It took thirty years for “Frost / Nixon” to reach Broadway. Assuming that civilization survives and the Great White Way remains above water, we can expect “Cheney / Bush” to mount the boards sometime in the late twenty-thirties or early twenty-forties.And what would the libretto look like? Relying on recent in-depth investigative reports in the Washington Post, New York Times, and New Yorker --
it is now, so to speak, official: for the past six years, Dick Cheney, the occupant of what John Adams called “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived,” has been the most influential public official in the country, not necessarily excluding President Bush, and his influence has been entirely malign.Well, okay! Now we have the libretto. All we need, now, is someone to set that to music.
He is pathologically (but purposefully) secretive; treacherous toward colleagues; coldly manipulative of the callow, lazy, and ignorant President he serves; contemptuous of public opinion; and dismissive not only of international law (a fairly standard attitude for conservatives of his stripe) but also of the very idea that the Constitution and laws of the United States, including laws signed by his nominal superior, can be construed to limit the power of the executive to take any action that can plausibly be classified as part of an endless, endlessly expandable “war on terror.”
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More than anyone else, including his mentor and departed co-conspirator, Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney has been the intellectual author and bureaucratic facilitator of the crimes and misdemeanors that have inflicted unprecedented disgrace on our country’s moral and political standing: the casual trashing of habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions; the claim of authority to seize suspects, including American citizens, and imprison them indefinitely and incommunicado, with no right to due process of law; the outright encouragement of “cruel,” “inhuman,” and “degrading” treatment of prisoners; the use of undoubted torture, including waterboarding (Cheney: “a no-brainer for me”), which for a century the United States had prosecuted as a war crime; and, of course, the bloody, nightmarish Iraq war itself, launched under false pretenses, conducted with stupefying incompetence, and escalated long after public support for it had evaporated, at the cost of scores of thousands of lives, nearly half a trillion dollars, and the crippling of America’s armed forces, which no longer overawe and will take years to rebuild.
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On Cheney’s version of the government organization chart, it seems, the location of the Office of the Vice-President is undisclosed. So are the powers that, in a kind of rolling, slow-motion coup d’état, he has gathered unto himself. The laughter will fade quickly; the current Administration, regrettably, will not. However more politically moribund it may become, its writ still has a year and a half to go. A few weeks ago, on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, the Vice-President issued threats of war with Iran. A “senior American diplomat” told the Times that Cheney’s speech had not been circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered, adding, “He kind of runs by his own rules.” But, too often, his rules rule. The awful climax of “Cheney/Bush” may be yet to come.