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05.08.09

We Need More Dick Cheney

While President Bush has exited stage right and refused to comment on his successor’s service, former Vice President Dick Cheney has shown no such reticence. That is fine with me. First, because I think the hoary old chestnut about former officeholders not criticizing their successors is more mythical than real. And, second, because the more the country sees former Vice President Cheney, the more they realize why they love President Obama.

Former Vice President Cheney (that “former” part never gets old, does it?) has some excellent advice for the Republicans: Don’t moderate. Don’t stand for change. Defend the status quo. Stay the Bush-Cheney course.

To be sure, the leftward movement is not uniform nor is it permanent. I recall laughing in 2004 when Karl Rove spoke of a Republican majority that would last 60 years. Karl was off by about 58 years.

Cheney gave his party this advice in an interview with an AM radio talk-show host in North Dakota. I am not making this up. Cheney has gone from ordering invasions, wiretaps, and torture to calling up AM 1100 in Fargo and saying, “Hey, Scott, Dick here. First-time caller, longtime listener!”

"I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate,” Cheney told right-wing talker Scott Hennen, the self-described “Chairman of the Common Sense Club.” This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas... what the role of government should be in our society, and our commitment to the Constitution and constitutional principles. You know, when you add all those things up the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. I, for one, am not prepared to do that, and I think most us aren't."

That’s right, Republicans. Listen to former Vice President Cheney. Don’t come up with new ideas. Don’t move to the center as America shifts to the center-left. Don’t appeal to young voters—you only lost them by 34 points! Don’t appeal to Hispanics—you only lost them by 36 points! Don’t appeal to African Americans—you only lost them by 90 points! Women? Who cares? You only lost them by 14 points.

Listen to Mr. Cheney, Republicans. Don’t appeal to the majority. No, continue to craft your message exclusively for old white guys who voted in Congress against equal rights for women, against a resolution calling on the apartheid regime in South Africa to free Nelson Mandela, and against Head Start, against the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, against reauthorizing the Clean Water Act, and for bringing back slavery. (OK, I made up the one about slavery, but the rest are all true.)

As my longtime running buddy, James Carville, points out in his brilliant new book, 40 More Years, the party of Cheney didn’t just lose an election, they lost a generation. America is now a center-left country. Look at the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll. Support for gay marriage is surging. Just four years ago, only 32 percent of Americans supported gay marriage. Today marriage equality commands a plurality: By 49 percent to 46, Americans support it. And 53 percent say their state should recognize the gay marriages sanctioned by other states.

When I was working for Bill Clinton in the White House, just 22 percent of Americans supported legalization of marijuana; today 46 percent do—and the Republican governor of California is saying he wants to study legalization. In 2007—just 18 months ago—49 percent of Americans supported what conservatives called “amnesty for illegal aliens.” Today, 61 percent agree with this statement: “People have a right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.”

A Pew survey of culture and values caught the leftward trend in 2007. Pew found a strong increase in Americans’ support for what Cheney pillories as “big government.” In 1994, 57 percent of Americans agreed that “Government should care for those who can’t care for themselves.” In 2007 that number had surged to 69 percent. Pew also found the support for the principle that “Government should help the needy even if it means more debt” rose from 41 percent in 1994 to 54 percent in 2007.

To be sure, the leftward movement is not uniform nor is it permanent. I recall laughing in 2004 when Karl Rove spoke of a Republican majority that would last 60 years. Karl was off by about 58 years. President Obama has wisely rejected any notion of a permanent realignment, saying, “You know, politics in America changes very quickly and I'm a big believer that things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem.” He’s right, of course. But it’s also undeniably true that the politics of Dick Cheney—and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Joe the Plumber and all the rest of the finest minds of the 12th Century—are the politics of failure and that the politics of Barack Obama are ascendant.

So keep calling in to those right-wing radio stations, Dick. I hear that there’s a big one in Alligator, Mississippi, that’s dying to hear from you. You can tell them all about how you were on the right side of history when you voted to support the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. Oh, that one is true.

Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.