Dick Cheney and the Agony of Deceit

09/07/2011 10:57 am ET | Updated Nov 07, 2011

At a campaign event in 2007, Barack Obama half-jokingly called then Vice President Dick Cheney "the crazy uncle in the attic." Crazy, yes. But now that Uncle Dick is heading downstairs with a vengeance, 
the joke is on the American people. 

Cheney's just-released memoir, I'm Always Right, And If You're Not On Board Go Fuck Yourself (not the exact title. Why should I help him sell books?), is, above all else, a smorgasbord of self-serving "recollections" of his eight years as the most powerful and perhaps most destructive VP in American history.

Cheney shames the truth-shading of other political memoirs, instead spinning a story that flies in the face of common sense while it contradicts the more plausible accounts of such fellow Republicans as Colin Powell, Condi Rice and even his former boss, George W. Bush.

Take the Iraq war. Cheney ignores clear evidence that he knowingly misled the public about the "connection" between Iraq and Al Qaeda and the "fact" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In Cheney World, his own past statements -- including, in 2004, "There's overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government" -- are inoperative. It was all the CIA's fault.

When The Today Show's Matt Lauer pointed to a well-documented state of affairs that challenged Cheney's glorification -- that the Iraq war diminished America's standing in the world -- Cheney's response was as simple as it was inane: "I just don't believe it." Even with the benefit of hindsight that's given most of us 20/20 vision, Cheney prefers blindness.

Worse than Cheney's historical fiction is his dismissive defense of something not in dispute: he sanctioned and continues to advocate the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques"-- read torture -- on alleged terrorists. 
Lauer exposed the clothing-optional Emperor when he asked, "If an American citizen were to be taken into captivity in Iran... and the government of Iran were to say, `We think you're a spy for the U.S. or you're here to carry out a covert operation,' would it be okay for the Iranian government to water-board that American citizen?" Cheney's answer -- "Well, we probably would object to it... " -- allowed Lauer to zero in on the spectacular inconsistency of supporting torture against our enemies but opposing it if another government adopted the same policy toward an American. Cheney, cornered, retreated into nonsense: "Well, I think we would object because we wouldn't expect an American citizen to be operating that way."

In Pulitzer-winning author James Stewart's recent book, Tangled Webs, the author uses the Scooter Libby case -- in which Cheney's chief aide was convicted for falsely stating that he had learned then-CIA agent Valerie Plame's name from NBC's Tim Russert rather than from, yes, Dick Cheney -- as a prime example of the pervasiveness and the consequences of lying in our culture. Cheney, of course, stands by his scapegoat.

In a post-Today Show gloat-fest, Rush Limbaugh mocked Lauer's observation that some people have called Cheney the most divisive American political figure in a century. "I don't know how you get a better compliment than that," Rush swooned. Cheney replied, "No, I thought that was high praise, Rush."

You can picture Cheney basking in the praise of those, like Limbaugh and the Fox News gang, who see his memoir and promo tour as a victory lap for a principled, hard-line conservative. Robert Scheer, in a trenchant truthdig piece headlined "A Deceit of Shakespearean Proportions," argues that the real principle at work owes more to Sammy Glick than to Ronald Reagan: "It is not clear that Cheney is a true believer in military mayhem as much as he is an uncontrollable careerist who finds war talk a convenient tool for advancement."

One can imagine a zombie flick based on Cheney's prediction that his book would cause "Heads [to] explode all over Washington." Or perhaps an enterprising producer is, as we speak, delivering this elevator pitch for a Cheney biopic: "Machiavelli meets Narcissus."