What's Eating Dick Cheney?

Sinking ships must loose big lips

The vice president supports torture. He hides out in bunkers. He conspires with big oil to deceive the Congress. His chief of staff has been indicted for covering up that office's role in outing a CIA officer to the media as political revenge. He bought sci-fi Iraq intelligence from whoever was selling. He obstructed a Senate Intelligence investigation of pre-war intelligence.

So naturally, deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove is trotting him out to give a speech accusing Democrats and war critics (now two thirds of the population of the United States) of being "dishonest," "reprehensible," "irresponsible" "opportunists". Repeatedly. Yawn.

"The suggestion that's been made by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city,” Cheney told the ultra-conservative Frontiers of Freedom Institute in the speech Wednesday.

But despite the newest assault on their patriotism, Democrats may find that Cheney is the best thing that ever happened to them. After all, Cheney’s recent ratings (36 percent approval, 56 percent disapproval according to one recent poll) are so low, and he is so closely associated with such key issues bothering voters--high gas prices, the perception that big oil companies are gouging consumers, the Iraq war, and the sense that the White House is not honest--that Dems might want Cheney to speak more and Republicans prefer he beeline for the nearest bunker.

Only in Cheney's Anbar province--his home state of Wyoming and the neighboring Utah--does his approval rating break 50 percent, and in almost three dozen states, it's in the twenties and thirties. And not just in the liberal blue coasts. He’s in the twenties and thirties in such solidly red bastions as Kansas, the Dakotas, Montana, Alaska, as well as in prominent swing states like Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. After governors’ races earlier this month that delivered Democratic key victories in bellwether swing state Virginia and in New Jersey, Cheney may be the closest thing to free advertising the Democrats have. As moderate Republican representative Tom Davis of purple northern Virginia told the Washington Post Thursday, "I think the vice president and the president both right now probably are not helpful in a lot of marginal congressional seats."

Davis appears to be on the money, and then some. Citizens told pollsters they are more inclined to vote for the candidate running against the guy Bush campaigns for, by a margin of 56 percent to 34 percent. Cheney’s extremely low marks on personal integrity and honesty suggest he only amplifies that alienation.

All of which, coupled with the indictment of Scooter Libby in the Plame leak case, has contributed the growing strength and aggressiveness of Senate Democrats, demonstrated by Senate minority leader Harry Reid's dramatic move to take the Senate into closed session earlier this month to demand the Senate Intelligence committee jumpstart a long-stalled investigation into the administration's use of pre-war Iraq intelligence--a probe Cheney's office in particular is reported to have been dragging its feet on cooperating with.

Of course, Cheney has always been somewhat of a rock star among the ultra-conservative Republican base and a more polarizing figure to independents and moderates, and his being trotted out now is not designed to win over moderates but to shore up the sagging morale of the extremist base.  

So it’s worth noting that the political threat coming at the White House and Cheney of late is not just from the Democrats on the left, but from inside the GOP, and in particular from the figure of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a 2008 presidential hopeful. And what issue is McCain most out front on now, including on the cover of the current issue of Newsweek? Torture, and the fact that Cheney wants the CIA exempted from a measure proposed by McCain himself that would issue guidelines for the treatment of detainees. An amendment to a defense bill, it passed 90 to 10 in the Senate, and its fate is being decided now in conference between the Senate and the House.

But with 68 percent of the public expressing the sense that the country is headed in the wrong direction, not just Democrats and independents but plenty of Republicans are feeling crappy about the state of the nation under this presidency. If you’re one of that 68 percent, who’s going to appeal to you? The war hero McCain talking about how torture hurts this country's image and the important work it's trying to do in Iraq? Or the guys trying to advocate for the torture exemption and whining about the war critics and sounding defensive and suspect about the Fitzgerald investigation and the Senate intelligence investigation?

In a fundamental way, if the last rationale the Bush administration can stand on for being in Iraq is that the U.S. is doing something noble by bringing democracy to the Middle East, then being so visibly for torture just kills them. It just collapses the entire narrative. Most people just can't hold that contradiction in their heads. Especially with a patriotic war hero on TV explaining why torture is bad for U.S. national security and prestige, and for U.S. troops who might be captured by the enemy, like he was. Especially when that figure has none of the Katrina/Fitzgerald/Rove/Miers/torture/Iraq/Cheney/Rumsfeld baggage that Bush does, and when they think to themselves, wouldn't it be great if this guy was commander in chief, instead of these guys? Frankly, politics being politics, it seems it's only a matter of time before plenty of the Republican elite and its publications abandon this sinking ship, its failed Iraq non-strategy and its troubled ethics, and exude open enthusiasm for a more hopeful, positive alternative.

Which could explain what’s eating Dick Cheney.

 
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