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Derrick Z. Jackson

Cheney talks and the GOP squirms

By Derrick Z. Jackson
Globe Columnist / May 16, 2009
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PLEASE, Dick Cheney, keep talking!

Now we know why he was so hunkered down as vice president, except to proclaim that we would be welcomed as liberators in Iraq. Had he been more candid sooner, even more Republicans would have staked their lawns with Obama signs, ashamed of the rock their party lives under.

Why Cheney is hitting the news-show circuit at all is amazing, given that his job approval rating was down to 30 percent by the time he left office, according a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Worse, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last month found that only 18 percent of Americans had positive feelings for him. This compared with 56 percent in the months after 9/11.

But Cheney never cared what Americans thought about him back then, with his secretive, industry-stacked energy panels, his defense of waterboarding of suspected terrorists, and his saying that he would have invaded Iraq even if we knew Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. So there is no reason to expect sensitivity from him now, blubbering to an excess that serves only to further creep out Americans on the Republican brand.

On "Face the Nation," Cheney reasserted last week that President Obama has "moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe . . . prisoner interrogation for example." In a February interview with Politico he warned of a "high probability" of a nuclear or biological terrorist attack in an American city that could kill hundreds of thousands of people. "Whether or not they can pull it off," Cheney said, "depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts."

Talk about denial. Americans clearly felt stained by Abu Ghraib and how the Bush administration strained international relations with its definitions of torture, with no conclusive proof that harsh interrogation works. Americans, 71 percent of whom considered waterboarding to be torture in an April New York Times/CBS poll, wanted many policies to be taken down. By a 2-to-1 margin in that poll, Americans approve of Obama's handling of terrorism. By nearly a 3-to-1 margin, a CNN poll last month found that Americans felt the actions Obama has taken on terrorism have NOT increased the chances of a terrorist attack.

No matter. Cheney plows ahead, shoveling more voters into the category of independents or Democrats. When Senator Arlen Specter, one of the only Republican moderates left on Capitol Hill, along with the likes of Maine's Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, switched last month to the Democratic Party, Cheney said in a radio interview, "I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate . . . The idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy, and I for one am not prepared to do that."

On "Face the Nation," he said he would choose right-wing radio firebrand Rush Limbaugh over moderate Colin Powell as an icon of who a Republican is. Powell, who begged the Republicans in vain at national conventions to adopt a more humane platform on racial, women's, and class issues, endorsed Obama for president. Cheney said Powell's endorsement was an indication of his "loyalty."

What Cheney does not get is that many Americans felt betrayed by the Republican hard line on many social and economic issues in the last election, handing the Democrats leadership of the White House and the Hill. Approval ratings for Democrats in Congress are not exactly stellar, currently floating between 43 and 50 percent, but they are abysmal for the Republicans, drifting between 36 and 14 percent. A month before Obama's election, only 7 percent of Americans felt the country was headed in the right direction in a CBS poll. That has risen steadily to 45 percent this month.

Cheney, who thinks the party of Lincoln should now become the party of Limbaugh, says he sees only a "semantic problem" with the Republicans. Americans saw right through this in November and continue to see through it. They see a seismic problem.

Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at jackson@globe.com.

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