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Dick Cheney and the purity myth

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Like Matthew Yglesias, I think Jon Meacham's desire to see Dick Cheney run for president says a lot more about the incentives of a for-profit media sphere than anything else. But it's worth keying into one argument Meacham makes, and that others have made before him: That Cheney, in some unique fashion, offers a hardline conservatism that will allow America to make a more decisive choice between competing ideological visions.

Cheney's purity is a myth. The growling Wyomingite has uncommonly favorable views towards torture and invading Iraq. But Cheney was vice president amidst Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind and McCain-Feingold and Sarbanes-Oxley and skyrocketing deficits. The father of a lesbian daughter, he's a squish on gay marriage. His neoconservatism comes at the expense of his fiscal and cultural conservatism. He offers a very clear choice on issues that dominated the agenda in 2003. But where is he on financial regulation? Cap and trade? Inflation? What choice does he offer? Why not run Phil Gramm for president? His hardline instincts would be more relevant than Cheney's hardline instincts.

Weirder yet is Meacham's implicit sense of what an election is actually for. "The best way to settle arguments is by having what we used to call full and frank exchanges about the issues, and then voting," Meacham says. But elections are not about "settling arguments." They're about governing the country. They're about lives and jobs and health care and climate change. Impure candidates are better for the country than crystalline fanatics, even if they're worse for testing the national mood. Answering interesting questions and testing out fun hypotheses is why you get into journalism. It's not why we have elections.

Photo credit: By Stephen Morton/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  November 30, 2009; 2:36 PM ET
 
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Comments

meacham, like so many in the media, confuses the utter certainty with which cheney invest his each and every thuggish utterance with knowledge, insight, and perspective.

which is a funny way to think about a thug, but then again, jon meacham isn't very smart, either.

as for the issue of purity, this takes us back to an old point of mine: there are very few actual, honest-to-goodness conservatives in america. there are a lot of right-wing authoritarians who have seized the good name of conservatism as a label for their own bad works.

if you're looking for someone to represent the right-wing authoritarians, well then yes, cheney is your man.

if you're looking for someone to make conservative arguments, i'm not sure who in the republican party today really qualifies as an honest conservative, but dick cheney sure doesn't.

Posted by: howard16 | November 30, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

How dare you mention that Cheney has a lesbian daughter! This is worse than when John Edwards mentioned her existence!

Posted by: _SP_ | November 30, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Obama is governing so far to the corporatist right that the Republicans almost have to pick someone like Cheney to maintain the pro-war pro-corporate welfare mantle. Instead they should put up a good libertarian candidate and I will vote for them.

Posted by: bmull | December 1, 2009 1:42 AM | Report abuse

Meecham is a tool and his leadership is the reason that Newsweek is slowly fading into the abyss.

Posted by: truth5 | December 1, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

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