No Comment — May 26, 2009, 11:36 am

Cheney Prepares the Twinkie Defense

Why, after spending eight years as both the most powerful and most reclusive vice president in White House history, has Dick Cheney suddenly fallen in love with the media? There are two plausible answers. First, the innocent one. As the New York Times reports, Cheney is having a hard time finding a publishing house willing to offer the advance he wants for his book. He’s never going to match Bill Clinton’s $15 million, but Cheney is doing just what he needs to do to put his $2 million plus advance target in view.

But his primary motive may be a bit darker. Liz Cheney spilled the beans in her own inimitable way in a couple of cable news appearances last week. Her father is out giving speeches because he’s afraid that the growing pressure for an inquiry over torture will ultimately lead to the appointment of a special prosecutor. Here’s how Liz Cheney worded it in an appearance on CNN:

I don’t think he planned to be doing this, you know, when they left office in January. But I think, as it became clear that President Obama was not only going to be stopping some of these policies… that he was suggesting that perhaps we would even be prosecuting former members of the Bush administration.

Only Dick Cheney knows how prominent his role was in the conspiracy that resulted in the introduction of torture as a matter of routine practice, but his conduct so far suggests that his role was defining. His recent speeches suggest that he is preparing a variation on the famous “Twinkie defense” used by Dan White to evade punishment for the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk in his trial back in 1979. White argued that eating junk food caused violent mood swings, diminishing his capacity for rational thought. And a wacky liberal San Francisco jury fell for it.

If Cheney is preparing his own version of the “Twinkie defense,” the speech he delivered at AEI this past week could provide evidence of his altered mental state. Consider these contradictions delivered in the course of his speech, with no apparent recognition of their delusional nature.

  • Cheney insists on the importance of support for the president in the handling of national security dilemmas and complains about the criticism that Democrats leveled at some of his policy choices. But the thrust of his own speech is a vigorous attack on the policy choices of the current government. He doesn’t appreciate the latent contradiction in his words.

  • His speech rests on a series of false alternatives, a “no compromise” line which echoes in rhetorical terms (though not in substance) Barry Goldwater’s acceptance speech. The alternative he presents is either his way, or coddling of terrorists. Of course, Obama’s policies are marked as much by continuity with the Bush years as by departure, with the issue of torture so far marking the major point of distinction. This alternative of aggressive policies, but not torture, is excised from the list. This suggests that Cheney believes that torture is indeed the very cornerstone of his national security strategy.

  • Cheney insists that the decision to step back from waterboarding and other harsh methods has put the country at risk; that, indeed, has become the tag line for all his recent speeches. Yet the Bush Administration stepped back from the use of waterboarding and the other harshest techniques shortly after the disclosures from Abu Ghraib in 2004. In other words, the decisions that put the country at risk were taken in mid-2004 and continued through half of his term in office. Again, Cheney does not seem to appreciate the contradictions in his own statements.

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  • The events at Abu Ghraib were “disgraces” and violations of “law and decency.” The Bush program was “lawful, skillful and entirely honorable.” But as the report of Lieutenant General Randall Mark Schmidt revealed, the techniques applied at Abu Ghraib and those used at Gitmo were identical, both drawn directly from the Bush program. Just to take a notable example, recall the photograph of Lyndie England holding a prisoner by a dog leash. Schmidt disclosed that this was an accepted technique under the heading of “pride and ego down” called “walking the dog.” The Senate Armed Services Committee’s unanimous report concluded that the Bush program had been introduced at Abu Ghraib with authority of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Cheney pushes ahead with the Wizard of Oz defense long after the curtain has been pulled back.

This far exceeds a simple case of cognitive dissonance. Perhaps it represents something more cynical. Perhaps Dick Cheney, the man who sought five deferments rather than wear his country’s service uniform and fight in Vietnam, is preparing to take a cop-out that only weak-minded liberals will swallow and only the feeble American justice system will entertain. The Twinkies made him do it.

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