Politics & Policy

D**K Cheney, Demonization, a Major Pet Peeve, and More

I know we’re all supposed to be talking about John Edwards now, but could we go back to Vice President Cheney and Patrick Leahy for just a second?

I mean, do you know Pat Leahy? I’m just kidding, but only sort of. Three years ago, I did a piece on Senator Leahy, when he became chairman of the Judiciary Committee. It is a consensus–certainly among Republicans–that he is the nastiest man in the Senate. Many Republicans would rather be locked in a freezer with Ted Kennedy or Chris Dodd than have a pleasant handshake in a cool garden with Pat Leahy.

Not that this justifies the F-word–or does it? I like one thing Cheney said after the incident: He said (roughly), There’s this tradition of bonhomie in Washington, that, no matter what we say publicly, we’re still friends, we’re still cordial.

But this tradition can be too much to bear. Leahy says, approximately, “Men and women are dying in Iraq so that Cheney’s Big Oil pals can benefit”–and then, when the vice president shows up for a photo, Leahy tries to be all nicey-nice.

That was what Cheney was protesting against, and I’m not sure that was so bad–a false bonhomie, a feeling that words and charges, really, don’t mean anything.

Well, they should.

I’m all for etiquette (usually), but I believe that swearing has its place. It may have to do with the fact that I grew up around Coleman Young, Detroit’s mayor-for-life (well, not quite life, as it turned out). He cussed a blue streak. His usual target was white people (“interlopers,” Al Sharpton might say). He said, once, that nothing could be so effective as “a well-chosen curse word.” I’ve never forgotten that phrase.

Plus, cursing can have an invigorating effect, if people will let it. Do you recall 1980 when, on hearing that Ted Kennedy would challenge him for the Democratic nomination, President Carter said, “I’ll whip his a**”? That phrase leaked out–and cheered up the Carter troops. In fact, I believe that Carter later remarked that the mood in the White House hadn’t been so good “since the Willie Nelson concert.”

And then there’s a story you’ve heard me tell before: It was leaked that Secretary of State Al Haig had referred to his British counterpart as a “duplicitous bastard.” (This was during the Falklands War.) Confronted with this, Haig–famous for his verbal density–said, “It couldn’t have been me–it’s much too clear.”

Anyway, I don’t mind much what Cheney said, and not just because I like him, and share his politics. I think it’s a shame that his smackdown of Leahy didn’t have a galvanizing effect (on the Repubs). But maybe it has, and I don’t know about it. Certainly the Adam Clymer business in 2000 had a galvanizing effect.

You remember, right? Bush–privately (but caught by a microphone)–referred to this New York Times reporter as “a major-league a**hole.” Cheney responded, “Big-time”–thus earning his nickname (Big Time).

Bush 41, too, had been caught by a microphone–after the 1984 vice-presidential debate. You recall, right? “We kicked a little a** last night.”

And he had, too, lemme tell you–boom mike or not.

‐It’s amazing the extent to which Cheney has been demonized–I mean, become a bogey in Democratic eyes. Some people who have known and worked with Cheney a long time were marveling at this the other day. Cheney was always considered wise, measured, judicious, moderate (certainly in temperament), non-ideological. He was not obviously a candidate for Democratic and worldwide hatred.

But, in some circles, he has become the epitome of wild-eyed, reckless right-wingery. I mean, me, for example, I could understand–but Dick Cheney?

Such is the tenor of the times.

I give you Item No. 2 on David Letterman’s recent top-ten list of Things Overheard at Saddam Hussein’s Court Appearance: “Saddam is the most evil man the world has ever known–not counting Dick Cheney”!

Also, let me say that I was just with a large convocation of left-liberals, and they think of George W. Bush as a flaming, hardcore right-winger. I had to break it to them: Many of my friends–and perhaps I–would say, “I wish!”

‐Another word about presumptions and images: An article in a recent National Journal is titled “Free-Market Cheerleader”–and it is about Michael Powell, head of the FCC. Says the blurb in the table of contents, “Michael Powell’s free-market cheerleading and self-assured approach mesh well with President Bush’s views. . . . Powell has resolutely stuck to the idea that regulating as little as possible is the key to overseeing the vast telecommunications industry . . . Powell says his primary goal is to promote competition and innovation, and he says the free market is proving his critics wrong.”

Why do I bring this up? Ho-hum stuff, right? Well, it’s just that a lot of liberal Democratic critics–and libertarian ones–portray Michael Powell as some awful Puritan, out to muzzle Howard Stern and perhaps the Dixie Chicks, too. Like John Ashcroft, he is portrayed as the reincarnation of A. Mitchell Palmer or Anthony Comstock or someone. He’s supposed to be 1984 guy, this free-marketeer.

Weird how certain beliefs and prejudices get started.

‐While I’m on the subject of the table of contents of National Journal (didn’t know it could be so fruitful, did you?): A nugget describing Jonathan Rauch’s column says, “John F. Kerry should take a page from John F. Kennedy’s 1960 playbook and run as a hard-liner on national security issues.”

And this brings up probably my biggest pet peeve of all time, political-campaign division: No he shouldn’t. No, Kerry shouldn’t. He should campaign on whatever it is he believes. No pretending. He should say what he thinks, how he would govern, and let the electoral chips fall where they may.

This is what I can’t stand about Democratic candidates, chiefly. They won’t run Honest Injun; they get all artful and calculating and masking. They spend months trying to fool the booboisie, so as to get in and then be themselves.

You won’t have this problem with George W. Bush. He can’t be other than himself. He couldn’t be obscure if he tried. Sure, he’s a politician, and not without some political artfulness–but, pretty much, what you see is what you get. No surprises. Take ‘im or leave ‘im.

Advice like Jonathan Rauch’s makes me sick to my stomach, and sours me on the American political system. John Kerry is a Massachusetts liberal who hated Reagan, hated the hawks, and who said–you know this is my favorite quote–that the Grenada invasion “represented a bully’s show of force against a weak Third World nation.”

Let Reagan be Reagan, Let Poland be Poland, Let Kerry be Kerry, Let Rauch be Rauch . . .

My prayer, for this political year, is what it always is: that the candidates will just run honestly, and allow the voters to decide. That’s what I would do. I swear. (Not that I’m gettin’ elected to anything, believe me.)

‐The other day, I was toting up for someone the places I’ve lived in: Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cambridge, Mass., Georgetown, D.C.; and the Upper West Side of Manhattan. (Somehow I’ve missed Madison, Wis., and Berkeley, Calif.)

So, you see? The republic’s safe from me!

‐There’s an article I’d like to share with you, published in the New York Sun. Titled “Senator Kerry’s Europe“, it is by a rabbi, Aryeh Spero, and it is mainly about France and its anti-Semitism. This is a chilling and alarming article–perhaps a little overwrought, but who I am to say? If these tales are true–tales of Muslims setting on Jews, to general indifference, in a series of Kitty Genoveses–then we have a sorry situation, indeed. No wonder so many French Jews are hieing it to Israel.

Also, at the left-liberal convocation that I mentioned above, a longtime (American) journalist in France said that, in 25 years, he had never–never–seen any anti-Americanism whatsoever. Disagreement with various policies, perhaps, but . . .

Well, I shall address this “in future,” as our British friends say.

‐You’ve noticed, perhaps, a trend toward Communist nostalgia? Perfuming the terrible past? Well, at this too-much-mentioned “left-liberal convocation,” a man insisted that the Russian elderly were much worse off, materially, today than under Communism. Needless to say–or perhaps not so needless to say–material deprivation in the Soviet Union was tremendous, along with every other kind of deprivation. But it was largely hidden from the West (in part because our reporters were none too curious, too intent on presenting the Soviet Union as inoffensive and unthreatening).

Anyway, what I really want to do is call your attention to this extraordinary article in The (London) Spectator, by Matthew Parris. (Its title: “In St Petersburg I glimpsed the hope and decency of Soviet communism.”) Though it issues some disclaimers toward the end, the piece is jaw-dropping, and sinister. Try an old exercise: and imagine an equivalent article being written about Nazism.

I don’t believe Communism is dead, ladies and gentlemen. I’m afraid it’s just resting–waiting to suck people in one more time, and one more time after that.

Of course, for the people of North Korea, Cuba, and–yes–China, Communism is all too present, a daily concern.

‐Okay, now to some fun stuff. It’s been a long time since I quoted my quotable little niece. I’ve been very good. According to my archive–I just looked it up–it’s been two years, almost to the day. (For the previous instance, see this column.)

Anyway, here she is, last week:

My Sister: Come here for a sec, would you? Uncle Jay’s going to be on television.

My Niece: Wow! I didn’t know real people could be on television.

Well, some people would dispute that (that real people can be on television).

All right, and how about this, from a cousin? This mid-teenager is in France, for a month’s stay. When he got there, he said to his father, via cellphone, “Dad, you don’t know how much French I don’t know.”

But that’s not the delicious part: He arrives at the airport and stands in the wrong customs line. He’s in the line for those having something to declare. The customs official says, “So, you have something to declare?” The boy looks puzzled. The guy, more frustrated, says, “Do you have something to declare–a statement?” The boy thinks quickly, suspecting a trick, and says, “Long live France!”

See you, dear hearts.


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