Newsweek‘s Jon Meacham posits that Dick Cheney should run in 2012.
Gallup is not asking about him in its prospective polling, and his daughter Liz’s recent Fox News Sunday allusion to a presidential run provoked good-natured laughter, as though the suggestion were just a one-liner. Float the hypothetical in political conversation, and people roll their eyes dismissively.
But I think we should be taking the possibility of a Dick Cheney bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 more seriously, for a run would be good for the Republicans and good for the country. (The sound you just heard in the background was liberal readers spitting out their lattes.)
Why? Because Cheney is a man of conviction, has a record on which he can be judged, and whatever the result, there could be no ambiguity about the will of the people. The best way to settle arguments is by having what we used to call full and frank exchanges about the issues, and then voting. A contest between Dick Cheney and Barack Obama would offer us a bracing referendum on competing visions. One of the problems with governance since the election of Bill Clinton has been the resolute refusal of the opposition party (the GOP from 1993 to 2001, the Democrats from 2001 to 2009, and now the GOP again in the Obama years) to concede that the president, by virtue of his victory, has a mandate to take the country in a given direction. A Cheney victory would mean that America preferred a vigorous unilateralism to President Obama’s unapologetic multilateralism, and vice versa.
A campaign would also give us an occasion that history denied us in 2008: an opportunity to adjudicate the George W. Bush years in a direct way. As John McCain pointed out in the fall of 2008, he is not Bush. Nor is Cheney, but the former vice president would make the case for the harder-line elements of the Bush world view. Far from fading away, Cheney has been the voice of the opposition since the inauguration. Wouldn’t it be more productive and even illuminating if he took his arguments out of the realm of punditry and into the arena of electoral politics? Are we more or less secure because of the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? Does the former vice president still believe in a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda? Did the counterterror measures adopted in the aftermath of the attacks go too far? Let’s have the fight and see what the country thinks.
I can buy some of his arguments; Dick Cheney would be the most unambiguous right-winger the GOP could trot out, but as for the rest of his reasons — judging the Bush administration and letting Cheney have a clear deck for his potshots against Barack Obama — those are nothing but masturbatory fantasies on crack for pundits like Mr. Meacham. (By the way, I know a lot of liberals, and none of them would touch a latte.) Elections are, as we are constantly reminded by candidates and history, about the future of the country, not about reminiscing about what a past administration did. Putting the former vice president on the spot about what he knew and when he knew it about WMD’s, Saddam and al-Qaeda, torture and terrorists, warrantless wiretapping, and his role in the outing of Valerie Plame may be of interest to historians and pundits looking for a gig, but with all of the problems that we are facing — many of which Mr. Cheney had a hand in — the last thing we need to worry about is what he was thinking in 2002. It’s not like he would tell us, anyway.
Why should he invest his energy, time, and what remains of his dignity in putting his name on a ballot? Given the fact that no cardiologist worth his EKG machine would give Mr. Cheney a clean bill of health and the fact that he would have to define a vision of America in the future instead of what he did during the Ford administration, the chance of Mr. Meacham’s fantasy coming true are about as likely as a chicken needing Chap-Stick. It’s a lot easier just to crank out a book — or pay a ghostwriter — do the book tours to all the malls of America, go on TV, and take all the shots he wants to without breaking a sweat. He hasn’t been on the ballot by himself since he ran for Congress in the 1970’s, and the view is pretty good from the cheap seats.
But since the Republicans are so devoid of leadership it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the idea could gain some traction. The question then isn’t will Dick Cheney run, but is the GOP that desperate?