the Republicans: “It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics,” said CIA director
Leon Panetta in the New Yorker
, about Dick Cheney
and his obsession with the terror threat.
They’re clever, the Obama boys. What they’re doing is the thing that the Democrats have always failed at, manipulating the argument so as to blame the Republicans for the scary things that might happen. The Democrats, being verbally flat-footed and painfully literal, have never been able to make the complicated and post-modern point that the terror threat was in the Republicans' interest—that the Republicans gained if we bled.
Well, the Democrats have pretty much gotten it: The Panetta point is that Cheney’s not just a fearmonger, but something like a short-seller. He benefits if Americans are killed—or certainly benefits from that prospect. But in this new rhetorical jujitsu, the Democrats are suddenly on the side of security—indeed, they lose if there is a breach of it—and the Republicans are on the side of some macabre wistfulness for Armageddon.
It’s possible that Dick Cheney will become one of the best friends the Democrats have ever had. Cheney surely helped pave the way to the present Democrat hegemony and now continues to buttress the Democratic fortunes. Who among the Democrats isn’t gleeful that Cheney has, against all odds and expectations, made himself the face of the opposition?
Here’s the man: a dour, irritable, often monosyllabic, white guy in his late sixties, who got us into one of the most unpopular wars in American history, and who, to boot, has a lesbian daughter (hence, neutralizing the traditional right-wing family issues).
In the history of the zeitgeist, there may not be anyone so at odds with it as Dick Cheney. Curiously, he gets much of his standing with Republicans precisely because he is so at cross-purposes with the historical moment. This is now the Republican point of pride, that they can buck the political, social, and demographic currents.
This has happened before, of course. The Democrats seemed solid and then came Newt Gingrich
and a rising Republican majority. And yet it is clearly different this time. In part because the Republicans are still counting on the Gingrich generation—indeed, incomprehensibly, still counting on Gingrich himself, along with Cheney. But also because the rhetorical advantage has been lost. It’s a lot harder to cast Barack Obama,
in the way Clinton was cast, as just another representative of the weak-willed liberal establishment, when he’s neither credibly weak-willed nor establishment. It is, on the other hand, easier and easier to cast the Republicans as gasbags, nutters, and fools.
The Democrats are not just cleverer than they have been in several generations, but they’re luckier, too. And Dick Cheney is one amazing gift.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.