Twice the Fool

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I’m not a fan of Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, but in January he got something very right. He was addressing one of the dominant cliches of American institutional life – the weird idea that if all sorts of people criticize you, you must be doing well.

We hear this every time a teacher, school administrator, or school board member does something so stupid that everyone turns out to denounce him. We hear this every time a bureaucrat or politician shows himself so incompetent that everyone with any guts or civic spirit turns out to yell at him. “Oh,” the “victim” says, “the radicals on both sides are against me. I must be doing something right.” There follows a modest, self-righteous smile, and a wink toward the established media, such as the Washington Post, which are almost certain to agree. They know a fool when they see him.

I remember when The New York Times published a lead editorial endorsing Edmund Muskie, one of the many insane persons who have run for president. It said he was “a man of principle who has always had the courage to compromise.” Sure, he was detested by both the Left and Right, but that just showed he was on the right track.

Cohen sees through all of this. In January he opined as follows, discussing the bad year suffered by the feckless Mr. Obama, now being criticized by everyone who has a brain: “Journalists like to believe that if they are getting criticism from both sides of the story, they must be doing something right. This is not true for journalists – they may actually have gotten the story doubly wrong – and it is certainly not true for political figures.”

“Doubly wrong.” Yes, that’s it. That’s it, all right.

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