Bill Kristol has a wonderful column out explaining why the GOP should thank its lucky stars that Dick Cheney is out there in the public arena fighting on behalf of strong tactics against terrorism. Writes Kristol: “Dick Cheney–Darth Vader himself, Mr. Unpopularity, the last guy you’d supposedly want out there making the case–stepped onto the field. He’s made himself the Most Valuable Republican of the first four months of the Obama administration.” Bingo.
At a lunch in the Veep’s residence for about eight conservative writers about 10 days before Cheney left office, we asked Cheney why he had not been more active in the past eight years in fighting in public to defend himself and the administration he served. He explained that the more he was out in public, the more the media would try to drive a wedge, whether real or imaginary, between him and the president, and also the more chances there would be for his public statements to be interpreted (wrongly) as a way to supplement his private advice to the president. For the president to fully and without reservation trust that private advice would remain private, etc., Cheney said it was not wise for him to be front and center. (He explained all this far more clearly than I just have.)
What struck me was just how non-egocentric Cheney’s attitude was. This was a man who really believed that his own image was of secondary importance. This was a man who really believed that Number Two should defer to Number One. And this was a man who thought “big picture” rather than focusing on his immediate personal perspective. It was admirable as could be.
I happened to disagree with Cheney. I thought that his ability to concisely and forcefully frame issues was so important and could be so useful to the administration that it should have overriden those other considerations, especially in light of the administration’s weak communications performance for much of its two terms. (Yes, Tony Snow and Dan Perino did good jobs behind the podium every day toward the end of Bush’s term, but the overall communications strategy behind the press secretaries was weak even with those highly competent and likable people doing the most public work.) I think Cheney could have helped the president make a far better case than was otherwise made.
Even so, as I say, I admired Cheney’s decision not to so publicly engage — or at least admired the reasoning behind the decision.
But Kristol today helps explain why a different decision might have warded off lots of grief: because Cheney is darn good at making his case. He’s also a patriot of the first order and a man of old-fashioned virtues. Conservatives are fortunate to have him out there making his case.
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