I really think I hate this about our pundit class more than anything:

To some degree, words failed us all in the aftermath of 9/11, a time
of fear and disorientation. Journalists did not meet the challenge of
holding the executive branch accountable, politically and morally, in
the run-up to the Iraq war. Such failures, it is true, were not gross manipulations of the law in the service of inhumanity, but they
were failures nonetheless. And they carried a human price.

I’m wary of the clamor for retribution. Congress failed. The press
failed. The judiciary failed. With almost 3,000 dead, America’s checks
and balances got skewed, from the Capitol to Wall Street. Scrutiny gave
way to acquiescence. Words were spun in feckless patterns.

Well hey, so long as everybody screwed up, it’s all fine! So long as there wasn’t a single voice raised in opposition to what was done, so long as we didn’t shout down anybody who had a different idea of things, so long as nobody who spoke up against this bullshit was punished, drummed of public life, called a traitor on national television or demonized for daring to opine that instituting a regime of torture was pretty fucking stupid, so long as we are all equally complicit in this there’s no need to punish anybody. Because if it’s all of us, then it’s none of us really, and isn’t it funny how that always works out so beautifully?

I am just so violently opposed to the idea of transferring your moral cowardice onto the country at large to get it to share the blame for your own wussitude on the fundamental questions of our time. It is just so incredibly cheap and small and mean. Fact of the matter is, not everybody lost their damn minds, and it is a profound dishonor to those who held to their convictions in the face of overwhelming public pressure to go all kill-crazy that we lump them in with the nutballs painting their chests red, white and blue and high-fiving their buddies while they beat up Arab shopkeepers.

Cohen would like us to think of this time in our nation’s history in the passive voice, or at the very least with the royal we. He refers to Sept. 11 and its aftermath as a “national trauma,” and declares “There but for the grace of God go I.” No. Absolutely not. We didn’t all go mad and even if we had, collective madness is still madness. You are not exempt from responsibility because your neighbor went nuts too. That isn’t how this works. There not but for the grace of God but for the love of country and ironclad devotion to its principles went many, and to pretend you could just as easily have gone the other way, to pretend it was something akin to luck or a miracle you didn’t … it’s monstrous. For all his canting about forgiveness in that piece, Cohen’s not advocating reconciliation. He’s simply expanding the blame.

Via Balloon Juice.


30 thoughts on “Projection

  1. So nice of Cohen to absolve himself and all of his colleagues of all culpability.
    I bet that took a lot out of him.
    Okay, I can’t even be snarky about this.
    How dare he? How the fuck dare he??

  2. That’s possibly the lamest attempt to deflect accountability from oneself I’ve ever seen.
    Oh, Roger, Roger, Roger, you stupid sap! Just because you got your head stuck in an echo chamber and couldn’t hear the clamoring from THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD that “we” were about to make a hideous mistake, don’t think I have any intention of forgiving you.
    You had the option of being rational and you kicked it out of your way to cheerlead.
    Bite me.

  3. In fairness – sort of – to Cohen, by “us” I don’t think he means, you know, us, as in the country and the hundreds of thousands of people who protested the war. I think he means “me and my friends and a chillingly small handful of people in government and please don’t hold it against us. Please, baby, don’t go, we’ll be good.”
    What’s amazing about this piece – and the Trib editorial I railed against the other day – is the logic. Essentially: because the press and the judiciary didn’t do their jobs, the proper response is to not do them again.
    “The country would be lacerated.” No, asshole, a few people would go to jail and you’d feel bad about yourself. I’d feelbetter and so would my definition ofus. Can we take that into account?
    “His predecessor, in Facebook terms, went on a spree of de-friending…” I’m going to go soak my head now.

  4. Well, I’m fucking “wary” of the tens of thousands of young men and women, most of them not white, sitting uselessly in cells as RETRIBUTION for non-violent crimes, or even of violent crimes that were single isolated incidents in which no one died or was injured, crimes that were the result of supremely misguided judgements and lack of life experiences and substantive financial opportunities. We have an entire able-bodied nation behind bars for such crimes and the odds of them getting rehabilitated and going on to productive lives dim with every hour they spend there. The only value they have is as fuel for the various state prison complexes that exploit them for subsidies and cheap labor, and for the most part put little of the return from that fuel into programs that might benefit, educate, make these young people whole, get a job, cope with the world if they ever get out, turn them into citizens instead of risky walking voids with not much more to show for themselves than theother tens of thousands of under 30 somethings that actually died in drug and turf wars.
    Congress failed all of these people too, has for years. The press and judiciary too. And they’ll continue to do so even after the Crisis of Your Perception has passed.
    I’m pretty fucking wary of ALL that, but let’s see a show of hands of governors, senators, representatives, pundits, citizens who would keep walking, would say let’s look forward instead of backward, would say that failed drug heist happened two months ago and your gang captain promised you wouldn’t go down for it , you’d get a bigger cut next time if you took the risk this time, so you were just following orders, or we know that the guy who raped your sister would never face trial so you probably did a everyone a favor taking him out, go forth and sin no more.
    Anyone want to talk about being wary of retribution in that context? I didn’t think so.
    Too gritty? Here’s some humor then:
    I wish we’d had this neat, “Look forward, not back” rule when I broke the law.
    10:07 AM Apr 23rd from web
    Paula Poundstone

    Barbara Jordan is rolling in her grave:
    Today, I am an inquisitor; I believe hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now.My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.

  5. didn’t some of those nuts mistakenly beat up Sikh and/or Hindu shopkeepers? but hey, we all make mistakes—right, roger?

  6. Sure, after 911, I went a little bit nuts.
    I wanted the people responsible for it found, brought to justice, found guilty, and executed.
    Specifically, I wanted Osama Bin Laden’s head on a pike in the public square.
    And, you know what? I still do.
    The truly surreal part about the last eight years is that 9-11 was used as the excuse for absolutely everything EXCEPT the thing that we angry Americans actually wanted.

  7. “With almost 3,000 dead, America’s checks and balances got skewed, from the Capitol to Wall Street.”
    Er, did he just try to blame the current recession on 9/11?

  8. Great post Athenae,
    As a New Yorker on 9/11, it seemed that the overwhelming percentage of peoplewho experienced it as it happened didn’t lose their minds. Hell, even Rudy G. responded well (at first). It was almost exclusively the media types who lost their minds and soiled their pants. New Yorkers were overwhelmingly opposed to the Iraq adventure, they simply wanted answers and honesty from our leaders and opinion makers. And they got neither from each.
    What a colossal douchebag.

  9. “Er, did he just try to blame the current recession on 9/11?”
    i, for one, was so incensed after 9/11 that i just couldn’t keep my debt-to-net-capital ratio below 30-to-1.

  10. Not to Godwin this thread, but after WWII, there was a push to make everybody responsible…so that nobody would be responsible. This meant that all the SS officers could go back to whatever they were doing without having to face any pesky questions about their past.
    The same thing happened after the Wall fell.
    In both cases, it would have been relatively easy to single out a group of people that were, indeed, responsible and said ‘You will never work as anything but a garbageman, ever again.’ But making sure that everybody was seen as guilty meant that this reckoning was never done. And a lot of members of the SS continued to inhabit important positions in Germany.

  11. Cohen’s comments are part of the larger meme that 9/11 ‘changed everything.’ It didn’t change a dam thing of course. Here in California it was largely a tv phenom like covering a high speed chase for days and days. By that weekend everyone was ready to move on except the media and W and gang.

  12. Shorter version: “Because people might correctly seek retribution against me, I am weary of any calls for retribution.”

  13. I would be more receptive to Cohen’s perspective if I saw him and his colleagues making up for lost time, putting in the hard work to make sure such lapses of professional skepticism and scrutiny will not happen again.
    I see none of that, so he is doubly guilty in my estimation.

  14. It’s deeply offensive, as well as profoundly dishonest, to simply assume that that what’s at issue is a ‘clamor for retribution’ rather than an ardent wish that justice be done.

  15. I understand the desire to chastise Roger Cohen for his cowardice now and during the run up to the war and that of his colleagues.
    But I really don’t think he gives a fig what anyone thinks. We are shouting at someone who is so convinced of his innate goodness and rightness and status as one of the Wise Men of Letters that he would never let a bit of this criticism penetrate his shell.
    More effective would be the suggestion to his paymasters that the reason you don’t read their paper any is that they have stopped being relevant or useful. Mention Cohen by name.
    That, unfortunately is the best we can do for a man such as Mr Cohen.

  16. This moping column is just Cohen repeating the standard conventional wisdom of the Beltway Gasbag Club: “We should never be held responsible for anything We do or write, ever.”
    He’s insufferable on a normal day but this column is just unforgivable. Note to Roger Cohen: the nation is not going to accept the blame just because you and your friends had a collective pants-shitting festival after 9/11.

  17. Does it ever occur to people like Cohen that the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 wasn’t really a frantic lashing about to deal with an incalculably frightening and disheartening event? Within weeks after the event, the Patriot Act sprung from the drawer of a Justice Department attorney intact — a complete architecture for undermining civil rights in an era of unending war and indeterminable threat. No, that was an act of calm prepossession, as if the events that apparently made it necessary were somehow preordained, if not necessarily prescribed.
    Does Cohen and his cadre ever wonder why the Bush administration moved so swiftly and readily toward a usurpation of power — the consolidation of control into the “unitary executive” branch? Again, the swiftness and sureness of these OVP-led actions betrays not a sudden fright — a search for answers though the midst of dark nights of the soul — but rather the execution of a thoroughly reviewed and vetted strategy — one just waiting for the right event to precipitate its execution.
    Does the wise man like Roger Cohen consider that the company the Dick Cheney lead before “reentering public service” was so completely prepared to operate as the outsourced provider for military services — that its capacity was an almost hand-to-glove fit for the military operations deployed in the Middle East? Was this the sudden and striking response to a global crisis comparable to that executed by the US during World War II? Or was it evidence that Cheney and Rumsfeld and their minions had been preparing these plans for over a decade — again with precision and refinement, and executed with the calm resolve of a weekend corporate golf outing?
    Does Cohen wonder how a large component of the real horror of the abuses of Abu Ghraib were conducted by a band of privateers, indemnified from accountability by the administration? Could it be the case that 9/111 galvanized this posse of “broad shouldered” men to disrupt the military chain of command sufficiently to remove all accountability except for the few “bad apples” captured on cell phone cameras? These patriots doing the dirty work of democracy — for $1250 an hours billed by CACI, Inc. of Reston, VA. Was this the panicked and irresolute action of a nation swaying as it developed a response to an unseen, incalculable horror? Or was it further proof of a monstrous architecture, lovingly conceived and hatched inside right-wing think tanks through the Clinton era — as the BJ kabuki played to its sad denouement?
    Cohen’s intellectual fraud in this piece is that he conflates the “torture issue” with all the wrongs committed by BushCo during its reign. In his construction, by facing some of the ugly facts of one tiny side note of the most monstrous strategic miscalculation in the republic’s history, then somehow we can claim to have had our collective “accountability moment” and move on. But the failure to expose and recognize the fact that the Bush administration’s activities were clearly NOT those of a flailing and reactive group, but were instead marched out in order as off a giant GANTT chart on a wall in the White House sub-basement. that is the real danger that this post recognizes and which the commentary amplifies. Lots of people (Richard clark, Ron Susskind, Naomi Klein, et alia) have demonstrated that the Bush administration’s actions were clearly preordained and predetermined to a frightening degree. Cheney sought establishment of unitary executive. He and Rumsfeld executed a well-established plan for privatizing the military. The frightening pictures from Abu Ghraib were a distraction from the fact that private companies were doing most of the torture! Did that thought only occur in a post-9/11 environment? Given what we know now, it’s impossible to think that it wasn’t pre-ordained.

  18. The Justice Department exists to investigate and prosecute federal crimes. Torture is a crime under federal law, according to the Constitution, which says that when we sign a treaty that treaty becomes part of our laws. There is zero doubt today that torture was committed, was justified, was excused, was subject of a conspiracy of some of the highest officials in our government, and was ordered by a very high official in our government. A federal crime was committed, and most of the facts about that crime are now known.
    The Justice Department can investigate and prosecute those who committed that crime or close up shop and stop pretending to do their jobs.
    Obama picked the new Attorney General, who was confirmed by the Senate. That AG is now independent. If he fails to prosecute this crime, must be impeached. If Obama orders him not to prosecute this crime, Obama must be impeached.

  19. We can argue all day about who wet their pants and who fear-mongered and who war-mongered. But the fact of the matter is that Roger Cohen is now not quite so scared, quite so partisan, or quite so much in the herd-majority mode. So why don’t we all let bygones be bygone, and start all over again from scratch?
    Yeah, that worked so well after Watergate and Iran-contra. Just let the malefactors go, and they’ll all of a sudden start respecting the Constitution and the rule of law and stuff, and things will be different and better next time they’re scared. Or need to score a quick few million out of the Treasury by ginning up a war somewhere.

  20. I apologize for being so blunt but 9-11 was a giant “stupid penalty” that not only should have been thwarted early but at the very least intercepted in the act.

  21. On Sept. 11, 2001 my sister called me and said someone is going to pay for this and I said, “I hope our president is smart enough to not go for revenge.” I was right and they (including Mr. Cohen) were WRONG! I’m SO glad we have a pundit class. Ugh.

  22. I had no idea I was such a 99th-percentile wicked-smaht geopolitical soooopergenius. I just thought fighting radical Islam by overthrowing a secular dictator and making martyrs out of a bunch of arab dudes wasn’t a terribly clever idea.
    It takes many years of higher education to make people as goddamn fucking stupid as our media elite.

  23. I had plenty of words. If Cohen didn’t have words, he lacks capability and needs to be replaced. Hell, I had plenty of words, and on 11 September 2001, I was sick as hell with a bad case of mononucleosis. The planes could have been crashing into buildings a half-klick away, and I’m not sure I would have been able to wake up fully. And I still had words.
    I actually know people whose lives were irrevocably changed by 9/11, including two people who should have died and didn’t because they were late for work, and one person whose best friend in high school was on one of those planes. One of the late-for-work survivors had eight signed and/or pending contracts for his consulting business on the morning of 11 September 2001, all with businesses in Lower Manhattan. By noon, he was out of business. He later spent four days working on the rescue effort and wound up with a wall full of thank you letters from every municipal and charity group in NYC, it seemed like. His business never recovered, and these days he’s living on a subsistence income in Portland, OR. He’s still not sure what working on the rescue effort (at the Center St. facility) did to his health. I’m not even going to go into the furiously off-pissing experience he had at the hands of imported small-town Republicans in the Small Business Administration, except to say that despite those eight vapourised contracts, all the relief he ever got was a package of disposable razors and some shaving cream. Eight years later, he’s still pissed as hell about it all.
    Somehow, I get the feeling that was not exactly what Cohen had in mind when he was talking about a “human price,” but maybe it’s what he should have been talking about…

  24. For the Richard Cohen’s, Peggy Noonan’s, George W Bush’s, Dick Cheney’s, etc., to accept that it was they who will go down in history as undeniable cowards (wimps with a capital W) would mean that they would also have to acknowledge those that were not. Obviously, there were MILLIONS who weren’t gutless, afraid-of-their-own-shadow, pussies, but the “liberal media” refused to cover their opinion. MSNBC, a station laughably considered liberal, cancelled their highest rated show, Phil Donahue, solely because the host he was a liberal opposed to mindless war (and he was also the sole liberal on MSNBC). People like Donahue, Natalie Manes, Michael Moore, and MILLIONS of other Americans the media basically blacklisted in from late 2001 to 2003, held onto American principles and held the largest protests in US history. The cowards, though, controlled both Washington and the media and were able to commence with their shock-n-awe pajama party without any unwanted voices interferring or being heard.
    For media starlets like Cohen to acknowledge those who weren’t cowed into submission would force him to admit his own cowardice.

  25. What is incredibly ironic is that bit about: “so let’s skip retribution”. Seems like he is using the post 9/11 press ineptitude as an excuse to not pursue the torture story now. In other words, like: we screwed up then and so we should go on screwing up now!

  26. You people are pathetic. How do you expect to be taken seriously when you go out of your way to lace your comment with junior high-school expletives? Is this supposed to be intelligent discourse? Do you really think our alarmingly misguided and increasingly corrupt media will start weighing views expressed in such a juvenile manner? Are you aware that the issues dealt with above are being considered on other websites — by grownups?

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