The Bugaboo of the Left
The rogues' gallery of the far left is enormously spacious, and it doesn't take much to be eligible for inclusion; any conservative worth his or her salt automatically qualifies. But with the possible exception of that eternal bogeyman, Richard Nixon, nobody is hated by the left with such abandon; nobody is more vilified; nobody is targeted with such volcanic eruptions of insane hatred and vitriol as former Vice President Dick Cheney.
But why? What did Cheney do to deserve such vicious scorn?
Contrary to the Marxist "working class" myth, the left has always been a movement largely of and by intellectuals. Their strong suit is propaganda, and they owe their undeniable successes in propaganda warfare to acting in a highly disciplined fashion and strictly hewing to their own rules of the game. The most important of these precepts religiously followed by the left are rules 10 and 13 of Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals." Rule 10 proclaims that "[t]he major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition." Rule 13 prescribes to "pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it." In a nutshell, pin a face on the opposition, demonize the target, and do it without letup.
Throughout much of his long and distinguished career, Cheney, even though a solid, dependable conservative, had been treated by the press pretty more or less even-handedly, at least to the extent conservatives can receive favorable coverage from the so-called mainstream media. And then, all of a sudden, the press made a U-turn and came down on Cheney like a ton of bricks. Overnight, he turned into the poster child of mean-spiritedness, the epitome of evil, the devil incarnate, the Prince of Darkness, the Darth Vader of the right. Could it be that this mild-mannered, imperturbable man, the opposite of a typical bombastic politico, fell victim to a mistaken identity? Not at all. He was deliberately chosen as the spear-catcher.
After the electoral debacle of 2000, when Al Gore's attempt at a coup brought about an acute political crisis, the left developed an opposition strategy built around the notion of George W. Bush's illegitimacy. "Remember Florida 2000" was the new rallying cry. Bush was to be portrayed as a "selected," not elected, president; a total nonentity; a dumb cowboy from deep in the heart of Texas; a barely literate, tongue-tied moron -- a tactic all the more effective considering the conscious decision taken by Bush not to respond to slander (which Bush's chief advisor, Karl Rove, has recently admitted was a bad mistake). So Bush chose to turn the other cheek, much to the delight of his enemies, who never tired of slapping the inviting target as hard as they could.
But the strategy had an inherent flaw in that it clashed with the reality of a functioning government. If the president was little more than an ape, how come his administration hummed along, policies were being developed and pursued, things were being done, bills were being paid? The obvious answer to the conundrum was to find some power behind the throne, a person strong enough to hold the administration together while its titular head was swinging on his tail, eating bananas. That man behind the curtain was slated to be the evil genius of the administration.
In principle, any of the president's close advisors could fill that role, but in practice, there were some limitations. Colin Powell, a man of enormous stature widely perceived to have done Bush a favor by agreeing to serve as secretary of state in his administration, was off-limits; as a black, he was untouchable. Same for Condoleezza Rice -- also black, too nice a person, and not influential enough. Karl Rove -- great to lead Bush to the bathroom, wipe his nose, and plot all sorts of minor mischief (like steering Hurricane Katrina toward New Orleans), but still carrying insufficient political weight. Donald Rumsfeld -- a great, tailor-made candidate, but a bit too far removed from the Oval Office to be a believable Wizard of Oz. And then there was Vice President Dick Cheney -- an ideal figure to serve the left's purpose: a man of unquestioned competence, an obvious adult with solid credentials. Nobody could fit the bill better.
And so the vice president was consciously chosen as the bête noire of the Bush administration. In short order, a veritable storm engulfed the media. Cheney was the one responsible for the administration policies -- the bad, the ugly, and the unspeakable. Well, so was Bush, of course, but the president was too dim to understand what his minder told him to do. Not only Cheney himself, but everybody and everything he was associated with were tarred with a broad brush. Whatever he touched or even came close to became an object of derision and vilification. A good example is the company he once headed but cut off all ties to when coming on board the Bush administration. Halliburton was quickly turned into the bugaboo of the left, the symbol of all that's evil about capitalism, a name rabid leftists use to scare their children.
The left's fury was further stoked by Cheney's "intransigent" behavior. Rather than listen to Karl Rove's advice, Cheney refused to oblige the left and follow the rope-a-dope strategy of his boss. From time to time, he would strike back hard -- always to the point, never mincing words. After Obama's electoral triumph and the complete rout of the Republicans, the former vice president took it upon himself to defend the record and honor of the Bush administration. There was nobody else, the thoroughly cowed opposition scattered into the weeds. True to his sense of duty and in spite of his grave health problems, Dick Cheney, like a lone knight challenging the all-powerful dragon, threw down the gauntlet to the radical zeitgeist.
And a strange thing happened. The more relentlessly did Cheney point out the foibles and lies of the Obama administration, the more darkly did he warn of the dangers besetting America and of the grave consequences of Obama's feckless policies, the more weight his words carried, and the more attentively people listened. His stature steadily grew; his presence became ever more commanding. And by the time he published his hard-hitting memoir, In My Time, even his enemies were forced to give him their grudging respect.
George W. Bush says that a dispassionate judgment of his record will have to wait half a century, until history sorts things out and separates the wheat from the chaff. Nobody knows the ultimate grades history will hand down to the movers and shakers of the early 21st century. But one thing is certain: if anyone will look better and better the farther we are removed from the sound and fury of partisan strife, it will be Dick Cheney. Clio, the muse of history, is sure to be generous toward this man of enormous integrity and rare dignity -- one of the few genuine heroes of our time.