By Eugene Robinson
Can’t we send Dick Cheney back to Wyoming? Shouldn’t we chip in and buy him a home where the buffalo roam and there’s always room for one more crazy old coot down at the general store?
For the final act of his too-long public career, Cheney seems to have decided to become an Old Faithful of self-serving nonsense. His latest in a series of eruptions came Sunday on “Face the Nation,” when he continued to press his revisionist case for torture—and, for good measure, counseled his beloved Republican Party to marginalize itself even further from public opinion and common sense.
“It’s good to go back on the show,” Cheney told host Bob Schieffer at the beginning of the interview. “It’s nice to know that you’re still loved and are invited out in public sometimes.”
I don’t know about the love, but I do know why Cheney gets asked to appear on talk shows so regularly. Unrestrained by protocol or objective reality, he’s pretty much guaranteed to say outrageous things. He requires no prompting or coaxing. As far as he’s concerned, issues have just one side—his—and anyone who disagrees must secretly wish to deliver our nation to al-Qaida.
So when Schieffer asked if Cheney “literally” meant to say that the Obama administration has “made this country more vulnerable” to terrorist attacks by repealing Bush-era policies on torture and detention, the former vice president didn’t pause for a nanosecond. “That’s my belief,” Cheney said, “based upon the fact, Bob, that we put in place those policies after 9/11. ... It was a time of great concern, and we put in place some very good policies, and they worked, for eight years.”
Cheney added that “to the extent that those policies were responsible for saving lives, that the administration is now trying to cancel those policies or end them, terminate them, then I think it’s fair to argue—and I do argue—that that means in the future we’re not going to have the same safeguards we’ve had for the last eight years.”
This is the crux of Cheney’s “argument,” and I put the word in quotation marks because it isn’t really a valid argument at all. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration approved programs and methods that previously would have been considered illegal or unacceptable: arbitrary and indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, waterboarding and other abusive interrogation methods, secret CIA prisons, unprecedented electronic surveillance. Since 2001, there have been no new attacks on what the Bush administration creepily called the “homeland.” Therefore, everything that was done in the name of preventing new attacks was justified.
The fallacy lies in the fact that it is impossible for Cheney to prove that anti-terrorism methods within the bounds of U.S. law and tradition would have failed to prevent new attacks. Nor, for that matter, can Cheney demonstrate that torture and other abuses were particularly effective.
Other high-ranking officials from the previous administration, including George W. Bush himself, have had the manners and good sense to follow long-established custom and refrain from attacking the new president and his policies. Cheney, however, is not only accusing President Obama of knowingly putting American lives at risk—an outrageous charge—but also diving headlong into partisan politics.
Schieffer asked him about Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that the Republican Party would be better off if Colin Powell left and became a Democrat. One would think that Cheney would have at least a measure of respect for a longtime colleague with whom he had served in two administrations. But one would be wrong.
“Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I’d go with Rush Limbaugh, I think,” Cheney said. “I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”
Let’s see: Given a choice between a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of state who has given to his nation a lifetime of exemplary public service or an entertainer who brags about how much money he makes from bombast and bluster, Cheney would go with the gasbag. This is advice that’s supposed to help the Republican Party?
I really think Cheney would be happier if he were home on the range. I’m sure the deer and the antelope would enjoy listening to what he has to say.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group