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The Fear that Dare Not Speak Its Name

Gentle Readers, y’all have all heard by now that Dick Cheney said “[I]f we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again.” He’s making a threat, right? This is inexcusable behavior for a vice president, right? Well, yes and no. Of course, the line was taken out of context. So, let’s go back and look at the whole paragraph. This is from the tail end of a speech in Des Moines on September 7:

[I]t's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again. That we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us.

That’s as much of the context as I’ve seen quoted in newspaper stories or blogs, although I have to admit I haven’t read absolutely everything. I have done a trifle of Googling around, and I fairly confident that that’s pretty much all that gets quoted regularly. Even that much, though, begins to hint that his point is not (or not just) that the odds of an attack would be greater with John Kerry in office than with George W. Bush. Now, I’ve read a good deal of the whole speech, and I’m convinced that what Dick Cheney was getting at was something entirely different. Can you bear with me for a moment?

Dick Cheney is talking about what he calls the “ultimate solution” to the terrorist problem. He admits that “the ultimate solution isn't just to kill terrorists. You can do that all day long. The ultimate solution here is to make certain that we change the circumstances on the ground...” He then goes on to detail differences in the way Our Only President is doing that and the way he claims John Kerry would do it. He concludes, as far as I can tell, that John Kerry would like to treat terrorist attacks as individual events, and find and punish those individuals responsible for them, and that Our Only President sees this as a broader war, in which individual attacks are less important than the sweep of a historic battle between the forces of ‘freedom’ and those of ‘terror’.

This seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable topic for political dispute. In fact, I don’t think John Kerry’s position is what Dick Cheney describes, but mine is. I happen to think that when people commit premeditated murder, whether that is a drive-by shooting or a colossal terrorist attack, the important think is to punish the people who are actually responsible, as well as to work to improve society so that fewer murders happen. I don’t think that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, nor do I think removing him has led to or will lead to fewer murders. It’s a topic for discussion, and that discussion should help John Kerry.

I think that Dick Cheney was saying that there is everpresent a danger of a terrorist attack, no matter who is president, and that if John Kerry is president, he will not seize that attack as an opportunity to invade countries innocent of that attack, nor clumsily attempt to impose a utopian scheme on volatile regions, nor abandon that scheme when bored. I agree. He is saying that John Kerry will view terrorist attacks as crimes, and that he will catch those who commit them, rather than let them recruit new accomplices, that he will try those he catches in a court of law, according to civilized norms, and that he will care whether he catches guilty people or innocent ones. I hope so. It should sure be a topic for discussion.

Look, it’s clear that, whether it’s explicit or implied, Dick Cheney was saying that the country is safer, in the short run and the long run, with Our Only President serving another term. Democrats are up in arms about this. But shouldn’t that topic be one for discussion? Millions of people will be making their decision based on their sense of security. Should the candidates be discussing it? The indignation seems to me to be totally misplaced, not only because it isn’t based on what Dick Cheney actually said, but because it rules out one of the topics most on people’s minds, and one that sure doesn't make Our Only President look good.



Whatever the merits of Cheney's position, that passage is a pretty poor piece of rhetoric, isn't it?

Hoo-ah, yes. It's funny that the newest version of the fuss is about variant punctuation in the different transcripts. I think that the new 'official' version makes the most sense; I thought the version I quoted must have been an error, but I wasn't inclined to improve it.


On his livejournal, irilyth was kind enough to say nice things about this note. There were comments on his site, which I encourage you to read, and since I can't respond there, I’ll make a couple of points in response here, if I may.
The comments, on the whole, were along the lines of ‘Dick Cheney is a lying, vicious crook, and if he said it was sunny out, I’d bring an umbrella, so why bother to parse what he says for value’.
First, I think the way to encourage Dick Cheney to discuss issues for real is to take what he says seriously. What the Democrats have done, though, is to say that nobody should be discussing it for real, which can only encourage the sort of half-veiled half-threats that they see in this speech. I agree that Dick Cheney’s speech contains no real discussion of the issues; I am disappointed that the Democratic line is evidently to say that even what he did say was too much.
Second, I don’t think that the Vice-President can lose the right to be taken seriously while running for re-election. That is, you don’t have to take his claims seriously, but since his claims are being implemented as policy, and he is asking to be re-elected (or at least elected), his claims should be taken seriously by policy-makers. The Democrats who are most publicly complaining that he crossed some line of appropriateness are exactly those who should be encouraging the comparison of his policies to theirs.
The point of my note, which I think I must have made rather unclearly, was that (a) the quote as it was quoted did not give a clear impression of what I think he meant, and that (2) even if he did say what people think he said, the Democrats responded to it badly. Not badly, wrongly. The response that ‘You can’t say things like that’ is both irresponsible (in terms of governance) and politically stupid (in terms of persuasion).


Just out of curiosity, why can't you reply to comments on LiveJournal?

Because you won't let me, you big maroon!

You've disabled anonymous posting, which means I would have to get a LJ account just to post responses. Not that I have any remotely rational reason for not doing so, but there it is.

If you want to copy my response there, feel free, although I think y'all have moved on.


Huh, I had forgotten that I disabled anonymous comments. Why did I do that again? :^)

I thought you meant that you couldn't post to LJ at all, anyway.

One of these days, someone is going to create an LJ account for you, and mail you the password, and if you don't use it, they'll impersonate you in horrifying and embarassing ways. Not that I personally would ever do such a thing. I'm just saying.

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