Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Extremist Makeover?

By MAUREEN DOWD
WASHINGTON

In the past week, I’ve twice been close enough to Dick Cheney to kick him in the shins.

I didn’t. It’s probably a federal crime of some sort. But a girl can fantasize. I did, however, assume the Stay-away-from-me-you’ve-got-cooties stance that Jimmy Carter used when posing with Bill Clinton at the presidents’ powwow in the Oval.

The first time was Tuesday, when Cheney left the ceremony where he gave the oath of office to senators. The senators seemed thrilled, especially Joe Biden, who was getting sworn in for just two weeks and was excitedly showing off a family Bible the size of a Buick. But I thought it gave the ceremony a satirical edge to have the lawless Vice presiding over lawmakers swearing to support and defend the Constitution that he soiled and defiled — right in the heart of the legislative branch he worked to diminish.

The second time I crossed paths was Thursday night, at a glitzy party at Cafe Milano for Brit Hume, stepping down as a Fox anchor. It required extreme defensive maneuvers — much zigging and zagging — to avoid Cheney, Wolfie and Rummy, all three holding court and blissfully unrepentant about the chaos they’ve unleashed on the world.

“My conscience is clear,” Rummy volunteered to Bob Woodward, talking about how he’s interviewing people for his memoir.

Woodward was stunned. “I was as speechless as I was in July 2006 when I interviewed him and he said he was not a military commander, that he could make the case that he was ‘by indirection, two or three steps removed,’ ” Woodward told me afterward.

At least Ernst Stavro Blofeld would have the decency just to leave the scene.

From Gaza to the unemployment figures to the $10.6 trillion debt, things keep spiraling while W. keeps fiddling. Just as when he was in the National Guard and didn’t bother to show up, now, as the scabrous consequences of his missteps shake the economy and the world, he doesn’t bother to show up. He’s checked out — spending his time on more than a dozen exit interviews that do nothing to change his image as a president who was over his head and under Cheney’s spell.

Asked by People magazine what moments from the last eight years he revisited most often, W. talked passionately about the pitch he threw out at the World Series in 2001: “I never felt that anxious any other time during my presidency, curiously enough.”

Asked by Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard if he had made progress in some areas for which he hasn’t gotten credit, the president put trying to privatize Social Security at the top of his list. It’s frightening to think where a lot of people would be now if that effort had succeeded.

After he leaves office, W. wants to go on more bike rides, because biking through Katrina was not enough. He wants to write a memoir, even though the offers are not pouring in as they did for Laura. And he wants to encourage debate at his presidential library on “big ideas.”

The vamoosing Vice has no apologies about turning America into a country that tortured; indeed, he denies it ever happened. “Torture,” he told Barnes, “that word gets thrown around with great abandon.”

He’s going back to Casper, Wyo., and said he’s giving “serious thought” to writing a book, so he can continue his extremist makeover. The only thing he can do now is shoot a big lie across the bow and see if it lands.

Cheney’s theory of executive “unitary” power and pre-emptive war and frightening the world was a theory of Constitutional thuggishness.

Asked last week by Mark Knoller of CBS Radio in one of his exit interviews to name the “biggest mis-impression” people had about him, Cheney replied with a laugh, “That I’m actually a warm, lovable sort.”

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