The Weirdness of Cheney


A reader reminds me of Joan Didion's peerless dissection of the life, work and personality of the most powerful vice-president America has ever known. I read it a while back. If you haven't read it, here's the link. Money quote:

[Cheney's] every instinct is to withhold information, hide, let surrogates speak for him, as he did after the quail-shooting accident on the Armstrong ranch. His own official spoken remarks so defy syntactical analysis as to suggest that his only intention in speaking is to further obscure what he thinks. Possibly the most well-remembered statement he ever made (after "Big-time") was that he did not serve in the Vietnam War because he had "other priorities."

Bob Woodward, in Plan of Attack, describes an exchange that took place between Cheney and Colin Powell in September 2002, when Cheney was determined that the US not ask the UN for the resolution against Iraq that the Security Council, after much effort by Powell, passed in November:

Powell attempted to summarize the consequences of unilateral action.... He added a new dimension, saying that the international reaction would be so negative that he would have to close American embassies around the world if we went to war alone.

That is not the issue, Cheney said. Saddam and the clear threat is the issue.

Maybe it would not turn out as the vice president thinks, Powell said. War could trigger all kinds of unanticipated and unintended consequences....
Not the issue, Cheney said.

In other words the Vice President had by then passed that point at which going to war was "not about our analysis." He had passed that point at which going to war was not about "finding a preponderance of evidence." At the point he had reached by September 2002, going to war was not even about the consequences. Not the issue, he had said.

Whatever else this is, it is not conservative. It is a kind of blind brutalism. When combined with the unfettered power of the executive he and his acolytes have constructed, it is deeply disturbing.

(Photo: Shawn Thew/AFP/Getty.)