October 26, 2007

Benefit and Doubt

For an interesting spectacle in the fantasy gymnastics of morality, read Andrew Sullivan's triple reacharound to Dick Cheney in his blog at the Atlantic. Sullivan is the highbrow manifestation of the Log Cabin Republican spirit, the avatar of a sometimes admirably contrarian group that wishes it had a tent to crawl into and so will not admit that the pillars of said tent have for more than twenty years been not fiscal conservatism but veiled racism, homophobia, and, frankly, a fascist vision of politics and social organization. Sullivan's contention is that Cheney is a guy doing all the wrong things for all the right ("even noble," he writes) reasons. What's leading Cheney astray? False confessions. From torture victims. Yes, that's right. See how Greek it's all become? In Sullivan's figuration, poor Cheney reached for torture because, in the wake of 9/11, he "panicked," "immediately [thought] of Saddam," and just as immediately realized we didn't know squat about Saddam or anyone else. Torture was the only arrow in the quiver, as Sullivan supposes it; and for Sullivan, ever Catholic, this is the original sin — made, like that of the original couple, in ignorance, and at the beck of evil. From it, the entire tragedy of errors flows.

As Fred Thompson might say (he'd say it better, but it would take longer), that dog won't hunt. Sullivan ignores Cheney's long pre-9/11 political career, antidemocratic tendencies that stretch back in the near term to his conduct of the Energy Task Force and in the far term to his stewardship of Defense under Bush I and his work for the Nixon White House. Cheney was actuated, not invented, by 9/11 — a better term still might be liberated. It was the grand confluence of event and circumstance and tendency that set him free to do what he'd wanted to do as long ago as the mid-'70s: consolidate power in the executive; exempt the US from international fetters in matters of military action and espionage; and effectuate a state both dynastic and corporate, as little beholden to the chaos of democratic process (represented by Congress, which has become at most a public relations rubber stamp, at least irrelevant) as possible without enacting something that might look like an outright coup. Maybe, for Sullivan, earnest is the same thing as noble; and I don't doubt Cheney is earnest in his convictions or his pursuit of them. But they are "noble" convictions only for a feudalist or a monarchist, not for a democrat. And the fact that, as is often noted by Cheney's defenders, said convictions are descendants of some of the energies active in the American political elite at the time the constitution was drafted does not in any way make them descendents of the constitution itself. Sullivan recognizes fruit of the poisoned tree just fine; what he can't recognize, apparently, is the rotten soil from which that tree grows.

Why Sullivan wants to see Cheney in such a benevolent light is beyond me; why the same people who can perceive ill will and malefaction so easily abroad are so determined to deny it could ever exist, let alone ascend, at home — that's beyond me. Cheney isn't the first devotee of the corporate fascist state as the answer to democracy's inefficiencies or the complexities of postindustrial economics; he's not even the first American political figure to hold such convictions. But if the US continues on its present course, he may well be the most successful.