We are all up in arms right now, it seems, about Vice President Dick Cheney, and the fact that Cheney told one of the more irenic of Democratic senators to "f--k off" in a brief exchange on the Senate floor last Tuesday because the senator in question, Pat Leahy (Democrat of Vermont) had earlier had the temerity to raise questions about lucrative no-bid Iraqi contracts secured by his former employer Halliburton.
Certainly, Cheney and his partisans deserve the knuckle-rapping they're now getting. And it's entertaining to watch avatars of dignity, good order and responsibility like Bill Frist
and the folks over at the White House
call Cheney's antics good clean fun and politics as usual.
But for those who have few good things to say about the vice-president, I think, the correct response is less outrage than the sort of grim (or perhaps not so grim) satisfaction one feels when a malign character unwittingly reveals himself to a larger audience. Because even if Cheney "felt better
" after his outburst, this wasn't a show of strength but one of desperation or, perhaps, impatient impotence.
I think Joe Klein has it right in the title of his new column in Time
-- ("Plenty More to Swear About: Bush's security team faces a barrage of criticism as the facts about Iraq come to light
"). As Klein writes, last week's "assorted temper tantrums appeared to be a leading indicator of a gathering summer storm confronting this presidency."
Consider for a moment. Who is Dick Cheney? What do we know of him? None of us like being questioned or critized. But in him the disinclination runs particularly deep. He prefers to act in secrecy and is a man to whom government transparency has all the allure that a shaft of sunlight has to a vampire. When challenged, violence seems always to be his preferred method of response, that of first resort --- often a literal sort on the world stage, but with bureaucratic (viz. Plame) and what we might call verbal violence at home. By verbal violence I mean specifically tough talk and threats meant to frighten people away from challenging him further, to knock them on their heels. Even this new case -- saying Leahy et al. had it coming
-- is but another example. When that doesn't work, he gets sloppy.
Cheney et al. can see all sorts of bad business coming down the pike in the next few months -- much of it already on the public radar screen, some of it still clogged up no doubt in back channels, newsrooms and new rounds of dirty-tricksterism. It seems clearly to be getting to them.