Except for All Those Accomplishments I Don’t Like, What Has Obama Accomplished?


Richard Cohen cannot find one thing Barack Obama has done that he admires. Well, except for those things Obama has done that Cohen doesn’t admire, or that he did before he was in the Senate, or that are just speeches:

“Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire,” I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.

On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions — not speeches — that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam prisoner of war to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.

But I would not stop there. I would include campaign finance reform, which infuriated so many in his own party; opposition to earmarks, which won him no friends; his politically imprudent opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill (Medicare has about $35 trillion in unfunded obligations); and, last but not least, his very early call for additional troops in Iraq. His was a lonely position — virtually suicidal for an all-but-certain presidential candidate and no help when his campaign nearly expired last summer. In all these cases, McCain stuck to his guns.

Obama argues that he himself stuck to the biggest gun of all: opposition to the war. He took that position when the war was enormously popular, the president who initiated it was even more popular and critics of both were slandered as unpatriotic. But at the time, Obama was a mere Illinois state senator, representing the (very) liberal Hyde Park area of Chicago. He either voiced his conscience or his district’s leanings or (lucky fella) both. We will never know.

Blogger response:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Their love is here to stay.

    One pundit who I guess we can be sure won’t be falling out of love with John McCain is Richard Cohen who today writes that he can name more admirable stuff McCain has done over the course of his live than he can about Barack Obama. This turns out to be especially true if you take a question Obama was right about, the decision to invade the war in Iraq, and decide that it doesn’t count because he was representing a liberal constituency. But things like John McCain’s opposition to a prescription drug benefit for Medicare and his “very early call for more troops” in Iraq do count even though McCain was representing a very conservative constituency.

    Basically, since John McCain has been alive a lot longer than Obama, if you focus only on the positive actions of both men but refuse to count any of Obama’s positive actions then McCain comes off looking much better than Obama.

  • Marc Ambinder gives us a break from Marc Ambinder and asks his readers, many of whom support Obama, to answer Cohen’s question. Here is just one of many thoughtful replies:

    Has run a campaign from start to finish at a level of decency not seen in years. His success and management is something you have noted before. I don’t need to go into it but it has been impressive.

  • No More Mister Nice Blog: “Yes, it’s so brave to take a far-right position when you want far-right votes.”

    … According to Cohen, McCain’s brave support for sending more troops was very, very harmful to his campaign — as we saw when polls showed McCain slipping behind, um, a bunch of guys who also supported sending more troops.

    By the way, Republicans hated the idea of sending additional troops so much that a mere 73% of them endorsed the idea, according to a poll conducted in January ’07 by Cohen’s own newspaper.

  • Cogitamus wonders what happened to the Richard Cohen who declared that character was more important than issues:

    Once again, Cohen dismisses the fact that McCain has turned his back on virtually all of his previous high profile deviations from Republican orthodoxy. Once again, no mention of the actual positions of Obama or McCain on issues, because we all know that the next president will have to raise taxes and cut benefits, and in the end, issues don’t matter, character does. Cohen’s continued craven sucking up to McCain and his utterly sophomoric world view give new credence to a suggestion by a friend that the Post improve its quality and save money by simply running two blank pages at the end of the “A” Section in lieu of the Op-Ed pages.

  • Steve Benen thinks Richard Cohen should check out The Official John McCain Flip-Flop List:

    Looking over the list of “actions” that McCain has taken that has elicited Cohen’s “awe,” I can’t help but wonder if Cohen is paying close enough attention to current events. Cohen cites McCain’s support for campaign-finance reform, without noting that McCain has reversed course on some of the same provisions he used to sponsor. Cohen pointed to McCain’s “opposition” to earmarks, without noting that McCain has actually supported earmarks that benefit his home state. Cohen cited McCain’s opposition to Bush’s Medicare prescription drug bill, which is true, but I’m not sure what’s so “awe”-inspiring about this — plenty of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle balked at the legislation.

    But it’s that last one that’s really bizarre: McCain’s “very early call for additional troops in Iraq,” which Cohen described as “virtually suicidal” for a presidential candidate. Cohen is, unfortunately, very confused. McCain intermittently called for additional troops, but he also publicly stated his satisfaction with the Bush administration’s policy (and deployment numbers), repeatedly insisting that the U.S. “stay the course,” no matter how badly Bush’s policy was failing. For that matter, to suggest McCain was somehow unique among Republican presidential candidates in supporting the surge is actually backwards.

    Cohen’s piece went on to herald McCain’s “integrity,” while blasting Obama as a serial flip-flopper, pointing to three whole policy reversals, one of which is factually wrong. Cohen does realize McCain has flip-flopped 71 times (and counting), does he not?

  • Isaac Chotiner writes that Cohen’s incoherence has gone from “astonishing” to “humorous”:

    Those of us who dutifully trudge through Richard Cohen’s Washington Post column every Tuesday do so for one reason above all others: Once in a great many days, Cohen’s work surpasses its usual astonishing incoherence and registers instead as humorously incoherent. And, blessed that some of us are, today is such a day. Cohen begins by asking:

    “Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire,” I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.

    On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions — not speeches — that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam prisoner of war to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.

    Three cheers for very, very loose paraphrasing done solely so the writer can mention Kipling! After this intro, it takes Cohen one whole paragraph before the mentions Obama’s early opposition to the war–surely something admirable about the senator–but since Cohen intuitively senses that this stance was political, any potential complication to Cohen’s thesis is avoided. (Consider, too, whether McCain’s “lonely” stances in favor of things like spending restraints are in fact less brave than they appear to Cohen precisely because they lead people like Cohen to give McCain fawning press coverage).

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3 Comments on “Except for All Those Accomplishments I Don’t Like, What Has Obama Accomplished?”

  1. americalives Says:

    obama may not have done things legislatively that you admire but if u look at his personal biography i think its very hard to argue that man is an american story living the american dream and any parent would be happy to have their kid achieve what obama has.

    Obama’s recent comments on Iraq are pretty vague as well I discuss his and john mccains failure to move us onward in Iraq at

    AmericaLives.wordpress.com

  2. danps Says:

    Thanks so much for adding Pruning Shears to the blogroll!

  3. Kathy Says:

    You are more than welcome. :-)


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