Democrats Need Their Own Cheney
Editor’s Note: Over the past week, Vice President Dick Cheney has – without apology – implicated himself in what appear to be serious felonies, including decisions to forego warrants in wiretapping Americans and to authorize specific acts of torture against “war on terror” detainees.
Cheney’s personal lawyer must be pulling his hair out, but at least Cheney appears to believe in what he has done, a marked contrast to the equivocation that has marked top Democrats in recent years, as former Democratic congressional aide Brent Budowsky notes in this guest essay:
Dick Cheney is what Margaret Thatcher called a conviction politician. Yes, with some luck, that may become a play on words, since I believe torture and warrantless eavesdropping violate the law – and the Vice President has proudly announced his role in those decisions by the Bush administration.
Though what Cheney did was wrong, he appears to be a bedrock of conviction in thinking that he was right. He probably couldn’t care less about getting a pardon. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if President George W. Bush gave him one before leaving office.
If only the Democrats had more high-level leaders who were bedrocks of conviction, standing firm for what they (we) believe. The world would be a better place and the Democrats would be a better party. But regrettably that has not been the case.
When it appeared that Sen. John Kerry might become Secretary of State – meaning that Sen. Russ Feingold would have been in line to be chairman of Senate Foreign Relations – notice how many Democrats gave background quotes to the media that Feingold was "too liberal.” What poppycock!
On the great war decision of our time – whether to invade Iraq – Feingold was right in opposing President Bush. But in Washington, circa 2008, being right means nothing. Indeed, it is a disadvantage. Barack Obama chose for his secretaries of State and Defense, people who had been staunch supporters of the war in Iraq.
No Dick Cheney among top Democrats; our party specializes in the maneuver, the triangulation, the hedging of bets. Washington Democrats even failed to wage an aggressive fight against the Bush administration's practice of torture, one of the great infamies in American history.
When I worked for House Democratic leaders in the 1980s, Cheney was with the House Republican leadership. I saw him up close and personal in his more moderate days. Many speculate about what moved Cheney so far to the right, but one thing is clear: Dick Cheney takes a position, and fights for it, and has no fear in doing so.
Had Democrats had fighters against the Iraq war in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 as rock-solid in their convictions as Dick Cheney was in his, history would have been changed.
Had Democrats had fighters against torture as aggressive as Dick Cheney was for torture, torture would have never started or, at least, would have ended long ago.
If Democrats had fighters against massive eavesdropping as rock-hard and strong as Cheney was for eavesdropping, the founding principles of the United States would not have been violated.
Most Democrats disagreed with and intensely disliked almost everything that Dick Cheney did. But one lesson of Washington is that if one side fights hard, is unyieldingly and plays to win – and the other side does not – the side that fights hard will always defeat the side that fails to fight.
This is a lesson that Barack Obama should keep in mind every hour of his presidency. He will remember this lesson to his great advantage, and forget it to his – and our — great peril.
Say what you want about Dick Cheney -- and I have had much to say critical of him over the last eight years -- but as the curtain closes on the Cheney years, I say this:
On the matter of fighting for one's beliefs, the Democrats could use a few Dick Cheneys.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and to Rep. Bill Alexander, then the chief deputy whip of the House. He can be read in The Hill newspaper, where he is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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