By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
If you've been following the Lewis "Scooter" Libby perjury trial, I can understand how you might confuse Dick Cheney with Tony Soprano. Cheney's office is beginning to sound a lot like the Bada Bing, minus the dancers.
Court has been in session for only a week, and already we've heard about characters being set up (Libby, allegedly, to save political wizard Karl Rove), strung along (media bigwigs, who were to be played like patsies), buried in mud (former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who questioned the raison d'etre of the Iraq war) and ratted out (the famously leak-averse Cheney, revealed to be willing to leak like a washerless faucet when it suits his purposes).
Cheney's no Tony, though. For one thing, Tony would never let one of his top henchmen go by a preppy-sounding handle such as "Scooter." For another, this kind of all-in-the-family mess would send Tony moping to his long-suffering shrink, whereas Cheney shows no inclination to deal with uncomfortable issues or face harsh realities.
Increasingly, the vice president is sounding as if he lives in a la-la land of his own imagining, a place beyond truth.
In Cheney's world, the Iraq war is an enormous success. The idea that anyone would think otherwise is hogwash. The midterm election doesn't seem to have happened yet -- some sort of time warp may be involved. Polls that show overwhelming public opposition to the war do not even merit a nod of acknowledgment.
And it's "out of line," as Wolf Blitzer learned, to ask Cheney about a glaring personal contradiction -- the administration he serves wants to ban gay marriage, and meanwhile his lesbian daughter and her life partner are having a baby. Cheney acts as if he's willing to go to any lengths to keep people from learning that on the subject of homosexuality, he's probably pretty enlightened.
Let's hope that Cheney isn't really out to lunch, that he's just playing politics. A conservative friend reminded me the other day that all the White House has left, in terms of public support, is the hard-line Republican right. Let's hope Cheney is just tossing out red meat to keep these stalwarts on the team.
But, yes, he is coming across as a little crazy. I'm glad he's not the Decider -- excuse me, now it's the Decision Maker.
Cheney's weirdness is almost enough to summon nostalgia for the days being revisited in the Libby trial, a time when Cheney and his minions at least were rational in their machinations. Forget the byzantine, eye-glazing details of the case and look instead at how the vice president's office operated.
The primary stated reason for the war -- Saddam Hussein's supposed nuclear weapons program -- had already been discredited, and now this guy Wilson was claiming that the White House knew beforehand that some of the most damning evidence of a nuclear program was bogus. Cheney convened a war council, organized an effort to counter Wilson's claims and then sent Libby out to leak anything that would make Wilson look less credible. In other words, they went after the messenger rather than the message.
One problem was that Cheney's office had been so taciturn that reporters rarely bothered to call, knowing that all they were likely to get was a cold shoulder. Cheney's former press aide testified that at one point there was a frantic search for a phone number for someone, anyone, at Newsweek. That leak finally had to be attempted via voice mail.
Flash forward to the point when it became clear that someone in this supposedly tight-lipped administration had leaked the fact that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent. Amid much finger-pointing, the White House issued a statement that categorically absolved Rove of this potentially criminal leak -- but that didn't mention Libby.
You get the sense of Cheney and his crew as a semi-independent power center, a family within the larger family. You see them hunkered down in their office suite, much like Tony and crew in the back room of the Bada Bing, plotting ways to cover their behinds and do in their rivals -- whether those rivals are found in Baghdad, Tehran or the West Wing.
Scooter worried he was being thrown to the wolves, according to his attorney. A note scribbled by Cheney, the lawyer says, revealed that he had smelled a plan to "sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder."
Now that really sounds like something you'd expect to happen in Tony's world.