Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cheney 2012: Doubling down on dumb

The utter desperation of the Republican Party in its search for leadership, its comically exasperated hunt for a message that resonates with the American people, has gotten to the point where a leading editorial voice on behalf of the GOP has embraced the symbol of its recent past on a march to an uncertain future.

The Wall Street Journal, Republican talking-points transmitter Alex Castellanos and others in the hierarchy of conservative thought leaders are floating a name for the next presidential election, a known quantity, a man with proven take-charge experience inside the White House:

Dick Cheney 2012.

It's unclear whether James Taranto (the Journal op-ed writer who lofted this trial dirigible into the air) Castellanos or any of the conservatives backing the idea have had their urine tested for the presence of drugs (other than the power and fear they’ve been addicted to forever). Otherwise, it’s hard to explain how a party bereft of any new ideas could possibly hitch its wagon to someone equally bereft of new thinking — a man whose very résumé indicates someone who wants nothing to do with new thinking.

Dick Cheney 2012. While that’s not a typo, it is clearly a hallucination.

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Taranto was game in his defense of the idea in his Aug. 31 column. The bulk of his reasoning is predicated on the war in Afghanistan going badly, or worse, for the Obama administration — one of the two wars President Obama inherited from Cheney and the previous administration. Taranto’s reasoning, if the word “reasoning” can be applied here, is that, in a time of national peril (or some facsimile thereof), Americans will want a steady hand at the tiller.

“Republicans would be wise to nominate someone with both toughness and experience,” Taranto reasons. “Under such circumstances, it’s hard to think of a better candidate — assuming, of course, that he could be persuaded to run — than Richard B. Cheney.”

But as we’ll discover parsing Taranto’s proposal, there’s a fundamental death wish for American national security built in to his very premise. It's not enough that Cheney might have a chance to succeed on his own merits, Taranto’s argument suggests; Obama must fail, and fail spectacularly on the global stage, for Cheney to gain any traction, much less credibility, as a viable candidate for 2012.

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Taranto says:

“If the Bush administration's policies really did keep us safe for 7½ years, then it stands to reason that the Obama administration's policies may be endangering us now. Certainly that is how the public would see it in the event of another terrorist attack.

“If that happens, heaven forbid, Obama will be seen to have failed in the most basic presidential duty, and the Bush administration will be vindicated.”

Castellanos told The Huffington Post that “if the agenda turns to security, Obama is mired in a no-win mess in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration hasn't created a single job in four years after indebting the nation for generations, maybe Dick Cheney could run on a theme of ‘Change’.”

Note the wistful uses of the word “if,” that conditional conjunction the size of Mount Rushmore. It’s obvious that the Taranto and Castellanos scenarios require the horror of another terrorist attack on the United States to have any credence. That’s a deeply cynical premise on which to base a campaign.

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It’s the height of wacko conjecture to assume that Bush administration policy did “keep us safe for 7½ years.” Taranto clearly subscribes to the bedrock conservative talking point — the assumption that, because nothing happened domestically for 7½ years, that fact alone legitimizes the criminal liberties taken by the Bushies with the U.S. Constitution, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

It’s even more ridiculous to suggest that “the Bush administration will be vindicated” in the event of another terrorist event on these shores. It’s true, such an event would have some impact on Obama’s domestic political standing. But the broad cross-section of the American people — the same people who elected Obama president — are intelligent enough to see how such tragedies as 9/11 are proof of a process, and not an event.

Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still the property of the Bush administration, any terrorism in the United States occurring between now and 2012 is likely to have its true genesis as a result of Bush-era policies, not the policies of outreach and tolerance the Obama administration has advanced from the beginning.

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Taranto’s calculus fails when you look at Cheney’s real breadth of political experience, the kind of experience Americans will look for in a candidate. While Cheney may be the one to beat on matters of national security, he’s lacking on ideas and initiatives related to the domestic economy, the housing crisis, immigration, the environment and other pressing issues. Dick Cheney’s a one-trick pony, and you can’t outsource a vision of domestic leadership.

Consider what Cheney would bring to the table demographically — or more accurately, what he can’t bring to the table. With Cheney as the GOP standard-bearer, the Republicans would again be chaining themselves to the fortunes of yet another older white male candidate, exactly the wrong kind of person you’d want in an increasingly ethnically diverse nation.

"The Republican Party today consists of people who are conservative, religious, white and predominantly male," Stephen Wayne, a political science professor at Georgetown University, told HuffPost. “And, you know, if those are the only people who participate and you don't have a lot of other very conservative candidates it is conceivable Cheney could win the Republican nomination. But I don't think it is likely.”

Then there’s the matter of “baggage,” the errant facts of the candidate’s life before the campaign, the errors and peccadilloes that often arise to trip up a candidate at the worst possible time.

What to make of a candidate who, as the former vice president, was the architect or enabler of unlawful policies within the White House? Who besides the loyalists and dead-enders within his own party would vote for him? The word “baggage” scarcely suffices to describe the railroad car’s worth of missteps Cheney’d have to answer for in the heat of a presidential campaign.

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And Taranto leaves largely unsaid another matter, one that’s in some ways the most important. Cheney’s busy writing his memoirs, which some see as the first step to making a bid for the presidency. That might suggest he’s got the fire in the belly; a fire in the heart is another matter entirely.

Americans don’t bestow the presidency on a candidate, not Dick Cheney or anyone else. You have to earn it, and the way the American presidency is earned is through the relentless, rough & tumble physicality of the campaign trail.

It’s an arduous slog that’s been a challenge for men nearly half his age and in more robust physical condition. For a former vice president with four previous heart attacks (the first at age 37), a profoundly overweight sexagenarian with a quadruple bypass, a history of deep-vein thrombosis, atrial fibrillation and a pacemaker implanted in his chest, the presidential campaign trail could be a fatal undertaking.

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It could be that Taranto’s not really serious about Cheney in 2012. It’s just possible that this is a rhetorical stalking horse to draw out other, more credible, more physically sturdy candidates.

We can only hope. The desperation shown by the birthers, the deathers, the Tea Bag crew and others on the conservative fringe suggests a political party almost willfully short-circuiting its chances at legitimacy. They’ve got to do something.

But not this. Taranto’s viewpoint, while provocative, is not the way forward for the GOP. To even float the name of a politically one-dimensional, physically enfeebled man who would be just short of 72 years old if he took office on Jan. 20, 2013, is a sign of political frustration that speaks volumes about the Republican Party today.

We can only hope the party that would no doubt be ready to eat its young in order to win back the White House won’t square its desperation this way — by looking through the rear-view mirror to navigate the road ahead.
Image credits: Cheney: Original source unknown; accessed via The Huffington Post. Choppers in Afghanistan: Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez, CJTF-101 Public Affairs (public domain). Human heart diagram:

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