Friday, February 5, 2010

What should we think of Cohen?

It is the story with sordid angles for all – people of a more progressive mindset can get all worked up about the fact that the apparent Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor was alleged to have committed domestic violence against a woman.

For those inclined to downplay such talk, the woman supposedly had arrests for prostitution. Even the word "steroids" comes up.

SO WHAT SHOULD we think of the man involved in this story who someday could be in place to become governor of Illinois – in the event something unfortunate were to happen to Pat Quinn, should he succeed in winning the Nov. 2 general election against what appears to be the GOP ticket of Brady and Plummer.

Some people are now getting all worked up over the thought that Cohen will “drag” down the Democratic ticket come November. I have even seen one commentator imply that Cohen is a 21st Century equivalent of Janice Hart and Mark Fairchild, the followers of Lyndon LaRouche who managed to get the Dem nominations for secretary of state and lieutenant governor back in 1986.

Of course, most of the people engaging in this type of rhetoric are the types who are eagerly looking for something, anything, that can be used to take down the Democratic Party ticket. Forgive me if I think their bias is just a little too big to be trusted.

For one thing, Cohen is not Fairchild or Hart, who were followers of an un-American extremist. If anything, Cohen is something that usually appeals to more conservative Republicans – a business owner who claims his political inexperience is his great advantage.

WHAT I BELIEVE will be important in determining whether or not this Cohen rhetoric sticks is how Cohen behaves today and in the next few days. I don’t have a clue if Cohen or his people will ever read this, but my suggestion would be for them to be incredibly honest.

It could mean a potentially humiliating few days, perhaps up to a week, for Cohen. But if he handles himself right, this could become the issue that is so long forgotten by Election Day in November that most people will have a hard time remembering it ever occurred.

If he bumbles about, then he creates the situation where Republicans can portray him as the pawnbroker woman-beater for the next nine months. They’re going to try to do that anyway, but Cohen’s reaction will determine whether we should listen to the partisan GOP or disregard their campaign rhetoric (which is usually a good idea to do with any campaign’s rhetoric – it’s all an exaggeration).

Part of the reason I am inclined to think this way is not because I sympathize with Cohen all that much or am somehow anxious to ignore the very real problem in our society of domestic abuse, particularly against women.

IT’S JUST THAT none of this is new. For Quinn to now say that Cohen should reject the nomination he appears to have won makes Quinn look foolish (and weak, if Cohen decides to be stubborn and refuse to "resign").

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown is now able to boast about how he wrote about this months ago, only to have people ignore it then because they wanted to believe that a “no-name” political dreamer like Cohen could not possibly defeat the many state senators who ran for the Democratic nomination to be governor-in-waiting.

What they didn’t account for was the fact that Cohen is a business owner (the family has a pawn shop, and Cohen himself has expanded the interests to include the environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies company that he likes to brag about, along with a few rental properties) with enough money that he provided about 98 percent of the funds that paid for his campaign.

It’s the power of television.

ALL THOSE ADVERTISING spots made the name “Scott Lee Cohen” more recognizable to the average voter in Tuesday’s primary, compared to those who actually follow legislative activity and know who people like Art Turner, Mike Boland, Terry Link or Rickey Hendon actually are.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that he got that 26 percent of the vote, which was enough to win.

But like I wrote, this allegation (which supposedly took place in 2005 but did not result in a criminal conviction because charges were dropped when the “girlfriend” didn’t bother to pursue the case) was known and written about somewhat.

He may not have featured the fact in one of his primary season campaign ads, but Cohen hasn’t exactly tried to cover this up. Officially, he tells reporter-types that he thinks it will not be an issue.

IT WILL ONLY become an issue if he bungles it up. This is one case where a political prospect should be eager for the details to come out. If he seems to be letting it all out, most people will get bored with the story.

It is the potential for trying to hide, or diminish, what happened back then that could be used against him. It’s like Nixon – the coverup is what killed his presidency. So what are we going to be able to think of the Cohen campaign?

Is he a woman-beater (who supposedly held a knife to her throat, according to some reports but which Cohen himself denies)? Or is he the small business owner whom some people actually preferred BECAUSE he does not have a lengthy career as an elected official?

We’re watching Scott in the coming days to try to get an answer to those questions.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Some people on Thursday seemed eager to credit the Chicago Tribune with telling us ( the tale of Scott Lee Cohen. But the Chicago Sun-Times had its share (,scott-cohen-arrest-020410.article) of reporting on the issue, both now and (,CST-NWS-brown04.article) in the past.

The first time I ever heard of Cohen’s campaign was on Labor Day of last year when I was doing some work ( for an area newspaper and a local (for that publication) person made it clear that he was a Cohen backer.

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