SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Four months after he left office, the media image of Dick Cheney has been amazingly transformed. He’s gone from being a reclusive man of few words to a poster figure for the Republican party. Indeed, Newsweek’s Howard Fineman has taken to talking about the new RNC—the party of Rush, Newt and Cheney—none of them elected officeholders. Of the three, Cheney has the most claim on the gravitas that is associated with the exercise of power. In an essay in the current Nation, Stephen Holmes takes a penetrating look at this contemporary man of power through a discussion of Bart Gellman’s hallmark book, Angler. (I interviewed Gellman about the book here). Thrust onto the public stage, Cheney shows no sign of being the wise statesman who carefully assesses a problem from all sides before pronouncing his judgment. Holmes cites Cheney’s ongoing campaign for the release of a few classified CIA memos as a case in point:
Does he truly believe that in-house memorandums, containing publicly unchallenged and untested allegations, could conclusively prove that harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, produced intelligence that helped disrupt an imminent terror attack? Or is he playing smoke and mirrors, seeding the airwaves with sensational talking points to put his critics on the defensive?
We won’t be able to make a final call on that without having seen the memos and related documents, but there is a touch of desperation about the current operation. In just the last forty-eight hours, for example, Cheney has insisted that he never linked Saddam Hussein to 9/11, and he has placed the blame for 9/11 squarely on the shoulders of Richard Clarke. One contention is squarely contrary to the established record, and the other is a demonstration of amazing chutzpah, coming from an individual who dismissed the terrorist threat as Clarke was pushing for a programmatic response to it.
Gellman’s account, for all its critical insights, is ultimately a very sympathetic one. “Cheney really believes he is acting in the country’s best interests,” Gellman recently insisted to me. Still, much of the brilliance of Angler lies in its quiet, methodical exposure of the contradictions in many of Cheney’s supposedly deeply held beliefs, which seem to shift as the personal interests of Dick Cheney point in another direction. Holmes captures this well:
Gellman’s account of executive branch mendacity raises several intriguing questions. Was Cheney’s devotion to unrestrained executive power, including the right to mislead supposedly coequal branches, partisan or nonpartisan? Is Cheney a man of rigid principles, heedless of political consequences, or an opportunist, embracing and dropping principles as expediency demands? Was his zeal to restore the Imperial Presidency, as it had been fully imagined but incompletely realized by Nixon, an expression of factional loyalty or of constitutional conviction? Did he do it for the sake of Bush and his political goals, or for the sake of the executive branch, present and future?
The idealistic, patriotic Cheney is an increasingly difficult sell. As Cheney becomes a more public person and the weakness or even delusional nature of his thinking is exposed, the assessments are more likely to be those with which Holmes closes:
Lincoln said, optimistically, that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. But a better epitaph for Cheney’s vice presidency comes from Joseph Schumpeter: even if you cannot fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool enough people long enough to do irreversible damage. Whatever hypotheses we entertain or reject about Cheney’s motives and mental states, the consequences of his serial duplicities continue to misshape our world and will not, by any means, be soon repaired.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”