The Irrelevant Dick Cheney

Andrew on Cheney:

Here is a former vice-president, who enjoyed unprecedented power for eight long, long years. No veep ever wielded power like he did in the long history of American government. In the months after 9/11, he swept all Congressional resistance away, exerted total executive power, wielded a military and paramilitary apparatus far mightier than all its rivals combined and mightier than any power in history, tapped any phone he wanted, claimed the right to torture any suspect he wanted (and followed through with thousands, from Bagram to Abu Ghraib) and was able to print and borrow money with impunity to finance all of it without a worry in the world. But even after all that, he cannot tolerate a few months of someone else, duly elected, having a chance to govern the country with a decent interval of grace.

There's obviously part of me that wants to see a guy like Dick Cheney brought to justice. But there's another part that sees a justice in his post-VP life. Cheney was once asked about public opinion and polls. Cheney responded that he didn't care. He was lying. I haven't meant a single human being who didn't care what other people thought of him. I don't think Cheney's a sociopath--I think he's a megalomaniac.

Moreover, Dick Cheney is/was a politician--a hard job, at any level, for someone who doesn't care about polls to occupy. He is now one of the most hated political figures in Washington. His personal poll numbers are shockingly low--only 19 percent of all Americans, and only 50 percent of Republicans view him favorably. Think about that. Even among his own party, Cheney--hardcore conservative--isn't exactly a unifying figure.

Were one to accept Cheney's notion that he really doesn't care about polls, perhaps this wouldn't matter. In fact, since the nadir of the Bush-era, Cheney has repeatedly tried to re-inject himself into the public dialogue. The last thing John McCain, running in a general election, needed was a Cheney endorsement. And yet there it was unprompted. And since Obama's entered into the White House, the ex-VP has been going to the public via the press. People who don't care, don't spend their days making their case to the very people who they don't care about.

Something deeper is at work--a need to matter, a need to be understood, a need to cleansed, a need for the people to know that he did it all for them. He's not going to get that. Barack Obama barely acknowledges the guy. And every time Cheney steps in front of camera to wash his laundry, it seems like the opposite happens.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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