The Twitter-sphere was frenzied over the last several days, asking exactly why Dick Cheney would be on ABC’s This Week.dick_cheney The answer came near the end of the half-hour interview with this week’s trial host, Jonathan Karl, when Cheney said, “I’m the vice-president now…ex-vice president.” No, Dick Cheney doesn’t actually think he’s the vice president of the United States, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to play one on TV. And why not? Karl played into it more than Cheney did. Karl, seemingly too timid to ask the difficult questions, acted as though he was interviewing sitting Vice President Dick Cheney--a period when journalists can rightfully look back and say they weren't tough on the administration until it was too late. It would seem like that was a lesson worth learning, but Karl obviously had not. Even at moments where it appeared Karl had backed Cheney into a corner to go for the kill, he relented. And the lack of follow-up questions was enough to make one wonder whether or not it was a condition for the interview. For example:
KARL: Now, on that question of trying, you know, dealing as enemy combatants or through the criminal justice system, I came across this. This is a document that was put out by the Bush Justice Department under Attorney General Ashcroft... CHENEY: Right. KARL: ... covering the years 2001 to 2005. And if you go right to page one, they actually tout the criminal prosecutions... CHENEY: They did. KARL: ... of terror suspects, saying, "Altogether, the department has brought charges against 375 individuals in terrorism- related investigations and has convicted 195 to date." That was 2005. Again, seems to make the administration's point that they're not doing it all that differently from how you were doing it. CHENEY: Well, we didn't all agree with that. We had -- I can remember a meeting in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing of the White House where we had a major shootout over how this was going to be handled between the Justice Department, that advocated that approach, and many of the rest of us, who wanted to treat it as an intelligence matter, as an act of war with military commissions. We never clearly or totally resolved those issues. These are tough questions, no doubt about it. You want my opinion, my view of what ought to happen, I think we have to treat it as a -- as a war. This is a strategic threat to the United States. I think that's why we were successful for seven-and-a-half years in avoiding a further major attack against the United States. And I do get very nervous and very upset when that's the dominant approach, as it was sometimes in the Bush administration or certainly would appear to be at times in the new Obama administration.
At that moment, Mediaite's Tommy Christopher Tweeted:
Followup for @jonkarl to Cheney: If u disagreed w/ civilian trials in '05, why weren't you calling Bush "weak on terror?"Why aren't you now?
Those questions were never asked. Instead, Karl eased up on Cheney.
KARL: Did you more often win or lose those battles, especially as you got to the second term?
But based on everything else Cheney advocated in this interview (more torture, don’t treat detainees as criminals, and don’t ever release anybody from Gitmo, ever...), the way Cheney would have responded to Tommy Christopher’s suggested questions would have sounded like: I did call Bush weak on terror and I still consider him weak on terror. And maybe we could have gotten to that if Karl hadn’t moved from his “tough” questions to ones about Sarah Palin. You can read the full transcript of the Cheney interview at This Week. Or you can watch a part of the interview here and determine if you need any other proof.
I've always found it humorous (and occasionally infuriating) when a clearly partisan commentator offers advice--helpful hints--to presidents or other figures on the other side of the aisle, as though they are genuinely trying to help. The newest? David Frum's weekly CNN.com column, "'Obama the populist' doesn't ring true." Before stepping in front of the country on Wednesday to give his first State of the Union address, Frum wanted to give some friendly advice to President Obama. But not without one of Frum's signature backhanded lead-ins:
The president will respond as he always does to emergencies: with a speech. In this case, it's his State of the Union address. The Obama team always assumes the best remedy for any Obama difficulty is more Obama.
Frum, you may remember, has some experience with first State of the Union addresses. It was George W. Bush's first State of the Union address on January 29, 2002 when Frum authored fictionalized the term "Axis of Evil," a term that helped normalize the false pretenses for the 2003 Iraq invasion. But on this speech, Frum says Obama's "sharp populist turn" with harsh words toward banks and lobbyists is a trope that may work for short-term gain, but it would be short-lived for four reasons: 1) The new trope is not true to the president's own personality. 2) The new trope is not true to the record of the Obama administration. 3) The new trope is not true to Obama's political coalition. 4) The new trope is not true to Obama's original promise to the electorate. You see, for Frum Obama is a "rational and technocratic" liberal, not a "fiery and populist" one; Obama "does not take from the rich and give to the poor;" Obama won because of poor and minorities and well-educated and wealthy; Obama "campaigned on a promise of unity." Get the message? Not populism. But it's Frum's trope that is outmoded. Obama's brand of populism, as The American Prospect's Mark Schmitt put it in 2008, is populism without pitchforks. It may not be perfected and it may not be firmly-rooted, but it is something that ought not be reverted to Frum's cynical and misguided understanding of what does or does not make Obama a populist, namely an "Us" against "Them" mentality that prevailed in every aspect of political life under the Bush administration. Still, for Frum the bottom line is simple:
If you are a unifier, you have to do unity -- and do it all the time. You cannot detour into attack mode for temporary advantage and then return again to the unity message when it suits you. If you do, you make yourself exactly the thing you identified as the chief evil of the society: a divider, a hunter of scapegoats.
What David Frum could stand to learn is that there are times to conciliate, times to fight, times to lead and times to listen. Is Frum suggesting that Obama's tone should have been conciliatory when discussing bankers and lobbyists when he was in Elyria, OH last week? Of course, it's easy to see how Frum would be narrow-minded on this. After all, he worked for an administration that met every problematic nail with the tools of force, torture and death.