William and Janet Cohen are co-authors of the recently published book, Love in Black and White: A Memoir of Race, Religion and Romance. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, William Cohen is the son of a Jewish father and an Irish Protestant mother. Janet Langhart Cohen, a former model and television journalist, is an African-American, the daughter of a single-parent mother, a Southern Baptist who worked as a domestic. Although William and Janet Cohen are opposites in race, religion, culture, and political party affiliation, they fell in love and 11 years ago decided to get married in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Despite these contrasts, William Cohen says he thinks their upbringing has common elements and actually prepared them for their meeting and marriage. Speaking with host Carol Castiel of VOA News Now’s Press Conference USA, former Defense Secretary Cohen says that his wife, Janet, grew up in a racially segregated community, and he grew up in a small New England town in which anti-Semitism was prevalent. And having experienced bigotry and prejudice in their youth, they were “ready and prepared to overcome it” when they met and married. Janet Langhart Cohen says their book recounts both a love story between two people and their love story with their country. She says they grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s in “two Americas” – one that was racist and segregated and the other a land of promise and progress.
William Cohen says that, although America has made great progress and African-Americans are running for President – such as Barack Obama – or are serving as Secretary of State or as CEO’s of major corporations, millions more are still trapped in inner city ghettos. And it is still important “where you live and at what level of society you move.”
Janet Langhart Cohen says America is a very “race-conscious” country and that is why a debate on race is critical. While she observes that color consciousness is not unique to America, Ms. Langhart Cohen says that, if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive today, she thinks he would be “pleased” to see the progress made since the early days of America’s civil rights movement.
On the political and defense front, William Cohen says he thinks the partisan political climate on Capitol Hill has gotten much worse since he left the Senate in 1996 to become Secretary of Defense. He says he thinks that Congress “abdicated its responsibility” in the decision to go into Iraq in 2003. He suggests that President Bush also “missed a unique opportunity with the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report,” which would have provided a “bipartisan approach to setting guidelines” for benchmarks the Iraqi government should meet. Regarding the viability of the “surge,” Secretary Cohen says he is “skeptical” whether 20,000 more U.S. troops will make a real difference, but at this point it may be the “only thing the administration can do.” He is also critical of the lack of planning for a “post-invasion situation.” But he adds, all the countries in the Gulf States are “very concerned” that the United States may leave Iraq “prematurely with an insurgency that will spread and with an Iran that is becoming more aggressive and imperialistic in the region.” And he says the key to success is the “political will” of the Iraqi government to bring sectarian violence under control.
For full audio of the program Press Conference USA click here.