I don't know how else to interpret his obviously self-destructive grandstanding this weekend. But think of the long view for a moment. 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.
What character does this reveal? The same character that sees torture - torture - as a "no-brainer". The same man who believes that freezing naked prisoners to hypothermia or strapping them to a board for a 175th near-drowning or stringing them up in stress positions so long the shackles rust up is in line with America's constitutional history and custom. The same tyrannical temperament that cannot abide another reality existing which isn't hammered or tortured into the shape he wants and demands.
Worse: he launches verbal assault after assault on the men and women who succeeded him. He accuses them of risking the lives of Americans, of making America less safe, and openly brags that his violation of the Geneva Conventions worked. Not content with writing his memoirs and letting history judge, he flails around like some prize fish, flapping on the deck of the boat, opening and shutting his mouth as his career expires.
And as history slowly accepts that this man disgraced his office more profoundly than any before him, as it sinks in that this man did not merely make mistakes, as all flawed politicians do, but committed war crimes, with pre-meditation and elaborate subterfuge, he slowly realizes what's happening to him. He can feel it. And so he resists the way he always resists - by lashing out, attacking, smearing, snearing, and grabbing every inch of the limelight he can.
Those of us who want him to face real accountability should, of course, welcome all this. Cheney does not seem to understand that he is incriminating himself further with every interview, every time he adjusts his story, every time he moves from torture as a "no-brainer" to a "last resort", every time he assaults yet another person who knows too much about him and what he did.
But does Cheney really believe that in a battle for the judgment of the American people, and for history, he will win a brawl with Colin Powell, with a man who is actually on record early on warning of the dire consequences of weakening or abandoning the Geneva Conventions?
Cheney wants a war with him? Now? Judged in the theater of public opinion - outside the Hannity-Limbaugh-Coulter ghetto?
They really do want to commit suicide, don't they? Well, I'm not in a rush to stop them.
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty.)