OK, one more.

Richard Cohen’s back from summer vacation and also, like the Dickerson column in the previous item, makes a connection my CNN-clogged brain couldn’t — John Roberts and Katrina. And it’s not what you think. It’s mostly about the uses of failure, what an early face-plant can do for a young man’s world view. Here’s the connection part, and it comes late:

Failure has its uses. Among other things, it can teach us about the human condition. It took a certain kind of cold arrogance to come up with the evacuation plan that New Orleans devised: Get everyone out of town. But what about those who could not get out of town? What about those with no cars or those already living on the streets? In other words, what about the very poor?

The poor? It’s as if the idiots up and down the line never heard of them. It’s as if no one at the top of the Federal Emergency Management Agency or at the White House knew they existed. Check that. They knew, but it was theoretical: Oh, they’ll manage. The thinking was summed up in the sorry remark of Barbara Bush while she was visiting flood evacuees at a Houston relocation site. Since the refugees sent to Houston were poor to start with, she said, “this is working very well for them.” Madam, bite thy tongue.

If I had a vote in the Senate, I would not deny it to Roberts based on his lack of tough times — nor, for that matter, would I have granted one to Clarence Thomas, who had plenty of them. But when it comes to civil rights, to women’s rights, to workers’ rights, to gay rights and to the plight of the poor, I would prefer that Roberts had had his moment of failure. He will lead one branch of the government. I wish he knew more about all of the people.

Posted at 6:59 am in Uncategorized |

9 responses to “OK, one more.”

  1. Dan McAfee said on September 8, 2005 at 9:27 am

    Poppycock. He puts up the straw man that Roberts has never failed with no evidence whatsoever and then claims Roberts can’t possibly understand the common man since he hasn’t experienced failure. Who is it who has never failed? Didn’t the first President Bush nominate Roberts to the US Court of Appeals? Didn’t the Democrats block him ever getting a vote? Isn’t that a failure, to be nominated for something and not get it? Didn’t Roberts ever fall down as a child? Didn’t he ever lose a football game. Are the only failures that Cohen sees of value failures of one’s own character (like flunking out of college because you’re bored)?

    Do you really think that the poor in New Orleans feel that Cohen flunking out of college and having to take a job at an insurance company makes him an expert on their lives? How absolutely silly is that?

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  2. Nance said on September 8, 2005 at 10:07 am

    Being blocked from a federal appointment to a district court — or falling down as a child, or losing a football game — is not “failure,” in my book. His point is that Roberts has glided through his life, a success pretty much start to finish. Yes, he worked hard and was smart. But he also had the head start of an upbringing in an affluent community, which led to private boarding school, which led to Harvard, which led to Harvard Law, etc. Life is easier when you’re affluent. Success comes easier when you’re affluent. Roberts has never, through circumstances or “boredom” or whatever, had to endure penury or hardship. He didn’t say Roberts didn’t deserve his vote; he said he’d feel better about him if there was even a whiff of hardscrabble about him. Which there isn’t.

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  3. Dan McAfee said on September 8, 2005 at 12:21 pm

    Neither is flunking out of college through lack of motivation a qualification for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but Cohen turns common sense on it’s head and says that a George Washington exemplary style life is a detriment, not an asset when populating the court. Just because Washington was well-off and didn’t go without shoes and blankets himself doesn’t mean he didn’t know what it was to be cold. And just because Roberts is well off doesn’t mean he can’t understand others. If that were true then Hillary Clinton would have no concept of the common man either, neither would any other well-to-do liberal. It’s not a well though out article and he applies his criticism selectively to those his disagrees with.

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  4. Cindy said on September 8, 2005 at 3:22 pm

    Nancy, I love your blog and read it every day. Why you are such an admirer of Richard Cohen is a complete mystery to me. He’s a hack. This column illustrates that fact like no other he has written. While he pontificates about how much smarter he is than Roberts because of previous failures he proves the classic elitist attitude of liberals: If one fails, then all should fail so we can all truly be equal.

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  5. brian stouder said on September 8, 2005 at 4:39 pm


    Well, not to sound like an apple polisher for Madam Telling Tales – but relax a little! I like Cohen, too – which doesn’t mean I think he is the font of all wisdom.

    I noted that the title for his piece contains a question mark (“Too Perfect to Know the People?”); and even granting that he probably didn’t write the header, the opening paragraph is more of a contemplation or rumination than a flat-out declaration. And his conclusion lacks declarative sentences and instead expresses few wishes or preferences.

    Really, I have no quarrel with the question that his article poses, and I agree with Dan that Cohen would be quick to back away from the question he poses if we point to guys like FDR. True enough, Cohen makes exceptions for politicians, since they’ve ‘worked the beach on Labor Day’ – and I’m assuming Cohen is NOT creating a new litmus test that says we want only (formerly) elected officials on the US Supreme Court(!!)

    But that said, there is much to ponder – good and bad – about ‘up from dirt’ people. Think of presidents like Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon…..or Abraham Lincoln.

    Cohen’s article was just food for thought

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  6. Nance said on September 8, 2005 at 5:07 pm

    Cohen’s article was just food for thought.

    That’s what I thought. It was an interesting take on what a successful life can do to a person. Would GWB be the clueless nimrod he seems to be if any of his many screwups led to real consequences, if he hadn’t been allowed to glide through to middle age before he sobered up and decided to make something of himself? I dunno, but it’s interesting to think about.

    Also, I don’t know if anyone’s going to look at this, but Long Beach, where Roberts is from, was an all-white enclave that has stayed, er, unusually so. A friend of mine, who’s connected to the business community there, says there was talk, in the early ’90s, that Michael Jordan was house-hunting there, and that the local Realtors were adamant that he wasn’t going to find anything in his price range. That’s not Roberts’ fault, but it’s interesting.

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  7. Rana said on September 9, 2005 at 3:48 pm

    On a related point… is it just me, or does it seem sometimes like the most outspoken Democratic critics of the Bush administration are women or minorities? If it isn’t just me, is this simply a coincidence, or is something else going on?

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  8. brian stouder said on September 9, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    “On a related point… is it just me, or does it seem sometimes like the most outspoken Democratic critics of the Bush administration are women or minorities?”

    Well, the best ones are, so that must be why it seems they are the only ones.

    Michael Moore, Bill Mahr, Al Franken, Jon Stewart, Keith Olberman and uncounted dozens of internet bloggers are white males – or at least male, and what they have to say is mostly interchangeable… but the mother of the fallen soldier struck a nerve – and seeing an angry mom or sister is always more compelling (to me, anyway) than the usual suspects are

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  9. alex said on September 9, 2005 at 7:29 pm

    Is it just me, or am I correct in assuming that women and minorities fear reversals of their hard-won rights under the rule of a party that panders shamelessly to religious zealots and other low-rent angry whitefolk with interests inimical to theirs? When Rush Limbaugh clucks on about “Feminazis” and welfare moms he knows he’s playing to much deeper hatreds, and this kind of wink-wink transparent baiting is outrageous to anyone with half a brain or half a heart. What galls is that so many good people can hold their nose and look the other way because they think their own self-interests are being better served somehow. The Party of Lincoln has become the Party of George Wallace, just a bit more low-key about it. Sort of like a speakeasy, only the bathtub’s full of the scarce intoxicant known as affirmation for bigotry.

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