Posts Tagged ‘Dick Cheney’

Dick Cheney: Still a Coward

August 31, 2009

When terrorists attacked this country in the first year of his co-presidency with Mr. Bush, Dick Cheney responded just the way they had hoped: he was terrified, he panicked, and he overreacted.  He’s been trying to defend his behavior ever since, upping the ante every time somebody asks him about it.

Why?  Because to admit he did anything wrong leads inevitably to admitting he overreacted because he panicked, and he panicked because he was scared sh*tless.  Since his whole persona (and apparently his self-esteem) is inoperably wrapped around a Tough Guy image like a tumor coiled around a lung, he can never admit to being frightened.  If he has to drag the country down with him to keep his [self-]image, he will; he’s that frightened of looking frightened.

The English language helpfully has a single word for all of that:  “coward,” which is what Cheney is.  The most craven kind of coward possible.  The vainglorious kind that blames others for his cowardice and shifts the consequences of it onto everyone around him, in hope of preserving some appearance of bravery.

There was a time when conservatives would’ve had the least possible patience for someone like Cheney.  But that kind of conservatism is gone.  In its place, we get . . . well, Dick Cheney.

There is no word for how contemptible he is.

The Dangers of Servility

August 13, 2009

If you haven’t heard, it seems Dick Cheney plans to lower the boom on Pres. Bush in his memoir.  In the first term, Cheney makes it plain, he pulled W’s strings and all was well.  In the second term, W cut some of the strings and, in Cheney’s view, America disappeared under a mushroom cloud didn’t do as well.

Discussing Cheney’s influence as VP, Alex Massie says:

Freed from any kind of electoral or political reality, Cheney was able to rampage through Washington, doing all kinds of damage to almost every institution or office or agency he touched. That’s the price you pay for Cheney’s lack of personal political ambition. We often think of political ambition as something to be wary of – and rightly so – but Cheney demonstrates that the quiet lack of personal ambition can have disastrous consequences too, for it frees a man from having to be accountable for his actions, permitting him to justify anything and everything if it moves him an inch closer to achieving goals that he, and he alone, has set.

It’s worth pointing out that this is inherent in the design of our system.

The Framers — Madison in particular — worked from a philosophical view that said man (the right term for the period) is inherently power-hungry, and the closer he gets to power, the hungrier he gets.  They therefore designed a system of government wherein each piece’s pursuit of power checked the power of the others; checks and balances, and all that.

It’s insufficient to say our system was designed so it would function under those [seemingly worst-case] conditions.  The fact is, our system will work properly only under those conditions.  If some of the pieces lack that kind of ambition, the whole thing gets out of balance.

It’s like a V-8 engine with one piston not firing.  The thing as a whole is designed to balance itself based on the equal opposing forces of 4 pistons per side.  When one of them isn’t firing, it kicks to one side.

This is the problem we had during the Bush administration.  Not just with Cheney, but with the congress.  The GOP majority wanted nothing more than it wanted to do whatever Bush wanted.  They didn’t have the ambition Madison assumed, and therefore provided no equal opposing force to the White House.  Things got out of balance and oversight didn’t happen.

It’s bad enough when you have a VP who a) has wild notions about the powers of the vice presidency, and b) has no political ambitions beyond that office.

Add in a total lack of oversight because the congress’s greatest ambition is to be in total agreement with the president, and you have a situation our system just wasn’t designed to handle.

Mirror, Mirror

July 17, 2009

I know I keep saying this, and I don’t mean to harp on it, but I keep bumping into things that scream out to me just how alike right-wing Islamists and right-wing Americans are.

A conservative Iranian newspaper editor said of an expected speech by Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who supports the calls for a new election:

Rafsanjani must avoid supporting the hooligans in his sermon; he must keep in mind that supporting the hooligans is support for the enemy.

In other words, any citizen who isn’t in total agreement with me and my group about what is best for our country, any citizen who openly disagrees with us or even questions us, is an enemy of our country.  Anybody who isn’t for us is against.

Boy, does that crap ever sound familiar.

How can the ascendant segment of the contemporary American right not see what’s in the mirror?

What’s plan B?

May 26, 2009

Conservatives are fighting amongst themselves over the future of the GOP.  Some say it has to go ever further to the right if it wants to recover.  Others say it has to moderate.

That fight has been personified: Dick Cheney vs. Colin Powell.  Cheney said Rush Limbaugh is a better Republican than Powell is, and that he thought Powell had left the GOP a long time ago.  Powell says Cheney must have been misinformed.

Bruce Bartlett is one of the voices for GOP moderation.  He recently wrote:

Powell has a responsibility to help those who share his vision by lending his enormous credibility, popularity and fund-raising ability to their efforts. If he fails to do so he risks being seen by history as someone who walked away when the times demanded that those who share his beliefs stand and fight for what they believe.

Um, it wouldn’t be the first time, Bruce.

As secretary of state, Powell went along with the rush to war in Iraq, and lent that credibility and popularity Bartlett speaks of to policies he believed were harming the country.  He may have opposed torture in internal debates, but he didn’t resign over it.  So far as I know, he never even threatened to resign over it.

Whether that’s because he lacks backbone or because he never grasped the difference between being a soldier and being a statesman — much the way Alberto Gonzales never understood the parallel difference between being the president’s lawyer and being the nation’s lawyer — is beside the point.  If Bartlett is counting on Powell to fight for GOP moderates, he’d better have a good plan B lined up.

h/t Sullivan

Howard Johnson is right about Gabby Johnson being right!

May 17, 2009

Tom Ricks says the Army War College journal, reviewing Jane Mayer’s book (Just now? Dude, it’s been out for over a year.), comes to the conclusion that Vice President Cheney panicked in the aftermath of 9/11.  Well, they use the passive  “unnerved” rather than the active “panicked,” but still.

How to Defeat Terrorism, In 3 Easy Lessons

March 31, 2009
  1. Don’t be terrified.
  2. Don’t panic.
  3. Don’t overreact.

Everything else is beside the point.

According to multiple reports, in the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, key figures in the Bush administration failed on all 3 counts.  They were terrified by the attacks — terrified for the nation’s safety, and terrified of the political consequences for them, personally, if there were more attacks.  So they panicked.  Having panicked, they overreacted in almost every dimension of their response.

Frankly, that’s perfectly understandable.  They were, after all, confronted with something abjectly terrifying.

Where they failed was in being afraid to admit they had overreacted.  As evidence mounted that they were responding wrongly, all they could do was insist that they weren’t, and “prove” it by doubling down — pushing ever further in the wrong direction.

That’s why Dick Cheney is behaving the way he is, even now.  He can’t do otherwise.  To do otherwise would be to admit he was wrong, which would be to admit he overreacted in the first place, which would be to admit he panicked, which would be to admit he was terrified by 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, which would be to admit the terrorists got the better of him.  He’s a man who lives in fear not just of people realizing that, but of admitting it to himself.

Besides, in raw political terms, Cheney — and the entire GOP — can’t afford to admit they panicked.  (And they’re certainly never going to admit that, having done so, they’ve been afraid to admit it.  Because, while the first reaction is understandable and forgivable, the second is naked cowardice.) The tough guy is who they are [supposed to be].  It’s their whole identity.  It’s the thing the GOP has staked its entire political life to, ever since the Cold War.  Without it, they can’t win.

To badly paraphrase Justice Cardozo (I think), the nuanced, provisional ideas of one generation become the black-and-white, absolute dogmas of the next.  The panicked overreactions of the early days and months after 9/11 have hardened into absolute dogmas.

Unfortunately for the nation, we’re never going to defeat any terrorists until we stop perpetuating those overreactions; and, the next time they attack, refuse to repeat the mistake.  That’s going to be hard to do as a nation when half our political system has invested its entire identity in overreacting.

Update (3/31/2009 7:23pm):

Matt Yglesias quotes COIN expert Andrew Exum on one of the issues that my own efforts to think through led to the ideas in this post.  As Exum puts it:

Even if we succeed in spreading effective governance to southern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, are we then prepared to go to wherever the transnational terror groups relocate?

You can’t defeat terror groups by invading territory.  They’ll just move.  You can only defeat them by refusing to play their game — don’t be terrified, don’t panic, don’t overreact.  (This also, btw, calls attention to why war — as in “global war on terror” — is the wrong way think about this problem.  This is an organized transnational crime problem, and should be dealt with as such.)

And that’s why the Greeks invented hubris.

March 26, 2009

When VH1 does its nostalgia show for the decade of the Twentysies (which will cover the years 1998-2008, sorta like “the Sixties” actually means roughly 1967-1975), its theme will be hubris.  Lotsa people getting too big for their britches, thinking they know something nobody else knows, and that that knowledge means the normal rules don’t apply to them; in the end, they flame out, sometimes destroying themselves in the process, but always destroying lots of innocent by-standers.

It starts off in the late Clinton years, when Sen. Phil Gramm and a guy in the White House named Lawrence Summers (I wonder what ever happened to that dude . . . hmmmm) decided they and their Wall Street confreres suddenly understood America’s financial system better than anybody else ever had.  This special knowledge informed them that the usual rules didn’t apply anymore; that huge, multifarious financial institutions no longer presented a threat to the American economy, and the 70-year-old rules preventing banks and insurance companies from spreading into each others’ industries were no longer needed.  Pres. Clinton agreed, and bye-bye Glass-Steagall Act.

Next comes Enron.  That was basically a case of some guys who thought they had a deeper understanding of energy markets than anybody else.  Ever.  First they convinced their peers that their nonsense was real, but too complex for anybody but “the smartest guys in the room” to understand.  Next they used that social leverage to build a wall of secrecy around what they were doing.  And last they ran their company straight into the ground, in the process throwing hundreds of people out of work and causing rolling blackouts all up and down the West Coast.

The next example is Dick Cheney.  First he convinced himself that he and his inner circle were the only ones who really knew how the world worked, the only ones who really knew what Saddam Hussein was up to, the only ones who really understood what was necessary to interrogate terrorism suspects, the only ones who really knew how to keep the country safe.  Next he built a wall of secrecy around what he was doing.  And last he ran the country into the ground in Iraq.  He walks away with a limp, but for the rest of us it cost trillions of dollars, thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, millions of Iraqi refugees, and lost ground in our other war (the one where the people who attacked us actually are) and in America’s global influence.

Then there’s Karl Rove, another big fan of secrecy who thought he knew more than anybody else, thought he understood America better than anybody else, thought there was such a thing in America as a “permanent majority” and he knew how to build it.  That I-have-special-secret-knowledge attitude is how he drove his party into the ground.  As he famously said the night before the 2006 elections, all those polling companies had “their math,” but he had “THE math.”  Oops.  He walked away relatively unscathed, though with his reputation for brilliance diminished.  The rest of us have to deal with the mess he created — a fouled Justice Department and a two-party political system with only one functioning party.

Now, at the end of the Decade of Hubris (we hope), we have pretty much everybody in the financial industry, who all convinced themselves they alone had special insight into how securities markets worked, insight that seemed to lift the normal rules of supply and demand and no free lunches.  They’ve all made out like bandits, but pretty well sunk the rest of us.

That’s a nice bookend to the beginning of the Decade of Hubris, and . . . hey! there’s that Larry Summers guy in the White House again!  Seems he walked away unscathed.  So did Phil Gramm, who left the senate and became vice chairman of UBS, a huge Swiss bank.  He was in charge of . . . wait for it . . . lobbying the U.S. government on mortgage issues.  And, of course, Bill Clinton walked away from this unharmed, too, and now is worth millions.

So here are a few lessons I’ve learned from America’s last 10 years:

  1. If you find yourself thinking, “Nobody gets this but me,” you’re the one who doesn’t get it.
  2. Secret knowledge is not knowledge.  It’s cultivated ignorance.
  3. If you screw up, make it huge.  That way, everybody has to pay but you.
  4. Taking regulatory advice from Larry Summers or Phil Gramm is right up there with getting involved in a land war in Asia.  (A perfectly symmetrical irony, since a) Summers is Obama’s lead economic adviser and Gramm was John McCain’s; and b) we’re currently involved in 2 land wars in Asia.)