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“Cheney for President”

April 28, 2009

Ross Douthat’s initial editorial for the New York Times provides an interesting, if not terribly pleasant, thought experiment: what if Dick Cheney had run for President against Obama? Just looking at the headline is enough to make most people just a little uncomfortable. There is a reason, after all, that people like Jon Stewart get so many laughs portraying Cheney as a modern Darth Vader. But here Douthat uses the specter of a Cheney campaign to good purpose: had he run, there would have been a debate over the Bush administration’s anti-terror methods. Cheney, an all too impassioned defender of “enhanced interrogation” techniques and the maximalist approach to America’s promotion of its military power abroad, would have had to forcefully and repeatedly discuss the details of our methods in Afghanistan, Iraq and anywhere else the army and the CIA tortured prisoners in an attempt to secure information that Cheney felt was keeping us safe from further attacks. McCain, running for President, had no desire to focus on this issue; Cheney would have had no choice. And in discussing it, Americans would have had an opportunity for a full discussion of all the troubling details. As it stands, as Douthat puts it,

where the Bush administration’s interrogation programs are concerned, we’ve heard too much to just “look forward,” as the president would have us do. We need to hear more: What was done and who approved it, and what intelligence we really gleaned from it. Not so that we can prosecute – unless the Democratic Party has taken leave of its senses – but so that we can learn, and pass judgment, and struggle toward consensus.

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. And better, perhaps, if Cheney himself had been there to have it out.

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