was at his side when he made the announcement. The great non-quitter was saying it's okay, he might have done the same thing under the same circumstances. Of course, he would not have.
Sure he would have. If defeat was inevitable, he'd have pulled out ina heartbeat, to preserve future "political viability." Because that's the only thing that he ever cared about.
But better than knowing when to quit is knowing when not to run in the first place. Torricelli simply did not belong in the race. Not all nooses can -- or should -- be slipped and not all politicians have the footwork to do it. Bill Clinton did, but he would be the first to say you got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em -- and know, above all, when not to get into the game at all.
If that's true, Richard, why do you still write these columns?