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Cohen's Endorsement of Bush: What It Really Means

Monday, 27 November 2000 12:00 AM

At Lucianne Goldberg's lively Web chat room, many of the participants couldn't get over their joy and amazement that a liberal stalwart like Cohen had abandoned the Gore camp. They said things like:

• "Did I just read this? Am I imagining things? Cohen? Naw."

• "Maybe this is the start of something big. If enough prominent Democrats begin calling for a Gore concession, it might just happen."

• "This is a truly astonishing article!! If Gore gets many more like this one, what will he do if his friendly media desert him?"

• "I can only assume that hell froze over today."

• "Wow ... I'm speechless ... "

But as some conservatives were getting ready to break out the champagne (a typical, and often dangerously deluded, response of contemporary conservatives to a single favorable event), cooler heads warned that Cohen's apostasy to the Bush camp might be a Democratic ploy designed to put Republicans to sleep while Gore snatched the lead in the Florida recount.

In my view, neither the celebrators nor the skeptics grasped the import of Cohen's column. On one hand, I believe that Cohen is sincere in his announced preference for Bush, and that he was telling his fellow liberals that the time has come to cut themselves loose from Gore's "Terminator 2"-like attack on our constitutional order.

On the other hand, I believe that Cohen's reason for taking this position is not exactly the one he stated – his concern about uniting the country.

As a clue to Cohen's real motive, let us recall what the major news event was in Florida in the two-day period before his column appeared.

It was, of course, the middle-class "near-riot" in the Miami-Dade County government building, consisting of a group of chanting Bush supporters in business suits and neat casual attire who became momentarily outraged when the election canvassers tried to move the ballot counting process into a non-public room where it could not be observed.

The "riot" was a warning shot that after years of helpless anger and passive whining, of endless kvetching and retreating (as Rabbi Mayer Schiller has put it), American conservatives had finally had it with the Clinton-Gore reign of corruption. They were acting the way that truly aroused citizens act – with a physical demonstration of righteous rage. For once, it wasn't one of our incurably "oppressed" minority groups who were taking their grievances to the public square, but angry middle-class Republicans.

This was a thrilling moment for conservatives – but a fearful harbinger for liberals. It made Richard Cohen suddenly realize that if Gore and his minions keep pushing ahead with their audacious attempt to steal the nation's highest office, it could lead to the unthinkable: an uncontrollable uprising by white America against the left-liberal consensus that has ruled our country for the last several decades.

A Bush presidency, by contrast, would present no such danger to the liberal order. Quite the contrary.

As Cohen points out, Bush would be better than Gore "at restraining GOP Dobermans like Reps. Tom DeLay and J.C. Watts Jr. At the same time, it's not likely that a President Bush would be able to appoint Supreme Court justices ideologically similar to those he says he admires, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Simply put, he ain't got the votes."

So why not let W. be president? The main liberal bogeyman – the appointment of conservative justices – has been canceled out by the closeness of the election and the virtual tie in the Senate. Bush's soft and conciliatory brand of leadership, made even softer by his lack of congressional majorities, would result in a very easy and pleasant time for liberals over the next four years, like a nostalgic return to the weak, liberal-leaning presidency of Gerald Ford, whose healing and non-threatening example Cohen specifically invokes.

As for the exceptional case of John F. Kennedy, who reached heights of presidential popularity (if not of power) after taking office in an electoral squeaker, Cohen assures his readers that W. "is no Kennedy," lacking Kennedy's political talents, charisma and intellectual curiosity. In other words, Cohen finds W. desirable precisely because he presents no threat of becoming an effective leader.

Thus, from the point of view of Cohen and the liberal elites he speaks for, a Bush presidency would be infinitely preferable to the conservative revolution that looms in the event that Vice President Gorleone somehow manages to seize the White House in a quasi-coup.

If my analysis of Cohen's motives is correct, it should make conservatives realize the power that they have at their disposal, if only they will use it. If a handful of boisterous men in business suits could get a liberal bellwether like Cohen to support the election of a moderate Republican like Bush, imagine what could be accomplished by a truly aroused Middle America.

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At Lucianne Goldberg's lively Web chat room, many of the participants couldn't get over their joy and amazement that a liberal stalwart like Cohen had abandoned the Gore camp.They said things like: • Did I just read this?Am I imagining things?Cohen?Naw. • Maybe this...
Monday, 27 November 2000 12:00 AM
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