Douthat on Cheney: Tortuous

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Apr 28, 2009 12:56 PM
Cheney is calling for the release of more torture memo documents, as Ross Douthat's opening concerto in the New York Times opinion section asks what would've happened to the Republican Party had Cheney ran for the Presidency instead of McCain.

Douthat is critical:

Here Dick Cheney, prodded by the ironies of history into demanding greater disclosure about programs he once sought to keep completely secret, has an important role to play. He wants to defend his record; let him defend it. And let the country judge. 

But better if this debate had happened during the campaign season.

In choosing Cheney as our candidate, Douthat argues, we conservatives would have a real catalyst for the changes necessary in the Republican Party because Cheney represents the hardcore Bush conservatism that our party either needs to support or rebuke. According to Douthat, McCain distanced himself from Bush's attitudes towards wartime secrecy and did a poor job of butting heads with the Obaminator. With Cheney, there would've been more precision attacks during the campaign. After Cheney lost, there would've been a stronger representation of the differences between conservatives and liberals on torture and other issues.

While his hypotheticals are interesting to consider, Douthat suffers from a bad case of inside-the-beltway syndrome. In propping Cheney up as a catalyst for Republican evolution, Douthat ignores the things that define Cheney in the eyes of most Americans: the Halliburton scandal, his shooting of an elderly hunting buddy, and his stranglehold on the White House. The strong, forceful leader wouldn't have had a place in a demographic who wanted to be charmed by a cute Governor with no beltway connections, and shake off the scandals and overspending of the Bush administration. McCain mostly failed at that; Cheney certainly would've.

After all, Obama ran against George W. Bush, not just John McCain. To push Cheney against Obama would've been to validate the one thing that legitimized Obama -- presumably something Douthat, the Times' new "conservative" columnist, is more than comfortable with. 

Most importantly, Douthat ignores the larger issue at hand. A Republican catalyst or conservative messiah is a futile and misguided goal, because right now, the only change that's going to happen within the party is without one -- via tea party activism, not establishment politicians' stances on torture memos.

We don't need an aggressive father figure to make us reaffirm where we stand. We need a conversation - not a fight - about the importance of discretion in our Central Intelligence Agency, and why a strong foreign policy does not have to be defined by a single issue. More importantly, we need a gradual, homegrown, multifaceted approach to our brand that starts with no-name Congressmen ignoring mass-produced liberal "Party of No" rhetoric, and voting against spending provisions and useless government programs. We need true conservative activists who care about local elections, so we have a farm team of candidates for the national stage. We need to differentiate ourselves from scandal-ridden, spendthrift liberals by highlighting the normalcy of our principles for everyday Americans - in the press and in our communities.

And we need to take Dick Cheney in stride - not as a catalyzing figure, but as a member of our party who, despite his hang-ups, is very much part of the club.