Pat Buchanan is one of our favorite people and is certainly a source of inspiration for many of our readers.  However, in a recent column entitled “Obama Avoids the Crocodile,” he defends Barack Obama’s decision not to release the horrendous Abu Ghraib photos (some of which show rapes of prisoners by American and Iraqi soldiers) and cites none other than Dick Cheney as the victor in a battle against wishy-washy liberals who want an investigation into the torture chambers of the Bush era.  “Whatever one may think of Dick Cheney,” Pat avers, “about him it must be said: He is not ashamed of his record.  He does not apologize for it.  He is willing to go out and defend it in the arena.”  Well, yes, but to what effect?  Here, after all, is a former vice president who left office with a 13-percent approval rating.  Republicans are horrified by his increased visibility, and the dueling speeches of late May, in which both Cheney and the President presented their views on national security and torture, were another victory for the Democrats, who would like nothing better than to see the Old Crocodile as the post-election symbol of the GOP.

The idea that “Cheney is winning” the debate is ludicrous: Is there a more unpopular figure in American politics?  Even Rod Blagojevich seems to evoke a more sympathetic public response.  After all, Rod is about corruption, greed, and ambition, vices Americans can identify with and, if not forgive, at least understand.  Cheney embodies darker impulses and defends behavior that is brazenly immoral and downright creepy: torture, bloodlust, and outright sadism.  As decadent as the American people have become, these are vices most have not yet learned to enjoy, not even vicariously.

The headline on a Washington Post piece aptly summarized the situation: “As Cheney Seizes Spotlight, Many in GOP Wince.”  And they are doing a lot more than wincing: They are talking, albeit anonymously, and the reviews are not good.  “His high-profile defense of controversial Bush administration policies has caused queasiness among Republican political strategists,” the Post reports.

“The fact that most people want to talk [without attribution] shows what a problem it continues to be,” said one Republican strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid.  “Cheney continues to be a force among many members of our base, and while he is entirely unhelpful, no one has the standing to show him the door.”


The post-election prominence of Cheney is owing, not to his eloquence, which is largely absent, but to the near-total leadership vacuum in the Republican Party.  Amid the ruins of a defeated and demoralized GOP, the kind of certitude exhibited by the former vice president occurs nowhere else in the Republican milieu, outside of talk radio.  This is why he appeals to elements of the party’s base—but that base is rapidly shrinking.  And Cheney’s particular brand of certitude is the major reason for the shrinkage.

Buchanan is right about one thing, however: The liberals are disappointed that Obama is turning into Bush-Cheney-lite on questions of war, torture, and civil liberties.  Unlike us paleocons, they are actually surprised that their idol has seemingly abandoned them.  “On war and torture, at least,” writes Pat, “they thought he was one of them.  He is not.  Barack is not into ideology.  He is into Barack.”  All too true.  For all the highfalutin moral posturing and soaring rhetoric, our President is an opportunist of the first order, a born politician whose instincts militate against taking any unnecessary risks—and certainly not on account of any deeply held moral principle.  In the name of “change,” our foreign policy of perpetual war continues unabated, preventive detention of prisoners is being given the imprimatur of “law,” and the massive surveillance of the American people goes on as before.  “The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit,” said Jack Goldsmith, Bush’s former head of the Office of Legal Counsel.  “Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric.”

Obama’s abandonment of these key—and very emotional—issues is going to alienate his own base and project an image of indecision and weakness.  This is why opportunism of the sort exhibited in his first hundred days is a mistake, not only morally but in terms of practical politics.  Buchanan is right that Cheney’s clarity on the issues, and his uncompromising stance, are attractive to a certain extent, regardless of the content of his views.  But this kind of appeal can only go so far: Liz Cheney, his daughter and a former State Department official, told the Post,

This isn’t about partisan politics, it’s about what’s right for the country.  Every American, whether you’re a Republican, Democrat or independent, would agree that before critical decisions are made about national security of the nation, we ought to have a full and fair debate.


Say, but didn’t we have this debate during the last election, in which Che-ney and his sidekick were pretty decisively repudiated?  It’s time for the former vice president to go back to his undisclosed location and write his memoirs—although he probably doesn’t dare, out of a quite justifiable fear of prosecution.  Which, by the way, is what his recent bout of logorrhea is really about.