Dick the Trepid 

A profile in craven

I spent most of Thursday so mad my eyes crossed. Dick Cheney does that to me, even more so than the dullard in whose shadow he slunk for the past eight years. I can almost imagine myself, with the passing of enough time, if not forgiving George W. Bush, then at least excusing him. The more we learn of his administration, the riper grows the suspicion that on the most critical matters, he was not nearly the decider he bragged of being. And now that he no longer has a team of baby sitters manipulating his image, we are seeing Bush for what he has always been--an underachieving child, far too slow to ever realize the full extent of the damage he's done.

Cheney's different. Cheney's smart. Cheney knows full well the damage he's done, and after listening to his speech, then hours of analysis by people trying to figure out what he's up to, I was spitting up fire. Isn't it obvious what he's up to? I screamed at my poor TV. What's wrong with you people? I screamed to Chris Matthews and Olberman, to Blitzer and Mitchell and Gibson. Can't you see that this repugnant creep is doing what he's always done, going back to the deferments he chased to get him out of a war he fervently supported? Can't you see that he's trying to protect himself? Can't you see that we are witnessing a profoundly despicable coward performing this little road show not out of any concern for his country's safety, but out of his own fear that justice is catching up with him? That he is coming ever nearer to being held accountable for the corruptions and coercions of his past?

Yes, I had a most exhausting day last Thursday, trying to get my television to listen to me.

But the frustration is visceral. For eight years, the media have been treating Cheney like some man of mystery, some elusive figure moving to clandestine tides beyond the understanding of mere citizens. Where was that "undisclosed location" he slipped to on Sept. 11, 2001? Why did he pressure so oppressively the CIA to produce only evidence helpful to the cause of justifying an unjustifiable war? What purpose would it serve to erase the map of his official residence from the Internet? Why would he keep secret the arrangements he was making with oil companies? Why would he insist that the only news he gets comes from Fox? Why did he so viciously attack Joseph Wilson, stooping so low as to ruin the career of the man's wife? And why didn't he disclose immediately that he'd shot an old hunting buddy, instead of scurrying back to Washington, D.C., and waiting hours for it to come out?

The comics have made great hay of Cheney, the Dark Lord. The Darth Vader enforcer in Bush's evil empire. The "man-sized" safe in his office. The perpetual sneer on his lips and the apparent absence of a soul. Thursday, Chris Matthews called him the troll under the bridge, nipping at the feet of passing children.

They've missed the story, the nature of this troll. There's nothing mysterious or elusive about Cheney that abject cowardice can't explain. The recent reports that he wouldn't go anywhere without his own doctor and a personal gas mask--the pressure he put on Bush to pardon the toad Libby, who could implicate him in the treasonous treatment of Valerie Plame--his insistence that only sympathetic sycophants interview him: all acts of a coward, frightened to irrationality at the prospect of any harm coming to his mottled, moldy hide, but even more panicked at the prospect of being recognized for what he is.

It would come as no surprise were I to learn that the "undisclosed location" he hustled to on 9/11 was under a table somewhere, crouching in a pool of his own urine.

But simple cowardice isn't Cheney's most striking flaw. The world is full of cowards. We've grown accustomed to them. We've come to expect that most people will act for their own safety first, and in the broader interest only if it doesn't inconvenience them. And those on my side of the conservative/liberal divide are certainly not immune to having cowards represent them, as typified by last week's shameful rush by Senate Democrats to vote against funding Guantanamo's closure. (If Sen. Harry Reid had half the balls that Rep. Nancy Pelosi has, it would have never happened. It is time for Mr. Reid to retire to wherever old men go when they no longer have the stomach for a fight.)

What makes Dick Cheney such an extraordinary coward--a coward for the ages--is that he has made it his mission to convince his countrymen we should all be as chicken shit as he is. Too many Americans have forgotten what fledgling democracies around the world come face to face with every day: It takes courage to be a free people. It takes courage to insist that fundamental protections like habeas corpus and the rule of law are as relevant in perilous times as they are in the halcyon days. It takes courage to stand up for the rights of the despised, even when the despised are our sworn enemy. It takes courage to stick to humanitarian principles, even if that means to sacrifice a level of safety that only totalitarian control could ever ensure. It takes courage to not torture.

Cheney understands nothing about courage and nothing about sacrifice. He defends torture, not because it has ever produced anything of value but because torture is integral to how cowards protect themselves. He defends Gitmo, not because our nation can't keep a few ignorant rag-tag zealots behind bars but because cowards fear that their failures will be reversed and thereby exposed. He defends the illegal wire-tapping, the suspension of rights, all of the Bush administration's incremental steps into totalitarian behavior, not because he fears for American lives but because cowards will do whatever it takes to cover their own asses. (After all, he was more than willing to sacrifice American lives--4,300 and counting--to protect his lie that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11.)

And he does it because his only real defense--the only way he can delay the justice that either the rule of law or the judgment of history will inevitably bring to him--is to convert enough of the weak-kneed and weak-minded to his cowardice so that neither the rule of law or the judgment of history--but especially the rule of law--will dare come after him. That is another common trait among cowards ... to hide out in a crowd.

Is there anything else to know about Dick Cheney that his eight years behind the wheel of Bush's presidency hasn't already taught us? No--except that any claims he may have to legitimacy or respect are long, long expired.

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