Friday, June 29, 2007

There he goes again ...

Mark's arguments are a dubious thing to follow at the best of times, but his remarks favoring the impeachment of Dick Cheney are really a new one. Myself, I doubt that Mark had to read beyond the part of the Slate column that referenced torture before determining that Cheney was guilty. While it is certainly true that Cheney is a very different type of vice president than his predecessors, I find this explanation as being far more convincing:
The peculiarity of Cheney's position is that he functions as the White House Chief of Staff. In most administrations, it is the Chief of Staff who actually runs the government, which in operational terms means that the Chief of Staff deals with the undersecretaries in the federal departments. In the Bush White House, Cheney does that.

I think we now see that this use of the vice president was a mistake. In a way, it was like the mistake that President Bill Clinton made when he appointed his wife Hillary to manage his Administrations health-insurance reform initiative. When the effort miscarried, there was no seemly way for the president to disembarrass himself of a failed colleague. That is the problem that President Bush has with Vice President Cheney. It would be simple enough to fire an ordinary White House Chief of staff. A vice president, in contrast, is an elected official. He might be relieved of his duties, but he can remain part of the government as long as he pleases. More important: the resignation of a vice president would suggest to ill-disposed persons that the president may not be far behind.

Reilly later expanded on this thought here, citing the evil television series "24":
Some readers may be fans of the Fox series 24, in which each hour-long episode is supposed to depict in real time each hour in the day of a federal intelligence agent who thwarts the plans of terrorists. I rarely watch the series, actually, but I happened to tune in last night. What struck me was that the root of all evil, at least within the American government, was the vice president. He was last seen egging on the president to send federal troops into Los Angeles and otherwise to take steps to discredit himself, thus making it easier for the vice president to head his party's ticket in the next election.

It does not require much insight to surmise that we are seeing the effect on popular culture of the vice presidency of Dick Cheney. The Cheney Effect has become a small trend. Readers will recall the film The Day After Tomorrow, in which the VP causes an ice age, or fails to order an evacuation in time for one, or something. A season or two back on Stargate SG1, the vice president was in league with the Illuminati.

May I note that the Cheney Effect marks an important change from midcentury? It used to be that, if you needed a villain for a thriller, you looked to the Senate. A good example is Advise and Consent, a novel by New York Times reporter Allen Drury that was published in 1959; it was made into a memorable movie starring Henry Fonda in 1962. That story involved an attempt by an FDR-like president to appoint an old-fashioned liberal as Secretary of Defense, while being opposed by McCarthy-like tactics on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The book and story are doubly interesting now, because the nominee was supposed to represent the blameless and brilliant Alger Hiss, whom we now know really had been a Soviet agent. In any case, one of the motifs of the story was the modesty and obscurity of the vice president. At a cocktail party, he tries to make conversation with the majority leader of the House (I believe), but realizes that the man is not listening to him. So he says:

"By the way, I murdered my wife last night. Buried her under a kumquat bush. You know what they say: easy come, easy go."

"Hmmm, Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Vice president. You were saying?"

Of course, the president dies toward the end of the story, and the meek little VP turns into Harry Truman. Few people, even Republicans, entertain similar thoughts today.

One thing I am sort of interested on is where Mark Shea would see Dick Cheney tried. Does he now argue that Cheney's actions are illegal under US law or would he prefer that he be brought before some kind of special court, a la Milosevic? In either case, which specific charges would he bring against the man? I would love to see him expound upon this at some length.

But lest we forget, he doesn't hate the Bush administration. He just wants them charged with war crimes. Not the slightest bit of emotion there, no sir.

2 comments:

Art Deco said...

A good example is Advise and Consent, a novel by New York Times reporter Allen Drury that was published in 1959; it was made into a memorable movie starring Henry Fonda in 1962. That story involved an attempt by an FDR-like president to appoint an old-fashioned liberal as Secretary of Defense, while being opposed by McCarthy-like tactics on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

I cannot say how the plot and characters Advise and Consent may have been butchered by the film makers, but his description is wholly at a variance with the novel. The nominee for Secretary of State is a lapsed Communist, and he is exposed not by "McCarthy-ite tactics" but by the public testimony of another member of the cell to which he belonged, corroborated by information provided by a third member. Malicious supporters of the man's nomination attempt to blackmail an opposing Senator, who commits suicide.

If I recall correctly, little verbiage was devoted to characterizing the President, who is never given a name. The chief villain is a U.S. Senator, but so are all of admirable characters.

Advice and Consent was the first in a series of six novels by Allen Drury which had a definite political point to make (one which Mr. Drury was quite explicit about in the author's forward to the fifth in the series). It is inconceivable that he considered Alger Hiss a political martyr.

I supposed Shea just skimmed the book.

torquemada05 said...

That was Reilly, not Shea. And his description of the film is fairly apt from my memory of it. Certainly the anti-communist angle was heavily dumbed down for the purposes of the film.