As previously mentioned, he’s probably a very nice guy, certainly a very bright guy, who first threw himself into the task of getting a Presidential pardon for his client Marc Rich – now there’s a satisfying use of a year of one’s life on earth – and who until recently was the faithful number two to his ‘client’ Dick Cheney, for whom, many of us believe, he ‘took the fall.’ (Except now doesn’t have to.)
Rick Hertzberg in The New Yorker . . .
. . . for the past six years, Dick Cheney, the occupant of what John Adams called ‘the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived,’ has been the most influential public official in the country, not necessarily excluding President Bush, and his influence has been entirely malign. He is pathologically (but purposefully) secretive; treacherous toward colleagues; coldly manipulative of the callow, lazy, and ignorant President he serves; contemptuous of public opinion; and dismissive not only of international law (a fairly standard attitude for conservatives of his stripe) but also of the very idea that the Constitution and laws of the United States, including laws signed by his nominal superior, can be construed to limit the power of the executive to take any action that can plausibly be classified as part of an endless, endlessly expandable ‘war on terror.’
More than anyone else, including his mentor and departed co-conspirator, Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney has been the intellectual author and bureaucratic facilitator of the crimes and misdemeanors that have inflicted unprecedented disgrace on our country’s moral and political standing: the casual trashing of habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions; the claim of authority to seize suspects, including American citizens, and imprison them indefinitely and incommunicado, with no right to due process of law; the outright encouragement of ‘cruel,’ ‘inhuman,’ and ‘degrading’ treatment of prisoners; the use of undoubted torture, including waterboarding (Cheney: ‘a no-brainer for me’), which for a century the United States had prosecuted as a war crime; and, of course, the bloody, nightmarish Iraq war itself, launched under false pretenses, conducted with stupefying incompetence, and escalated long after public support for it had evaporated, at the cost of scores of thousands of lives, nearly half a trillion dollars, and the crippling of America’s armed forces, which no longer overawe and will take years to rebuild.
The stakes are lower in domestic affairs-if only because fewer lives are directly threatened-but here, too, Cheney’s influence has been invariably baleful. With an avalanche of examples, Gellman and Becker show how Cheney successfully pushed tax cuts for the very rich that went beyond what even the President, wanly clinging to the shards of ‘compassionate conservatism,’ and his economic advisers wanted. They show how Cheney’s stealthy domination of regulatory and environmental policy, driven by ‘unwavering ideological positions’ and always exerted ‘for the benefit of business,’ has resulted in the deterioration of air and water quality, the degradation and commercial exploitation of national parks and forests, the collapse of wild-salmon fisheries, and the curt abandonment of Bush’s 2000 campaign pledge to do something about greenhouse gases. They also reveal that it was Cheney who forced Christine Todd Whitman to resign as the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, by dictating a rule that excused refurbished power plants and oil refineries from installing modern pollution controls. ‘I just couldn’t sign it,’ she told them. Turns out she wasn’t so anxious to spend more time with her family after all.
Cheney, Gellman and Becker report, drew up and vetted a list of five appellate judges from which Bush drew his Supreme Court appointments. After naming John Roberts to the Court and then to the Chief Justice’s chair, the President, for once, rebelled: without getting permission from down the hall, he nominated his old retainer Harriet Miers for the second opening. (‘Didn’t have the nerve to tell me himself,’ Cheney muttered to an associate, according to the Post.) But when Cheney’s right-wing allies upended Miers, Bush obediently went back to Cheney’s list and picked Samuel Alito. The result is a Court majority that, last Thursday, ruled that conscious racial integration is the moral equivalent of conscious racial segregation.
That unfortunate day in the duck blind wasn’t the only time the Vice-President has seemed more Elmer Fudd than Ernst Blofeld; last week, Cheney provoked widespread hilarity by pleading executive privilege (in order to deny one set of documents to the Senate Judiciary Committee) while simultaneously maintaining that his office is not part of the executive branch (in order to deny another set to the Information Security Oversight Office of the National Archives). On Cheney’s version of the government organization chart, it seems, the location of the Office of the Vice-President is undisclosed. So are the powers that, in a kind of rolling, slow-motion coup d’état, he has gathered unto himself. The laughter will fade quickly; the current Administration, regrettably, will not. However more politically moribund it may become, its writ still has a year and a half to go. A few weeks ago, on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, the Vice-President issued threats of war with Iran. A ‘senior American diplomat’ told the Times that Cheney’s speech had not been circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered, adding, ‘He kind of runs by his own rules.’ But, too often, his rules rule. The awful climax of ‘Cheney/Bush’ may be yet to come.
From Bill Press’s column:
. . . letting Scooter Libby off the hook contradicts both established penalties for obstruction of justice and the affirmed policies of the Bush Justice Department. Of 198 people convicted for obstructing justice in 2006, 154 were sentenced to an average term of six years – yet not one of those sentences did Bush consider “too severe.” In fact, for the last six years, in hundreds of cases, Bush’s Justice Department has consistently argued that federal sentencing guidelines must remain tough and inflexible.
Former baseball great Willie Mays Aikens, for example, has already served 144 months [12 years!] of a 248 month sentence for one offense of dealing crack cocaine. Hall of Famer Cal Ripken is one of many who have urged the Justice Department to acknowledge the excessive severity of Aikens’ sentence and grant him clemency. The Bush administration refuses. Too bad Aikens never worked at the White House. . . .
John: ‘Here we go again . . . It seems with you, there are only two rules to politics: 1. Democrats are good. 2. Republicans are bad. I realize you are have a significant role in the Democratic Party, but seriously, be at least objective about these things. I read your column regularly and never saw you opine concerning the light punishment Sandy Berger received for stealing government documents to protect his and Clinton’s reputation. What Libby did (failure to remember accurately or possibly perjury) pales in comparison to Berger’s crime, yet Libby gets a much harsher punishment. Yet you never once excoriated the light punishment meted out on Berger. Think of the outrage you and other Democrat partisans would have had if Karl Rove had been caught stealing government documents.’
☞ I’m no expert in the Berger case, which may be a little less clear than you think (click here), but apart from joining you in condemning any wrongdoing, I think it’s worth noting a few things.
- First, Berger’s light treatment, if it was that, was a plea bargain negotiated by the Bush Justice Department (during a time when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress). I suppose I could have condemned the Bush Justice Department for going easy on Sandy Berger, but not knowing that he did any more than remove copies of documents and his own notes, I’m not sure how serious this all really was. The Bush Justice Department presumably had a lot better insight into what Berger did and did not do.
- (According to this conservative blog, at least some of the copies he took were of documents that had been faxed to the archives by the Clinton Library itself. Hardly sounds like a Clinton cover-up.)
- Second, whatever Berger did had nothing to do with the ongoing affairs of state. The Clinton Administration of which he had been a part was long out of power, calling no shots, starting no wars, discouraging no stem cell research, endangering no wild salmon fisheries (see the Cheney item, above) – whereas Libby was the active #2 guy to the man largely calling all the shots, in disastrous ways. So the two cases are in my view just orders and orders of magnitude apart in their significance.
- Third, even if they were equivalent in importance (and they absolutely were not), two wrongs really don’t make a right. It shouldn’t be necessary, in decrying the Libby commutation, to have decried the plea bargain the Bush Justice Department struck with Sandy Berger.
- And fourth . . . treading now out onto thin ice but thinking it may actually hold my weight (and welcoming anything icy on a day like this – even a metaphor) . . . yes, Democrats, certainly from 1993-2000, were generally pretty darn good, and Republicans from election night 2000 on up to the last news reports I read a few minutes ago have been bad. Not individual Republicans like you, of course; but this Administration? And the Republican legislators who’ve abetted it? The worst in the history of our country, with the most disastrous long-reaching consequences. Just my view, of course, but heartfelt.
Tomorrow: Lightning Strikes THREE Times
Quote of the Day
The teacher affects eternity. He can never tell where his influence stops.~Henry Adams
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