In a turn of events that is no doubt a relief to “Senator Macacawitz”, the revelation that Florida Republican Mark Foley sent creepy, sexually suggestive e-mails to underage pages has pretty much dominated the news cycle since Friday.
On CNN last night, anchor John Roberts, subbing for the furrowed brow of Anderson Cooper on “Anderson Cooper 360,” hosted CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Randy Cohen, who writes “The Ethicist” column for the New York Times Magazine to discuss the Foley folly. Not surprisingly, we didn’t learn much, but we did find Cohen’s two cents a little odd — and from the baffled expression that occasionally flashed across Toobin’s face, we weren’t alone.
After getting a quick synopsis of the legal angle from Toobin, Roberts asked Cohen for help with “the moral standpoint. A couple of other people at least on the Republican side of the House knew about this, slap on the wrist, an admonition. Should they have done more?”
A softball, which Cohen was likely expected to bunt right back to the mound, so Roberts could continue tossing the easy ones. But Cohen seemed primed for an ideological scrap, telling Roberts that the fact that some Republicans knew about some of the e-mails is “part of a larger pattern of the administration’s habit of secrecy, of cover-ups. We — we see other examples in Bob Woodward’s book. You know, democracy relies on transparency and openness. And to undermine that is — is really an ethical transgression. It’s a profound assault on civic virtue, on democracy itself.”
We see his point, and the failure of Speaker Dennis Hastert and the rest of the House Republican leadership to act last year when they found out about the e-mails is an ethical, and moral, lapse. But the stuff about “the administration” he tossed in there seems to us to be at best off topic, and at worst straining for an equivalency that just doesn’t exist.
Picking up on that theme, Roberts asked, “Does it not behoove people to come out and tell the appropriate authorities?” to which Cohen replied, “Well, yes, it would behoove people to come out.” And then, again, out came the knives. “And democracy relies on an informed citizenry, and it might behoove people to come out about the planning for a war, about second thoughts about a war, about shenanigans in Congress, yes. But openness has not characterized this government.”
Cohen’s insistence on dragging the Bush administration into the Foley mess seemed like an cheap shot against an easy target. Given what passes for political discourse in our current, overheated political environment, none of Cohen’s comments were necessarily out of bounds. But by gratuitously slamming the Bush administration (which even the most rabid Bush-bashers must admit hasn’t been tied to the Foley scandal in any way), and claiming that he was “delighted” by the scandal, Cohen undermined whatever useful insights he might have offered and made himself look unserious.