Tuesday, July 10, 2007


An interesting disconnect. The New Yorker's view of Cheney, and my own. I hardly have one. The New Yorker sees him as a beardless Mephistopheles. Well, perhaps the NYer is better informed than I am. Leave us examine the evidence, what?

Cheney and Bush are described as the "scowling, scheming, domineering, silently sinister Vice-President and the spoiled, petted prince who becomes his plaything..." Hmm. This must be an opinion piece. But we are entitled to our opinions. Perhaps many facts will be adduced in support of these unfavorable characterizations. Otherwise we might be forced to conclude that some motive other than objectivity was informing the judgment of our top-hatted and monocled man-about-town.

We find a reference to Cheney's "metaphorically apt Secret Service code name" ('Angler') -- which "refers to one of his two favorite outdoor pastimes, the one less hazardous to elderly lawyers." My, that does seem a bit gratuitous, don't you suppose so? Dragging that hunting accident in by the ears? It seems almost malicious. Does our Knickerbocker friend mention Chappaquiddick every time he references the Honorable Senator Edward Kennedy? But maybe he just thought of it, and thinks it's a fresh joke. A bit too obvious to count as sophisticated humor, but we all slip up now and again -- maybe that's why Cheney shot that lawyer ... he slipped, get it? -- (and I'll just pause here until you stop laughing at my witticism.)

The pattern of Cheney's dire character traits is "appalling" and "dispositive", we're told. Oh-oh. Hope not. I sort of like him, a little. He seems competent. But as I say, I'm not up on all the gossip. So tell me, New Yorker guy, what's the dirt? What's that you say? No less an "ontological authority" than "the Washington Post" (wouldn't it be The Washington Post?) is supposed to suppose that "his influence has been entirely malign." Goodness, that is bad, isn't it. But pray inform me, sir, what is the nature of his malignancy? Oh tell us, do.

"He is pathologically (but purposefully) secretive; treacherous toward colleagues; coldly manipulative of the callow, lazy, and ignorant President he serves; contemptuous of public opinion; and dismissive not only of international law (a fairly standard attitude for conservatives of his stripe) but also of the very idea that the Constitution and laws of the United States, including laws signed by his nominal superior, can be construed to limit the power of the executive to take any action that can plausibly be classified as part of an endless, endlessly expandable 'war on terror.'"

Oh. My. I'm almost sorry I asked. That surely would be malignant, if it's true. What, then, is the evidence for these harsh conclusions?

"Cheney has been the intellectual author and bureaucratic facilitator of the crimes and misdemeanors that have inflicted unprecedented disgrace on our country’s moral and political standing...." Yes yes, I understand, but what specifically?

The "casual trashing of habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions..." But sir! The 1949 Geneva Convention excludes unlawful combatants from its provisions -- specifically by Article 4, A, 2, b & d. As for habeas corpus, its contingencies under our new and untried conditions had to await the clarification of the sagacious Justices who grace the Supreme Court. Do you suppose the adjective "casual" is entirely appropriate? Is the gerund "trashing" a scrupulously accurate description?

The "claim of authority to seize suspects, including American citizens, and imprison them indefinitely and incommunicado, with no right to due process of law..." But don't you suppose that might fall under established practice when dealing with spies, saboteurs, terrorists and unlawful combatants during time of war?

The "outright encouragement of 'cruel,' 'inhuman,' and 'degrading' treatment of prisoners; the use of undoubted torture, including waterboarding (Cheney: 'a no-brainer for me'), which for a century the United States had prosecuted as a war crime..." Hmm. If that is true, it certainly would be serious. But when I have reviewed reports of normative US procedures, I personally have seen nothing I could possibly characterize as "cruel" or "inhuman" or even "degrading." Might we be using different criteria? Because there is a way of looking at things that might call the harshness of life cruel and inhuman and degrading. Why do loved ones have to die? That's so cruel. Why do earthquakes upset our lives? That's so inhuman. Why do we have to labor for our bread? Toiling and grubbing after money -- it's so degrading. Or did you mean something else, like, say, cutting the flesh off the living bone, or having rape-rooms, or sawing off heads for the video camera? Isn't it funny, how some people call fear and discomfort torture, while others call feeding people into industrial plastic shredders torture. Words are such funny things.

And, "of course, the bloody, nightmarish Iraq war itself, launched under false pretenses, conducted with stupefying incompetence, and escalated long after public support for it had evaporated, at the cost of scores of thousands of lives, nearly half a trillion dollars, and the crippling of America’s armed forces, which no longer overawe and will take years to rebuild." Well, now, just hold it a minute right there, sir. I'm afraid I just have to disagree with you, is all. First, no war that was not "bloody" and "nightmarish" springs to mind. Sort of a package deal, eh?

As for "false pretenses" (is there such a thing as a true pretense?) -- you must be referring to WMD. You do know that the majority of intelligence agencies throughout the world concurred on the existence of such weapons? You know that, right? In any case, that was just one of several handfuls of reasons presented for the war. You do remember those speeches, right? Collen Powell's, and Condie Rice's, and George Bush's? -- and the UN resolutions ... was it 17 in all? It might have had something to do with 12 years of daily violations of the cease fire treaty, as when Saddam's artillery fired on our planes. Or the refusal to allow UN inspectors to inspect. And suchlike stuff. A bunch. I forget.

As for "stupefying incompetence" -- I refer you to the Vietnam War, and before that, to the Korean War, and prior to that, WW II, and before that, WW I, and earlier, the Civil War, and the War of 1812, and the War of Independence. These were really, really incompetent. Weren't they? If you say otherwise, we'll just have to disagree on the basic matter of fact, and there's no excuse for that. I would simply urge you to inform yourself more fully on the issue. Wars, you see, are the product of diplomatic failure, and so we might expect them to reflect the incompetence of the uncertain human condition. I know, that's sort of philosophical. I would urge you to consider the possibility that competent people can fail. Not that we have failed. Yet. As we would if, say, we left before we won. Like you want us to. Apparently. Or is that cheap of me, and unfair?

As for "escalating" -- whatever that means, in a war -- "long after public support" has "evaporated," well, here we just have a fundamental disagreement. Public policy is not conducted by poll. The measure of the issue is taken by its merits, not by vacillations of public mood. Mobs are notable most for their madness. If public opinion decided such issues as war and whether they should be continued, we would still have slavery in this country. Or rather, the Confederate States of America, a foreign nation, would still have slavery. Leaders, once elected, are expected to act with resolve. They can be removed precipitously from office if they become entirely odious. Their policies and party can be punished and repudiated in the general election. Why, we just had one not so very many months ago. The party was punished; the policy was not repudiated. Hmm.

As for the high cost of war, in lives and treasure -- did you think it would be easy and cheap, when you first supported it, as you did, along with 90% of Americans? Do you think only cheap victories are worth winning? Do you imagine that wars can be something other than ugly and dangerous? But that wouldn't be true of you. If it were, it would mean you are incompetent, or foolish, or malign. What kind of a person would call another person such horrible things when it wasn't true? Someone would have to be pretty rotten to do that, don't you agree?

Well, you suppose Cheney's pushing for lower taxes "for the very rich," and his hatred for the environment (my succinct paraphrase), and his wish for conservative judges (imagine!) -- well, these things make Cheney just, just "invariably baleful". Huh. Y'know, I think you must be right. From a certain very clear ideological position, all of this must certainly seem evil and horrific. That position would be on the very far Left of the political spectrum. Sort of the abortionist, gay marriage, heroin addict, save the planet and screw the humans, God is dead and always has been, Arabs are better than Jews, America is always wrong position. Well. That explains so much. Sorry to have wasted your time.

But I haven't wasted my time. I have an opinion now.


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