Richard Cohen, Charles Krauthammer, Salon.com and Me

Richard Cohen: Still Clownish After All These Years

Props to Salon.com for doing some heavy lifting in the service of exposing hackery this week, courtesy of their amusing –and recommended– “Hack Thirty” feature. In a mild upset, they have decreed the scarcely readable Richard Cohen the hackiest of the bunch. Hard to argue with: on style points alone and the odious mix of shamelessness and opportunism that is his trademark, Cohen is tough to top. Of course, given the chance, I would be unable to elevate anyone above the ceaselessly reliable and cretinous Charles Krauthammer.

But since I’ve been doing my part to expose Cohen’s clownishness for more than five years, I figured I’d celebrate his anointment. If you care to see the pieces dedicated to the ultimate Washington insider, you can check them out herehere and here. Having been a long-time (but as of 6/19/09, former) subscriber to The Washington Post, I’ve suffered through more than my fair share of Cohen columns.

In the open letter after his ridiculous Colbert article, one of my main issues was how supine and craven the MSM had been all throughout the Bush years. That Cohen, after being converted by the chicken-hawks in ’03, finally used his prominent media space to defend Bush was thoroughly intolerable. It makes me fairly nauseous re-reading this, all these years later:

For instance, you inexplicably call Colbert a bully for the ostensible impunity with which he lambasted Bush, to his face. This begs the immediate question: doesn’t it take a little more courage, not to mention perspicacity, to say in person, as a comedian, the very things well-paid writers like you were not able, or willing, to say in the safety of Op-Ed pages for the past several years? More to the point, how often has this president put himself in the position to be ridiculed, much less forced to answer simple questions from reporters?

Not only is it abundantly documented how obsessively Bush avoids unpleasant or uncomfortable intrusions upon his eggshell sensibilities, but one of the primary (and painfully apparent) goals of his protectors and paid apologists has been to shield him from being accountable, or even (seemingly) aware of any facts that run counter to the fantasies he and his cronies have conjured up in the safety of their well-fortified situation rooms. This is a man seemingly allergic to introspection, comforted by cliché and available for fabricated words of encouragement after the dust and danger have cleared. Indeed, the only people being bullied are the citizens (be they reporters or democrats or non-Kool-Aid drinking members of the GOP) who dare to question or critique the president or his policies. Maybe you’ve forgotten about the carefully screened audiences Bush spoke to and took the occasional, scripted questions from on the campaign trail (and his entire tenure has, under the shameless machinations of Karl Rove, been one ceaseless campaign), or the folks who were tossed out of these same spectacles for having anti-Bush stickers on their cars.

The hits, of course, kept coming. In one of the other pieces, I tried to succinctly articulate –after stating the obvious: that Cohen is a clown– why people like him (and Broder and Friedman) are so dangerous to a functioning democracy that should be able to count on it’s columnists:

When it suits him, when it’s convenient, Cohen could perhaps be described as left-leaning. But between his stances (on war, on Israel, apparently on torture) he is as effective –and insufferable– a mouthpiece as any neo-con crackpot. Indeed, he is even more effective (and harmful) because he is ostensibly writing as a “liberal” in an ostensibly “liberal” paper (Washington Post). Of course, this canard is easy to deconstruct, but in the shorthand illogic of our times, he is, by default, a liberal by virtue of even being a member of the MSM.

It was certainly courageous of Cohen to have his mea culpa on Iraq about three (four?) years after the fact. And, to me, he really jumped the shark during the Colbert incident (which prompted this open letter). Compared to the True Believers on the Right, Cohen’s clownishness is more innocuous than not; but considering he is regarded as a steward of progressive thinking (I threw up in my mouth just typing that), he is quite dangerous indeed. Watching a Washington, D.C. insider carry water for the worst administration in history is its own special sort of torture.

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This Just In: Richard Cohen is still a Clown

I’ve found ample reason to be disgusted with Richard Cohen’s clownish and self-aggrandizing claptrap many times in the past, including back in January, when I made the following observation:

When it suits him, when it’s convenient, Cohen could perhaps be described as left-leaning. But between his stances (on war, on Israel, apparently on torture) he is as effective a mouthpiece as any neo-con crackpot. Indeed, he is even more effective (and harmful) because he is ostensibly writing, as a “liberal”, in an ostensibly “liberal” paper (Washington Post). Of course, this canard is easy to deconstruct, but in the shorthand illogic of our times, he is, by default, a liberal by virtue of even being a member of the MSM.

And that is where we find ourselves today, with Cohen’s risible (yet oh so predictable) take on the Jon Stewart/Jim Cramer dust-up. I was shocked, shocked to discover that Cohen (one of the few MSM columnists to even address the issue, it should be noted) is making sure he devotes space to defending not only the Wall Street scumbags, but, of course, his comrades (and by extension, himself) in the MSM. How on earth could they have been expected to see this coming?

Indeed, Cohen’s lame and unbelievably solipsistic rationalization is that he too was hoodwinked by AIG. Instead of offering up a tardy mea culpa, Cohen doubles down under the pretense that, hey, if he was taken in by his own greed and myopia, how could he be accused of being…greedy and myopic? Not to mention derelict in his ostensible duties as a journalist. What he doesn’t seem to get is that in his self-serving justification, he is proving that it’s impossible for a writer in bed with the very system he is supposed to police to…police it. Cohen, of course, is the ultimate inside-the-beltway insider, and every time he attempts to armor his delicate integrity, he betrays how invested he is in the status quo. Not only won’t he, like so many of his brethren, dare rock the boat, he goes out of his way to castigate others (Stewart, Colbert) for doing so. This goes beyond cowardice and approaches the putrid state of aiding and abetting the powerful. “The big shots also believed,” he writes, as if that absolves them from criminal culpability. The big shots also walked away very rich, Richard. And that does not even take into account the work he is doing to diminish an egregiously overdue examination of the failed policy and backward ideology that created (indeed, guaranteed) the mess we’re in.

That he continues to find it necessary (not to mention possible) to carry water for Bush/Cheney’s worst misdeeds is bad; that he is actually doing it to protect his own miscalculations and timidity is much, much worse. It proves, yet again, that the only thing that truly outrages media types is when media types are taken to task. Then, and only then, is it time to circle the wagons, and dismiss as mere “entertainers” or “bloggers” the people who are pointing out their opportunism and hypocrisy. When you read the insufferable rants from folks like Krauthammer and Kristol, you know that in the heart of their blackened hearts, they know how full of shit they are; what is so distressing about Cohen is that his weakness and dishonesty is at once so transparent and so, apparently, genuine. As we saw more than enough of the last eight years, there is seldom something so dangerous as a person who consistently gets it wrong while being certain he is always right.

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Richard Cohen Is A Clown

This guy makes plenty of sense...just ask him!

This guy makes plenty of sense...just ask him!

Cohen strikes again. What an asshole. See for yourself, here.

Back then, a WP poll gave George W. Bush an approval rating of 92 percent, which meant that almost no one thought he was on the wrong course. At the same time, questions about the viability of torture were very much in the air.

Really, Richard? 92 percent? You mean, perhaps, that more than 9 out of 10 Americans wanted our commander in chief to figure out who attacked us, and strike back? The people who wanted to ensure that we protected our own people? I remember them, I was there. I was one of them. Still am, actually. Here’s the thing, smart guy: your intelligence-insulting proposition is that more than 90 percent of the country gave Bush a blank check to do anything and everything, in the name of protecting us. That ain’t what happened. And your risible attempt to revise history (so blatantly, so lazily) would not be nearly as repugnant if you didn’t know how full of shit you are. But you do. You know you were one of the hysterical insider Beltway sissies who lost all their marbles when it looked like America was not safe.

Like a child clinging to a parent’s pants, you just wanted to close your eyes and make all the bad guys go away. That is why you were loud and proud when you helped trumpet Bush and Company’s bullshit about WMDs in Iraq. Even you, the craven dupe that you are, saw through the cracks and holes in that manufactured plot-line, but hey, we have to pin this on someone. Wouldn’t it be good to kick some ass, kind of restore our dignity and sense of purpose? (All the better if we have someone else do the ass-kicking for us.) You were pretty sure you were wrong, but you went ahead anyway. And that is why you are so transparently desperate, now, to not only revise the storyline (one that is recent enough that any sentient reader can–and will–call you on it), but implicate as many other Americans as possible. Guilt by association is always specious, but it’s particularly repellant when a cocksure columnist takes it open himself to throw the net as wide as he can to bring other folks down to his level. It’s beyond pathetic.

At the same time, we have to be respectful of those who were in that Sept. 11 frame of mind, who thought they were saving lives — and maybe were — and who, in any case, were doing what the nation and its leaders wanted. It is imperative that our intelligence agents not have to fear that a sincere effort will result in their being hauled before some congressional committee or a grand jury. We want the finest people in these jobs — not time-stampers who take no chances.

When it suits him, when it’s convenient, Cohen could perhaps be described as left-leaning. But between his stances (on war, on Israel, apparently on torture) he is as effective –and insufferable– a mouthpiece as any neo-con crackpot. Indeed, he is even more effective (and harmful) because he is ostensibly writing as a “liberal” in an ostensibly “liberal” paper (Washington Post). Of course, this canard is easy to deconstruct, but in the shorthand illogic of our times, he is, by default, a liberal by virtue of even being a member of the MSM.

It was certainly courageous of Cohen to have his mea culpa on Iraq about three (four?) years after the fact. And, to me, he really jumped the shark during the Colbert incident (which prompted this open letter). Compared to the True Believers on the Right, Cohen’s clownishness is more innocuous than not; but considering he is regarded as a steward of progressive thinking (I threw up in my mouth just typing that), he is quite dangerous indeed. Watching a Washington, D.C. insider carry water for the worst administration in history is its own special sort of torture.


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While We’re on the subject of the so-called Liberal Media

Friday, May 05, 2006
While We’re on the Subject of the So-Called Liberal Media…
(sigh). This Colbert and Cohen stuff makes one realize, once again, that there is nothing new under the sun (plus c’est change, plus c’est la meme chose). I had actually written a piece for webdelsol.com at the editor’s request, leading up to the 04 election (remember how good it felt when we just *knew* Bush was about to lose?), and in a decision that was equal parts ironic and prescient, the piece was considered a “tad harsh” and possibly alienating (heaven forbid political commentary ruffles some feathers, particularly when it involves the media…especially in the wake of the Iraq war which at that point was still mostly well-received in the general american consciousness).
It’s fun, or at least enlightening, to revisit old predictions or opinions when they’ve been proven true; except when it’s depressing. Either way, it’s amusing and distressing to look at this, written in December of 2003 (!!) and not only stand by it, but find it somewhat quaint; if anything, it wasn’t harsh enough (and I’m glad I was rockin the freedom fry material even then). So, with the help of Al Gore’s Back-To-The-Future Machine, here it is:
Politics and the Hoi Polloi, Volume One : The American Media

Since we made it to the new millennium without imploding, it seems necessary, even imperative, for us to find ways to amuse and astonish ourselves.
Even by our seemingly increasing need for polarity in all-things-political, this past year has successfully drawn the sides even further apart, ensuring that the twain between left and right shall not meet anytime soon in this new century.
Only in America, it seems, could the (popular) media be accused, over the course of less than six months, of cravenly kowtowing to the GOP powers-that-be, and then scavenging off the suddenly off limits events inIraq. Who knew the honeymoon of embedded reporting would end as soon as the situation slipped out of control of the armchair nation builders back home? The same cynics that predicted this, and were castigated as traitors who arent patriotic enough to super-size their freedom fries, thats who.
It would behoove the finger pointers to face the fact that the only bias the media has is toward blood (as in the life blood of death and destruction, which equates to ratings); the only party they are beholden to is winning, and they love the smell of napalm in the morning news. Perhaps even more so than mealy-mouthed politicos, who we at least expect to be craven and self-serving, these media maggots are the real opportunists currently plying their trade. It was hard to discern a hard-core liberal slant with all the flags waving on the screens during the round-the-clock, jingo-onanism masquerading as reporting last March. It seems disingenuous to describe the Washington Post as a bastion of left-leaning agitprop when George Will and Charles The Hammer Krauthammer are given space every other day to fly their geek flags: they dont even need to browbeat liberals, they are too preoccupied with attacking fellow conservatives for not obsequiously goose-stepping to the party line. Now, of course, we are hearing how hard it is to get a fair shake when all these pinko-commie rags are concerned with is focusing solely on the bad stuff like more people dying each month since the Commander in Chief ill-advised bring em on bravado. Youd think the GOP brain trust would be grateful that somethinganythingwas deflecting attention away from the pesky fact that Bin Laden is still in charge. Or living large. Or just living.
Despite the typically less than honest antics of the neo-con apologists of late, its been anything but a banner year for the media. This, after all, is the fellowship that allowed con artists like Glass and Blair to thrive in their ranks. And like the CEOs who, in the wake of Enron, et cetera, its suddenly fashionable to despise, as if these commandoes of capitalism havent been behind us (with their pants down) ever since the Robber Barons first goosed the money-grubbing masses, it was only when the facts became too uncomfortably obvious that they finally get censured, sent away to the country club exiles and the talk-show trail of tears.
And speaking of tears, what are the opportunists on the Left making of this panoply of potential knockout punches? Not much. The only people more inept than the posers in power are the pretenders hoping to replace them. Kerry, the default go-to guy early on, seems determined to outdo Al Gore in operating the most lame and lifeless campaign in recent memory, and he doesnt have the luxury of blaming Ralph Nader. As for the pugnacious Howard Dean, whatever else can (and will) be said about him, he has galvanized a party that has seemingly forgotten how to make a decision without first consulting high-priced PR hacks and hastily appointed pulse-takers of the ephemeral national temperament. When Al Gore perfects his Back to the Future machine (he did, after all, invent the Internet) and wins again, again, in 2000, he could learn a lot from Deans refreshing intensity.
If Democrats are counting on the oleaginous Al Franken or the insufferably self-satisfied Michael Moore to provide sane commentary currently overlooked on the unfair and unbalanced network news, something is indeed rotten in D.C. Since OReilly, Limbaugh and the seemingly lobotomized Dennis Miller have been living punch lines lately, the Left has an opportunity to focus on the Man behind the curtain, and not waste time on the sidelines with his well-paid, well-positioned ministers of doom and gloom. Its time to get busy. And as painful as much of this is to behold as it languidly unfolds in real time, it is sobering to consider the inevitability of when these made-for-TV moments are made into made-for-TV movies.
12/6/03

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Thoughts on Colbert, Cohen and Culpability

From: Sean Murphy
Sent: Thursday, May 04, 2006 5:00 PM
To: ‘cohenr@washpost.com’
Subject: And Now For Something REALLY Not Funny

Dear Mr. Cohen:

Give me a personal break, and super size it. And yes, I would like some freedom fries with that.

I’m not in the habit of writing directly to political columnists, particularly ones I tend to agree with more often than not. However, it’s not merely that I disagree with your thoughts on Stephen Colbert’s recent performance; it’s my amazement at how off the mark you are that is impelling me to help you out in a time of obvious need.

First, to get right to the point: you have not been this wrong since you—along with the vast majority of the so-called liberal media—allowed yourself to be hustled by the hysterical and intelligence-insulting claims of the administration in late 2002 and early 2003. Suffice it to say, pointing out the supine performance of your colleagues at, to name the two most disappointing examples, The Washington Post and The New York Times during the lead up to, and aftermath of, the Iraq imbroglio is rather like shooting fish in a barrel—or harpooning whales in a bathtub for that matter. And yet, it warrants mention when people who should know better not only get it so wrong, but are yet to realize, or concede, that the primary reason they got it wrong is their unwillingness to bite the hand that pets them (or the tail that wags them).

And perhaps that is the point: as others have repeatedly observed, nothing causes the political paparazzi more chagrin (including the unconscionable and repeated malfeasance and incompetence of our current administration) than the spectacle of anyone—particularly a comedian with chops slightly more cynical than, say, Jay Leno—having the audacity to point out their myopia, if not complicity in the current crises. Therefore you—and evidenced by the deafening silence and white ink this week, many of your compatriots—doth protest a tad too much. Colbert wasn’t funny? Well, let’s just say that humor, and scathingly on-target scorn, is in the eye of the beholder. I think we’ll let the looks on certain faces and the tone of certain columns (including the conspicuous absence of many commentators who just couldn’t be bothered to comment) speak loud and proud on this one. Colbert hit his mark. Early, often, and indelibly.

But to linger on why you obviously wouldn’t like being reminded how easily you were manipulated into carrying those buckets of dirty water for the chicken hawks (that you did not see through the Colin Powell charade for what it was while it was going down obviously still makes you bristle with embarrassment, as it should) is to avoid the larger issue. Your column, against all probability, suggests that you still don’t get it, and continue to let careful spin and artifice influence your better judgment.

For instance, you inexplicably call Colbert a bully for the ostensible impunity with which he lambasted Bush, to his face. This begs the immediate question: doesn’t it take a little more courage, not to mention perspicacity, to say in person, as a comedian, the very things well-paid writers like you were not able, or willing, to say in the safety of Op-Ed pages for the past several years? More to the point, how often has this president put himself in the position to be ridiculed, much less forced to answer simple questions from reporters? Not only is it abundantly documented how obsessively Bush avoids unpleasant or uncomfortable intrusions upon his eggshell sensibilities, but one of the primary (and painfully apparent) goals of his protectors and paid apologists has been to shield him from being accountable, or even (seemingly) aware of any facts that run counter to the fantasies he and his cronies have conjured up in the safety of their well-fortified situation rooms. This is a man seemingly allergic to introspection, comforted by cliché and available for fabricated words of encouragement after the dust and danger have cleared. Indeed, the only people being bullied are the citizens (be they reporters or democrats or non-Kool-Aid drinking members of the GOP) who dare to question or critique the president or his policies. Maybe you’ve forgotten about the carefully screened audiences Bush spoke to and took the occasional, scripted questions from on the campaign trail (and his entire tenure has, under the shameless machinations of Karl Rove, been one ceaseless campaign), or the folks who were tossed out of these same spectacles for having anti-Bush stickers on their cars.

This, in sum, is not exactly a president who has been obliged to suffer the indignities of being held accountable or asked, publicly, to answer a tough question. Of course, it’s easier—and safer—to (rightly) poke fun at the infuriating, yet hapless Scott McClellan for his craven stonewalling. And although no one will miss him, he was, at worst, a minion doing what he was told. Why, just to take one obvious example, isn’t the press (why aren’t you) asking every day what the president has to say about his earlier promise that anyone involved in the Plame leak would no longer be in his administration? One wishes the press found this slightly troublesome contradiction half as interesting, half as sexy, as they found the Monica Lewinsky circus, a topic about which they had the courage to keep Americans quite sufficiently informed.

Listen: you need to understand something. What Colbert is doing, and what he achieved in that incendiary performance, is beyond satire or even the current flavor of our times, detached cynicism. He is inverting the strategy Bush and Co. utilize (and which Fox News has long made its S.O.P.), to lamentably successful effect, nowhere more egregiously than in the 2004 election: create an environment where careful debate or compromise is a sign of weakness, the willingness (or ability) to concede error or allow any manner of criticism is unseemly, unmanly. This, after all, is a president who “doesn’t do nuance.”

Colbert was not merely making fun of Bush’s propensity to bumble except in the most carefully orchestrated events, or his obliteration of the English language—we can let him misspeak for himself and let the videotapes cry themselves to sleep. Colbert’s unique—and thus far unparalleled genius—is in illustrating how this cocksure inarticulacy can be played off as straight talk from a regular guy, an honest cowboy who can’t be bothered to look up facts or trust books or listen to advice from experts because he goes by his gut, and he listens to a Higher Father. Perhaps you’ve forgotten how this strategy (to Rove’s credit this debility, which would have annihilated an aspiring candidate’s chances before Reagan, and the real Republican revolution that arose from the revelation that, finally, image and facile amiability trump intelligence and acumen in the new and improved America) was deployed against Kerry, and especially Gore: Are these pretty boys with their faces buried in books really the people you want leading the country?
Colbert lampoons the charade of patriotic and/or faith-driven certainty that is designed to avoid and discourage discussion or debate. Take a moment and consider how this rather simple scheme precedes virtually every catastrophe this administration has caused or conflated:Iraq, tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, warrantless wiretapping, et cetera.
“I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message: that no matter what happens toAmerica; she will always rebound — with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.”

That’s funny. It also happens to be perhaps the most succinct and devastating indictment (less than four lines!) of the incompetence, phoniness, cowardice and opportunistic impotence yet leveled against this administration.

But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepidWashington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know – fiction!

That’s funny too.
You know what isn’t funny? The same scribes that this administration scoffs at (that’s you Cohen), proving that, when push comes to shove, they’d rather defend the man who conned them by attacking the man who had the temerity to remind them how easily they were hoodwinked. That isn’t funny. It’s sad.

My condolences,
Sean Murphy
5/04/06

By Richard CohenThursday, May 4, 2006; A25
First, let me state my credentials: I am a funny guy. This is well known in certain circles, which is why, even back in elementary school, I was sometimes asked by the teacher to “say something funny” — as if the deed could be done on demand. This, anyway, is my standing for stating that Stephen Colbert was not funny at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. All the rest is commentary.
The commentary, though, is also what I do, and it will make the point that Colbert was not just a failure as a comedian but rude. Rude is not the same as brash. It is not the same as brassy. It is not the same as gutsy or thinking outside the box. Rudeness means taking advantage of the other person’s sense of decorum or tradition or civility that keeps that other person from striking back or, worse, rising in a huff and leaving. The other night, that person was George W. Bush.
Colbert made jokes about Bush’s approval rating, which hovers in the middle 30s. He made jokes about Bush’s intelligence, mockingly comparing it to his own. “We’re not some brainiacs on nerd patrol,” he said. Boy, that’s funny.
Colbert took a swipe at Bush’sIraq policy, at domestic eavesdropping, and he took a shot at the news corps for purportedly being nothing more than stenographers recording what the Bush White House said. He referred to the recent staff changes at the White House, chiding the media for supposedly repeating the cliché “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” when he would have put it differently: “This administration is not sinking. This administration is soaring. If anything, they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg.” A mixed metaphor, and lame as can be.
Why are you wasting my time with Colbert, I hear you ask. Because he is representative of what too often passes for political courage, not to mention wit, in this country. His defenders — and they are all over the blogosphere — will tell you he spoke truth to power. This is a tired phrase, as we all know, but when it was fresh and meaningful it suggested repercussions, consequences — maybe even death in some countries. When you spoke truth to power you took the distinct chance that power would smite you, toss you into a dungeon or — if you’re at work — take away your office.
But in this country, anyone can insult the president of theUnited States. Colbert just did it, and he will not suffer any consequence at all. He knew that going in. He also knew that Bush would have to sit there and pretend to laugh at Colbert’s lame and insulting jokes. Bush himself plays off his reputation as a dunce and his penchant for mangling English. Self-mockery can be funny. Mockery that is insulting is not. The sort of stuff that would get you punched in a bar can be said on a dais with impunity. This is why Colbert was more than rude. He was a bully.
I am not a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and I have not attended its dinner in years (I watched this year’s on C-SPAN). The gala is an essentially harmless event that requires the presence of one man, the president. If presidents started not to show up, the organization would have to transform itself into a burial association. But presidents come and suffer through a ritual that most of them find mildly painful, not to mention boring. Whatever the case, they are guests. They don’t have to be there — and if I were Bush, next year I would not. Spring is a marvelous time to be atCamp David.
On television, Colbert is often funny. But on his own show he appeals to a self-selected audience that reminds him often of his greatness. InWashington he was playing to a different crowd, and he failed dismally in the funny person’s most solemn obligation: to use absurdity or contrast or hyperbole to elucidate — to make people see things a little bit differently. He had a chance to tell the president and much of important (and self-important)Washington things it would have been good for them to hear. But he was, like much of the blogosphere itself, telling like-minded people what they already know and alienating all the others. In this sense, he was a man for our times.
He also wasn’t funny.

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