April 21, 2009

Richard Bruce Cheney's High-Profile Whinig

When was the last time a former president or vice president was so prominent in taking part in political debates? When was the last time one was so actively criticizing his successors? When was the last time it was done so soon after his leaving office?

I can't think of anyone else behaving like this in the history of the modern presidency. Can you?

Posted by armand at April 21, 2009 07:59 AM | TrackBack | Posted to Politics


Here's what I think about the whole thing. Let's set aside the whole, "We defined it as torture when it was done to us," thing. Let's set aside the safe assumption that we would do so again. Let us set aside that our conduct put us in flagrant violation of international laws and treaties to which we willingly subscribed (and strong-armed others into accepting). Which is to say, let's grant the preposterous position of the Bush flunkies living and dead (er, employed by the government and no longer so employed) that waterboarding someone over 180 times in a month is both morally acceptable and practically effective at revealing information that otherwise would remain concealed.

If all of that is true, these premises upon which the critics are relying for their outrageous hysterics, then what we have here is a dispute of policy. Bush opted for one set of policies in response to a particular situation. Obama ran, in part, on the repudiation of same. And now in office, Obama has made good on his campaign promise to take a different approach to a particular problem.

What all of this then reduces to is precisely what we've been seeing since January: a bizarre, quasi-dispensationalist narrative of criticism that what's at stake here isn't choice A vs. choice B, between which reasonable people may differ, but the notion that there is only choice A, that choice B will invoke chaos and destruction, sunder our union, unleash the four horseman, simply because choice B is no choice at all, a choice for fools and patsies, several definitive steps down the road to ruin.

This is not reasoned debate, and it is patently absurd, whether the person engaging in it is the former Vice President or the former Iago-in-Chief (turdblossom). It's as though 200 years of doing things like this both ways and always more or less coming out of it in one piece was completely wiped off the board, and no one could remember before the last presidency, which, because there was no presidency anyone could remember before it, necessarily must have been doing things the only way they could be done.

But now start rolling back some of the assumptions on which this was based, and what we have, as we did under Bush, is the implicit idea that spurious claims regarding the effectiveness of torture are better than no claims at all, that we just need to take all of this on faith, and that the correlation between morally reprehensible conduct and the absence of terrorist attacks in the territorial United States since 9/11 must imply causation, that we'd be a smoking ruin if we hadn't fake drowned a couple of terrorists who were never again going to see the light of day, or their terrorist cohorts, again in this life.

We're skipping all the important questions: Who are we? What do we stand for? What authority do we have in the international community if, time and again, we prove that when the chips are down we believe a different code of conduct applies to us than to everyone else?

I find this whole thing preposterous. And I think it's important to recall that people who still held a position in officialdom answerable to the White House were overtly accused of, at best, a lack of patriotism, and at worst treason when they publicly questioned the Bush administration about its unapologetic violation of international law. What do we call the folks who are now doing the same thing with regard to this administrations evident determination to bring itself into compliance with same?

Posted by: moon at April 21, 2009 09:19 AM | PERMALINK

Nice phrase - "a bizarre, quasi-dispensationalist narrative." And a reasonable analysis.

I'll just throw two thoughts out there. First - Would the media by accepting this if Al Gore was saying it in 2001? I thought all the self-appointed better-than-thous in the media (Brokaw, Broder and company) believed politicians were supposed to ride off into the sunset, and it's (at the very least) rude to criticize your successor, and it may impair the country's ability to work with a united voice (which all those media types who love moderation above all prize so).

Secondly, I realize the media basically yearns to be megaphones, for nonsense or otherwise, and doesn't feel it should actually point out if a policy position is downright wacky. But you'd think that in all this more people would point out that Team Bush was just OUT THERE. These were unprecedented legal arguments (if one can call them that). And their approach to foreign policy was a fundamental break with the past, quite beyond a matter or partisan difference. There weren't people in mold of the Reagan and Bush I administrations. These were extreme outliers.

No, from a practical standpoint, it's fine if Cheney talks considering he's so unpopular it's not likely to have any lasting negative effects. But that this is happening is stange. And the degree to which it's being embraced as nothing unusual is strange. I'm presuming we'll eventually see more pushback on it - but who knows.

Posted by: Armand at April 21, 2009 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Cheney really has turned out to be a singular, and singularly disturbing, character in political history. Thankfully, mostly irrelevant now, but he really does seem to have a perverse idea about his place in things, and of course it's exacerbated by the media's willingness to approach any recognizable character who's willing to talk, and to let him say whatever he wants without serious counter-questioning or scrutiny of truth or sense.

As for your questions:

1) No. But then Gore (and Reagan, and Bush 41, and evidently Bush 43, not to mention Clinton and all of the former Veeps, natch, as a fortiori cases) had the good sense to walk away and leave the stage to their successor.

As for 2), this is my point about the dialog we were, at one point, having about our ideals versus the perceived necessity of torture under dire circumstances (and our willingness to take it on faith that circumstances were dire simply because the people who seemed to want to torture told us so). Once again, despite claims of liberal bias, I think this is another instance of the right successfully shouting its preferred narrative until it sticks. Somewhere along the way, the media stopped asking whether torture was morally sound or consistent with who we are as a nation, and the discussion started being about the particulars.

The whole thing just looks so farcical. Throwing terrorists up against flexible walls, only after protecting their neck with a brace. That's not torture, that's a Six Flags Experience (TM). And if you haven't gotten a guy to spill everything after thirty waterboardings in, say, five days, what is he going to say that you can possibly trust after another five days.

Anyway, if I understood NPR correctly, Cheney has filed an FOIA request for records that supposedly substantiate the claim that torture was, in at least one instance, responsible for a big revelation. What I would want to know if I bought the heuristic is whether a mature, and potentially successful plot thereby discovered and stopped; was that plot in all particulars theretofore undetected and likely to succeed absent the torture-induced revelation; and was the information in fact revealed as a consequence of torture, or was it, like other admissions already identified, given without torture, whereupon the little bird was tortured to see if he'd sing even more, only to discover that he'd already spilled his guts.

But since I don't accept the heuristic, I want Cheney to answer what other treaties he doesn't care about, and whether he thinks other countries have any obligation to hold up their ends when we don't hold up ours. I want him to answer whether he thinks American soldiers should expect to be waterboarded by captors from now on, and whether that's acceptable to him.

And then I want to ask him to go take a long walk off a short construction crane, preferably one on a Halliburton job sight in Iraq.

Posted by: moon at April 21, 2009 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'd rather see him waterboarded until his heart blows out. It'd be even better if FoxNews were forced to carry it live.

Posted by: jacflash at April 22, 2009 03:06 PM | PERMALINK
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