Certainly, the Republicans need the help.
My interest as a person of the left also makes me glad to see Cheney speak. Keeping the leading figures of the Bush administration before the public eye is a great way to remind people of the maliciousness and venality of the American right. Given that Dick Cheney embodies the worst of the Bush administration, seeing him on television is a continual reminder of why the American public repudiated the Bush presidency and everything it stood for.
As far as I'm concerned, America can't get enough of Dick Cheney.
Dick Cheney is Shocked! Shocked! Actually, Dick Cheney is shocked that President Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do during the campaign. It's important to remember the conservative commitment to delusion. Just as shock jock Mancow was surprised to find that waterboarding is torture, many people on the right have been shocked, shocked that Barack Obama is withdrawing from Iraq, closing down Guantanamo, and ending the torture of terrorist suspects. To be sure, Cheney's more genuine than Claude Rains in Casablanca. The Bush people thought they had rigged the system so Obama couldn't change their policies on terror. They also couldn't believe Obama was serious about his campaign claims that the Bush administration didn't live up to American values or that the Bush administration's approach to terror made the country less safe. For Dick Cheney in particular, all of that was just "campaign rhetoric." As a result, Cheney was genuinely shocked to find out that Barack Obama wasn't Joe Lieberman and it's out of his wounded pride and outrage that Dick Cheney launched his little public relations war against the Obama administration.
It's About Values. Cheney is also shocked by the realization that his side is losing all the on-going cultural wars. Conservatives are losing all sorts of little cultural wars. They're losing their wars for small government and Victorian sexual values and against feminism, gay rights, drugs, and multi-culturalism. Even worse, they're losing the "war on socialism" even though no one's fighting them. Finally, conservatives are losing the "war over the war" to liberal politicians, civil libertarians, and anti-war activists. Conservatives experience their losses on all these fronts as devastating because of their disgust for everybody on the other side. Gay people have been the particular target of conservative disgust since gay marriage emerged as an issue. But right-wing bigotry toward African-Americans, working women, and popular culture still emerges on a regular basis.
It's the same with Cheney and his enemies. Cheney is a member of the right-wing of the conservative defense establishment that's shaped by two ideas--that this country should always be at war or pointed toward war (or both) and that the president should have absolute power when America is at war. Keeping America at war keeps the right in power and gives practically unlimited resources to conservative constituencies in the military and defense industry. For Cheney, keeping America at war means that the "right people"--people he respects--will always be in charge instead of the liberals, civil libertarians, minority activists, and union leaders he views as the "wrong sort of people." From Cheney's point of view, the absolute power of the president (supposedly justified by Article II of the Constitution) makes it possible for the right people to conduct their wars without interference from their opponents and the constitutional guarantees, domestic law, and international law that were created by liberals. In other words, the underlying foreign policy "value" for Dick Cheney is the "freedom" of the right people to start wars and conduct as they see fit according to the "natural order."
A lot of Cheney's anger toward Barack Obama lies in his shock over the thought that Barack Obama is one of the "wrong people" and that the "wrong people" seem close to being totally in charge. Maybe Cheney thinks Obama is close to giving Glenn Greenwald a job as a Pentagon watchdog (a good idea by the way). This righteous conservative anger informs a great deal of the sneering rhetoric of Cheney's AEI speech. Cheney sneeringly refers to the release of the torture memos as intended to be "a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public's right to know. We're informed, as well, that there was much agonizing over this decision." "Open government" and "the public's right to know" are both anathema to Cheney's own values of reserving real power for people like him and Cheney's sneering at the Obama administration for advertising those values is a most sincere moment of disgust.
Cheney expresses a more general disgust toward liberalism in discussing the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed:
Maybe you've heard that when we captured KSM, he said he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyer. But like many critics of interrogations, he clearly misunderstood the business at hand. American personnel were not there to commence an elaborate legal proceeding, but to extract information from him before al-Qaeda could strike again and kill more of our people.Obviously, Cheney's trick here is to associate liberal "critics of interrogations" with vicious terrorists like KSM. But underlying the rhetorical linkage is a very real disgust with the U. S. legal system and the protections that it has provided for accused criminals since the Warren Court. For American conservatives, the natural order is for the dominant white and wealthy groups to be free--that's what conservatives mean by "our values"--and for the dominant groups to have a "free hand" to act violently toward "outsider" groups like African-Americans, immigrants, and gay people. The natural order was upset by the campaigns of liberal jurists, Democratic politicians, and minority group leaders to recognize what conservatives think of as "marginal" groups as having the same rights as "real Americans." In this light, the big Warren Court decisions shackled the ability of the "right people" to "do what needs to be done" and let the riff-raff bring chaos into society.
Informed by their antipathy toward the American legal system and its "misguided" stress on rights, procedures, and "elaborate legal proceedings," the Bush people created an "extra-judicial" system of prisons, interrogration units, and extraordinary rendition to other countries in the name of unlimited presidential power. That system was designed not only to "extract information" in Cheney's phrase, it was designed to give terrorist suspects "what they deserved" in a way that couldn't be achieved by the "permissive" American legal system.
As he defends torture, Cheney also manages to express his loathing toward liberal critics:
Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists. I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about "values." (my emphasis)Cheney's critique of liberal criticism of torture is the same criticism conservatives have been making of liberal activists and minority leaders since at least the sixties. They always saw people like Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy as motivated by feigned outrage, contrived indignation, phony moralizing and other dishonest motivations. By the fact of their being leaders (let alone being born into the elite), people like King and Kennedy either participated in the privileges of the elite or wanted to participate in the privileges of the elite. From the conservative point of view, that gives an inherent phoniness to minority and liberal criticism of American society for not extending constitutional rights to all groups. The other element of conservative revulsion toward white liberals in particular is that white liberals identify with the politics of "outsider" groups like poor people and minorities. From the conservative point of view, white liberals are either "feigning outrage" as they pursue power for themselves or, even worse, traitorously identifying with marginal populations over the dominant groups. Whichever motivation they attribute to liberals and minority leaders, conservatives like Dick Cheney have never acknowledged that their critics are honest.
Disappointment to the Point of Treason. The disappointment of Dick Cheney and other Bush enthusiasts has a particularly sharp edge because they thought the moment of permanent conservative ascendancy had arrived. With the 9-11 attacks, the conservative defense and political establishment thought they had an opportunity to do exactly what they wanted. In relation to foreign policy, conservatives talked a great deal about U. S. military omnipotence, compared America to the Roman Empire, and projected an easy conquest and restructuring of Iraq. Far from feeling weak and vulnerable as Cheney claimed in his AEI speech, conservatives thought they had no limits. They didn't have to worry about human rights because international law was for tin pot guys like Charles Taylor and Slobodan Milosevic. They didn't have to worry about the reactions of other countries because the U. S. was so much more powerful than anyone else. They didn't have to worry about American interests in the manner of Brent Scowcroft and other timic "realists" because the U. S. was finally in a position to enforce its will. Conservatives ultimately thought they could leverage fear of another 9-11 attack into permanent support for the American power agenda laid out by the Project for a New American Century. From Sept. 12, 2001 to the end of 2004, conservatives thought their moment in the sun would go on forever.
But the whole post 9-11 conservative project was a village of sand castles that has been swept away and Dick Cheney's whole world is in danger of being swept away with it. The occupation of Iraq has been costly, the lies have been exposed, the edifice for evading legal structures has crumbled, the war crimes revealed, and the whole conservative establishment is tainted with incompetence and criminality. Where the conservative establishment once expected to enjoy a permanent majority, they now have to worry about the very real prospect of the Republican Party never returning to power. Where the conservative establishment once contemplated global domination, they now have to worry about being hauled before a truth commission or prosecuted for war crimes. For Dick Cheney, these prospects are so palpable that he has to introduce himself even to am elite conservative audience as "a-political" and actually address himself to the arguments for war crimes trials from the Democratic left. For Dick Cheney, having to acknowledge the influence of minority politicians, liberal bloggers, anti-war activists, and media powerhouses like Arianna Huffington, Josh Marshall, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart is almost as humiliating as being put on trial. Having assumed for his whole career that people like himself would naturally dominate, Dick Cheney is now finding that his enemies are in charge and that he and his colleagues are the ones who are reviled, marginalized, and convicted of crimes in the case of Scooter Libby.
And it's driving him to treason.
At least in Cheney's own terms.
According to Dick Cheney, the whole debate over torture serves to weaken America and encourage our enemies. In other words, it's a form of "aiding and abetting our enemies" in the way that the right thinks the Constitution defined treason.
If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don't stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for - our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.But Dick Cheney is the guy driving the debate on interrogation, torture, and terror policy not Obama's critics on the left. Cheney is the guy who is using his access to the media to push claims that the Obama administration is making our country "less safe." If al-Qaeda looks at the United States and decides that "our unity [is] gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted," it's because Dick Cheney is doing his best to undercut the national unity that has coalesced around Barack Obama, shake Obama's resolve concerning his policies, and distract Obama's leadership. Dick Cheney might as well be hanging out a sign saying "We're weak. Please attack us." As everybody in the anti-war movement knows from painful experience, that's the kind of thing the right calls treason because they view it as encouraging the enemy.
But for Dick Cheney, vindicating himself, the conservative establishment, and the "natural order" seems to be more important than American security. In fact, one wonders if Cheney's well of bitterness doesn't run so deep that he wouldn't welcome a major terrorist attack as sweet vindication.