The Republican Party is a lot like the American auto industry these days. It’s in shambles, but something has got to survive.
The problem is that Dick Cheney, who seemingly has granted more interviews in the last eight weeks than he did in the previous eight years, is obscuring this rebuilding effort.
The former vice president’s message may be worth hearing. But Cheney is viewed so negatively that the messenger is crowding out the message. Some of Cheney’s critics seem to loathe him more than they do Osama bin Laden.
What does Cheney want? Some speculate he’s trying to polish his and George W. Bush’s legacy before it gets burned into history, especially the part about interrogation and intelligence gathering.
Cheney’s stated motive is that he is speaking out now because he is deeply worried that President Obama is replacing Bush administration policies with those that will make the country less safe.
That’s a debate worth having.
Obama last week changed his mind and decided not to release hundreds of photos of prisoner treatment in Afghanistan and Iraq after U.S. military leaders said they feared it would endanger U.S. troops.
In stark contrast to the Bush’s deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas retreat, Cheney has been highly visible and highly critical of the new administration.
If he were an automobile, he’d be the kind they had back in the 1970s when the U.S. auto industry was king, when the Japanese were a minor threat, and the Russians were building fall-apart death trap vehicles behind the Iron Curtain.
The Cheney Charger makes no apologies for the rubber it lays or the dust it leaves. It doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but if you need to run into or over something to protect yourself, that’s the showroom you’d be in.
Liberal columnists believe this Cheney is crazy-dangerous. Comedians see a big target.
At the recent star-studded White House Correspondents’ Dinner – the Oscars for the bicoastal “Pollywood” set – comedian Wanda Sykes proclaimed: “He’s a scary man, scares me to death. I tell my kids . . . ‘If two cars pull up and one has a stranger and the other car has Dick Cheney . . . you get in the car with the stranger.’ ”
Democrats delight in making Cheney a face of the GOP’s shambled state, and the vice president keeps giving them YouTube moments.
Just last weekend, Cheney was on CBS’ “Face the Nation” explaining why he had been so visible.
“If I don’t speak out,” Cheney said, “then the critics have free run, and there isn’t anybody on the other side to tell the truth.”
So what if Cheney is right? What if, as he says, the tactics the Bush administration used to extract information from suspected terrorists saved hundreds of thousands of American lives?
A former FBI interrogator who questioned terrorist suspects testified this week at a Senate hearing that extreme techniques were unreliable and counter-productive.
Cheney says unreleased CIA memos would back up his claim. Let’s see them.
His critics point to already released CIA memos that say there is no way of knowing whether the same information couldn’t have been gotten with milder tactics. But what if they are wrong?
What if, heaven forbid, terrorists pull off another mass-casualty attack on an American city? Who gets the blame?
Will it be the Bush-Cheney crowd for fuzzying the definition of torture and engaging in waterboarding and other interrogation methods that may or may not have been legal, thereby incubating more anti-Americanism in the jihadist sphere?
Or will it be the Obama crowd for peeling back those policies and leaving the public impression that detention got easier for anyone caught trying to do mass-scale harm?
No matter what you think of Dick Cheney, you can’t say he hasn’t warned you.
Chuck Raasch is political editor for Gannett News Service. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Get more behind-the-scenes reports, context and analysis about politicians and the political process in Raasch’s Furthermore blog. Look for it here.