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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dick Cheney sits on my face -- and yours

Bagehot, in a study of Gladstone published in 1860, before Gladstone’s prime ministerships, said that the question was, would Gladstone ascend to the pinnacle of power, or would he simply go down in history as one of the great Parliamentarian orators without ever achieving power: “whether, below the gangway, he will utter unintelligible discourses; will aid in destroying many ministries and share in none; will pour forth during many hopeless years a bitter, a splendid, and a vituperative eloquence?”

Which are the lines that occur to me after reading the excellent vivisection of Dick Cheney performed, last week, by Joan Didion in the NYRB. Didion remembers - she has been on this beat for thirty years now, a disillusioned Goldwater-ite watching from the sidelines as executive power and the D.C. Court system enlarged cancerously, casually destroying our individual liberties to service the greed (for everything) of an increasingly gated governing class. She observes the resistable rise of Cheney through the Behemoths blood system with a dry, diagnostic detachment – the privileged avoidance of a war that Cheney supported, politically; the exploitation of the resentment that came in the wake of that war; the valet’s groping for favors in D.C., to which the young Cheney headed, much like a parasite aiming for the tender meats it favors in a host body; the alliance with Rumsfeld in the Ford White House, where they replayed the Haldemann/Erlichmann shtick invented, originally, by Rosencranz and Guildenstern; the beliefs of convenience, and the continuity of style – swaggering bully, paranoid official, liar, cheat and, in a final flash of malignity, conspirator in the murder of almost 3,000 American soldiers and perhaps 40,000 Iraqis. The numbers just keep going up. All the while, Didion keeps her temper – her style spreads a sort of concentrated hush around the infinitely complex sussing out of corruptions that are then presented to the reader with a certain tired but militant respect for the reader's own free will -- it is our choice whether to be provoked or not. The J'accuse avoids the obvious manipulative rhetoric of the courtroom summation in order to appeal to what Vico called the political fantasy - I think it was Vico. Fuck it, it was someone. Our sense that politics is a struggle among narratives as well as among bodies and the claim on things. Our choice to make sense of it.

And yet… I felt, somewhat, like this was the beating of wings in the dark. The link between the rulers and the ruled has always, in some ways, to be made sense of by the ruled. It is our job to make up the myths and excuses that allow the rulers to do what they do. It is our job, at the moment, to explain why a man like Cheney, an utter mediocrity, a vapid CEO type, should be able to settle his capacious, pale buttocks over this country, stifling us all beneath those intolerable globes. We know the vice, we know the extent of mendacity, we know that the government is being used as a front to borrow money to line the pockets of a very small group of men and women at the very top of the income bracket, we know that this is so weakening a nation that is deep in debt, personal and national, anyway that we are, in reality, hemmed in, not the world’s biggest superpower but the world’s first superpower dupe – and yet nothing happens. LI has been thinking, lately, that the typical Southern redneck's motto should be changed to: DO tread on me. I don't give a shit, as long as I can make my next credit card payment.

A liberty loving land, this one.

Well, let’s end with this. I loved this:

“Together, Cheney and Rumsfeld contrived to marginalize Nelson Rockefeller as vice-president and edge him off the 1976 ticket. They convinced Ford that Kissinger was a political liability who should no longer serve as both secretary of state and national security adviser. They managed the replacement of William Colby as CIA chief with George H.W. Bush, a move interpreted by many as a way of rendering Bush unavailable to be Ford's running mate in 1976. They managed the replacement of James Schlesinger as secretary of defense with Rumsfeld himself. Cheney later described his role in such maneuvers as "the sand in the gears," the person who, for example, made sure that when Rockefeller was giving a speech the amplifier was turned down. In 1975, when Ford named Rumsfeld secretary of defense, it was Cheney, then thirty-four, who replaced Rumsfeld as chief of staff.
Relationships matter in public life, until they do not. In May, during a commencement address at Louisiana State University, Cheney mentioned this long relationship with Rumsfeld by way of delivering the message that "gratitude, in general, is a good habit to get into":
I think, for example, of the first time I met my friend and colleague Don Rumsfeld. It was back in the 1960s, when he was a congressman and I was interviewing for a fellowship on Capitol Hill. Congressman Rumsfeld agreed to talk to me, but things didn't go all that well....
We didn't click that day, but a few years later it was Don Rumsfeld who noticed my work and offered me a position in the executive branch.
Note the modest elision ("it was Don Rumsfeld who noticed my work") of the speaker's own active role in these events. What Cheney wanted to stress that morning in Baton Rouge was not his own dogged tracking of the more glamorous Rumsfeld but the paths one had possibly "not expected to take," the "unexpected turns," the "opportunities that come suddenly and change one's plans overnight." The exact intention of these commencement remarks may be unknowable (a demonstration of loyalty? a warning? to whom? a marker to be called in later? all of the above?), but it did not seem accidental that they were delivered during a period when one four-star general, one three-star general, and four two-star generals were each issuing calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as secretary of defense. Nor did it seem accidental that the President and the Vice President were taking equally stubborn and equally inexplicable lines on the matter of Rumsfeld's and by extension their own grasp on the war in Iraq. "I hear the voices and I read the front page and I know the speculation," George W. Bush said in response to a reporter's question during a Rose Garden event. "But I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense." “

1 comment:

new york pervert said...

I hoped you'd bring this up. I don't know whether I thought the piece as a whole was quite as effective as what she usually does for NYRB, but only because I would have liked it to be more detailed, longer, especially because of that many books cited, which then get only a sentence or two. However, the famous Didion 'killer detail' is there and I think comes toward the end in this passage, also introduced with the Nelson Rockefeller thing:

'Nor, when it has not been in his interest to do so, has he since taken consistent positions on what would seem to be his own most hardened policies.

"I think it is a false dichotomy to be told that we have to choose between 'commercial' interests and other interests that the United States might have in a particular country or region around the world," he said at the Cato Institute in 1998, during the period he was CEO of Halliburton, after he had pursued one war against Iraq and before he would pursue the second. He was arguing against the imposition by the United States of unilateral economic sanctions on such countries as Libya and Iran, two countries, although he did not mention this, in which Halliburton subsidiaries had been doing business. Nor did he mention, when he said in the same speech that he thought multilateral sanctions "appropriate" in the case of Iraq, that Iraq was a third country in which a Halliburton subsidiary would by the year's end be doing business.

The notion that he takes a consistent view of America's role in the world nonetheless remains general. The model on which he has preferred to operate is the cold war, or, to use the words in which he and the President have repeatedly described the central enterprise of their own administration, the "different kind of war," the war in which "our goal will not be achieved overnight....

'Rumsfeld and Cheney, in other words, had transcended what others might present as facts. They could feel the current. They knew how to catch the wave and ride it.'

I think here she came up with something I had never thought of, the matter of lack of consistency and how it is usually perceived regarding 'America's role in the world'. As such, when first reading it, I thought she managed to portray him as a waterhead, and hoped that her title 'Fatal Touch' could have more than one meaning.