Strakon Lights Up, No. 61

Dick Cheney, boring extremist


The Red Guards of the established media are still getting their ducks in a row in the wake of Dick Cheney's appointment as George the Lesser's running mate, but from the initial quacking I think they're trying to tell us a couple different things at once.

Number one: That darned undependable "mainstream" of American politics has gone and drifted farther to the left again while we weren't looking. I tumbled to that last night when some Democrat shill on the telescreen, in order to paint Cheney as a right-wing extremist, revealed that while in Congress Cheney had voted against establishing the Department of Education!  If you'd been monitoring an Indignation Meter and didn't actually hear the words, you'd have thought Cheney was being accused of trying to re-establish chattel slavery.

Maureen Dowd extends the theme in her New York Times column for today, "A Baby Sitter for Junior," arguing that Cheney's appointment undermines George W.'s attempts to represent himself as a "compassionate conservative." She writes that "in Congress, Mr. Cheney was way, way out there, always willing to pony up money to guerrillas in Nicaragua and Angola but not to poor women whose lives were endangered by their pregnancies." That is, Cheney was "way, way out there" for fighting the Cold War in the exact same way that all Cold Warriors — including Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson — typically fought it for half a century. We must suppose that milquetoast establishmentarian Gerald Ford was "way, way out there," too, in financing anti-Communist guerrillas in Angola when he was president.

According to Dowd, Cheney is just as far "out there" for resisting government subsidies for abortionists. Not too long ago, liberals found it hard to deny that they were upping the ante when they proceeded from recognizing abortion rights to actually subsidizing abortion. There's no question that's always been a part of their plan, but seeing Cheney portrayed as an extremist for resisting Stage Two, years ago, tells me that the mainstream as defined by Red Guard chatterers has cut a new channel — way, way out there to the left.

Dowd says Cheney also "defended cop-killer bullets and plastic guns that could slip through airport metal detectors." There's so much wrong with that sentence — including the fact that those magical "plastic guns" never existed — that unpacking it threatens to throw my own column completely off the track. Suffice it to say, Cheney is a fever-swamper, according to Dowd, because he once opposed whatever campaign the gun-grabbers were mounting that particular week. Cheney also voted against the medicine show called Head Start at least once, Dowd says, and that just doesn't comport with the G.O.P.'s convention theme, "Leave No Child Behind." (Upon hearing that slogan I want to scream, "Kids! Run and hide!")

You get the feeling that Cheney was some kind of Jeannette Rankin, taking his lonely reactionary stands and bellowing a solitary and futile "Nay" as his fellow Republicans labored alongside the Democrats to build our homicidally humanitarian multicultural socialist utopia. An awful lot of collusive laboring did occur, of course, but you'd never guess from the portions of the Dowd column I've quoted that Cheney was not a back-bench Don Quixote but an Establishment Republican and even a leader among House Republicans.

You wouldn't realize it until you read the rest of Dowd's column, where Cheney emerges as "a prosperous, well-fed, balding, bland, male Republican Washington insider." (Male! How dare he!) He's a man, Dowd says, about whom "it's impossible to work up even a solitary goosebump."

Here I'd thought the main problem with Cheney was that he was evil, not boring. If you're wondering how a radical right-wing extremist could fail to inspire some goosebumps on the Left — the terrified sort of goosebumps, that is — it's time to move on and decipher the second message contained in the duckspeak. I assume no responsibility, of course, for making the two messages comport logically.


One mainstream-shifting claim I've heard not only from Dowd but also from other leftists is that "Cheney is to the right of Newt Gingrich." Newt Gingrich! Harry Truman was to the right of Newt Gingrich! But you'll notice that while Cheney is being described as a radical rightist, he's not being demonized the way Gingrich was. (Not so far, at least — God knows what Algore may wind up saying once he activates the "demagogic frenzy" subset of his robot programming.)

There was something about Gingrich that liberals really, really hated — something about his personality or his rhetorical style or the day-to-day tactics he used in fighting over the half-inch of ground that separated him, ideologically, from Bill Clinton. Both loved Franklin Roosevelt and Israel; both tried to reinvent Big Government to keep it healthy and efficient; both loyally served Wall Street's managed-trade and subsidized-export agenda; and Gingrich was, if anything, even more eager than Clinton to go abroad in search of non-Communist monsters to destroy.

It's important to keep diverting the mainstream farther and farther to the left — or to transnational fascism, if you want to be technical — and the faux-extremists Gingrich and Cheney both come in handy for that. Pretty soon, I suppose we'll hear politicians who would have been seen as muddled moderates in 1970 admonished for being "to the right of Dick Cheney." However, remember that Dowd's title isn't "A Reactionary Gunfighter for Mr. Wimp" but "A Baby Sitter for Junior." I don't know whether Dowd or some editor wrote the title, but I take it that someone decided that was the column's central point. Dowd herself writes that "while Mr. Cheney might have voted like Tom DeLay, he has a calm and avuncular air." And he's "stepping in to provide a steady hand on the tiller." Other left-wingers in the media are confessing that Cheney is a sober professional — an expert — a highly experienced veteran of government — in short, an "adult," unlike George W. the kid and Newt Gingrich the horse's hind end.

Those of us who attended college in the '60s all had to read Hannah Arendt, or at least we had to pretend that we'd read her, and a key to the pretense was being able to allude, on command, to the purported "banality of evil." The budding leftists among us read her, too, or had to pretend they'd read her. So it's pretty revealing now to see Cheney being attacked as a boring extremist without being compared to the very archetype of the boring extremist, Adolf Eichmann.

What is complicating matters for Establishment Red Guards such as Maureen Dowd is that Dick Cheney is a senior, highly accomplished Procurator of Empire, and one who — unlike Gingrich — possesses enough quiet gravitas so as not to offend the equestrian class sipping wine out in their villas. As war minister for Bush the Greater, Cheney helped run the Gulf War, which is still popular with "progressives" and partisans of Israel. In fact, it was Cheney who led the way in persuading a Democrat Congress to endorse and pay for Bush's War. Establishment Red Guards have as much at stake in the continued health and strength of the U.S. Empire as have their employers, the Dark Suits.

The Guards naturally prefer the Clinton style of imperialism — or the Gore style, assuming they can figure out what that is — rather than the Bush style. So, just as naturally, they'll attack Cheney. But it looks as though they'll try to do it without raising any goosebumps on themselves or anyone else, because, in the end, it does all come down to little more than a difference over style.


I don't have any goosebumps myself, at least any new ones, because I've never expected anything but the basic continuity of empire, come the reshuffling of January 20. Mentioning Jeannette Rankin has reminded me of something she said as she watched the approach of World War, Part Two: "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." Rankin was one of the relatively few members of Congress who voted against Woodrow Wilson's War and the only  member who voted against Franklin Roosevelt's War. Like Dick Cheney, she was a Republican from the Mountain West; but that's where the similarity begins and ends. If Bush is elected, the empire that he and Cheney run may be boring — for those of us who aren't blockaded and bombed and starved by it — but we know one thing for sure. It's official now, as signaled by the contortions of the established media. We may get an extremist as vice president, but at least he won't be a dangerous one like Jeannette Rankin.

July 26, 2000

© 2000 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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