BY SUSAN ESTRICH
Come on, my Republican friends, you can do better than this.
From Rush Limbaugh [who doesn’t want the job] to Mike Steele [who wanted it until he got it] back to Dick Cheney?
Has anyone heard of new faces, new ideas, “change” – all the things Americans voted for overwhelmingly?
The fact that the president was rebuked by his own party in both the Senate and the House this week on the closing of Gitmo makes clear that there is a debate to be had in this country about terrorism: about where to keep suspected terrorists, and where and how to try them; about what to do with detainees no country will take, which is not exactly a reassuring reason for bringing them here.
I greatly admire the president for his principled views on torture and detention and the rule of law, but that doesn’t mean I’m sure he’s right. How could I be sure? How can anyone be sure of anything when dealing with men and women who at least might be determined to kill all our children and destroy everything we believe in?
Indeed, it is precisely because these are such serious, difficult and inherently uncertain questions that Dick Cheney is getting the attention he is. I know many smart and well-informed conservatives who firmly believe it was wiretapping and waterboarding that kept us safe for the last eight years. I’d like to say they’re wrong, like a good screaming TV liberal, but how would I know, really? How do they?
Would we have gotten the same information without resorting to enhanced interrogation techniques? Would we have discovered as much if judicially approved warrants, based on standards of at least some objective “cause,” had been required for those wiretaps? These are questions that really can’t even be intelligently addressed without access to classified information. Even then, there’s no way to know for sure what we would or wouldn’t have learned had we not done what we did to get it.
No, it’s not the debate that troubles me. I think a debate like this is a healthy exercise in a democracy, even if the bottom line is that this is the sort of issue on which we elect presidents, the sort of issue that should turn on judgment, not poll numbers.
It’s the debaters. Whether it’s politically wise or not [considering his need to keep the country behind him to inspire confidence on the economy], President Obama is out there, as the nation’s leader, offering his views. In an ideal world, with a different vice president [Hillary for Veep in ’12?], this might be a perfect job for a vice president. A sitting vice president. Not the former one.
There is a long tradition that says the former president doesn’t criticize his successor publicly, particularly in matters of foreign policy. Having the former vice president do it is hardly much of an improvement. But protocol and respect aren’t the only reasons Cheney is a poor spokesman for Republicans.
When he left office, Cheney’s approval rating was down to the immediate family. He had dodged so many bullets in office – remember Scooter Libby? – that, health issues aside, the idea of him succeeding his boss was out of the question. His defenders adore him, but for most Americans, Cheney was a symbol of the ugliest of partisan politics and the failings of his No. 1, who allowed him to wield too much power.
Bringing Cheney back brings the country back to the period we overwhelmingly voted to leave behind. If the Republicans want to win this debate, or any future elections, they need men and women who don’t carry Cheney’s baggage to take on the president.
– Susan Estrich’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer