Cheney-style family values are back.
Today comes the announcement that the ex-insurgent Senate candidate—you know, the one who thought her sister shouldn’t be allowed to get married—and her dad have founded a new nonprofit, the Alliance for a Strong America, “because we know that America’s security depends upon reversing President Obama’s policies.”
This organization is necessary, we’re told by Liz and father Dick in their eye-popping Wall Street Journal op-ed, because Barack Obama has “diminished and weakened” America. The top threat we need to wake up to? Al Qaeda—in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria. And, of course, the killing of four Americans almost three years ago in Benghazi, about which the president has “repeatedly misled us.”
Discredited voices get just as much love from the First Amendment as creditable ones, so the Cheneys can say whatever they want. But it’s worth stopping to reflect on the audacity it takes someone who left office with an approval rating below 20 percent to interject himself so aggressively into public discourse—on policies whose public support is almost as low. We’ve become so blasé about this now that we hardly bother to notice. And as for Al Qaeda as our top threat…c’mon, Cheneys, couldn’t you be even a little bit original? How about Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has broken treaties, invaded and dismembered its neighbor Ukraine, sustained the evil Bashar al-Assad, and cozied up to North Korea? Or China, which is busily trying to redraw the Pacific map around every rock outcropping? Or, if you want to fear-monger about ISIS in Iraq and Syria, how about at least giving them credit for being so violent that Al Qaeda kicked them out? But no; the ASA’s website is all Al Qaeda all the time. When is it not, in Cheneyland?
If all this sounds familiar to you, you are right—and you also pay far too much attention to the employment needs of ex-Bush administration officials. Seems like just yesterday—2009, in fact—that Liz Cheney, along with Bill Kristol and Debra Burlingame (whose brother died on 9/11), founded Keep America Safe, which aimed to “make the case for an unapologetic approach to fighting terrorism around the world, for victory in the wars this country fights, for democracy and human rights, and for a strong American military that is needed in the dangerous world in which we live.”
It may say everything we need to know about Keep America Safe’s success rate that I hadn’t realized until this morning that it was defunct. During the same week Cheney launched her Senate bid in Wyoming, Keep America Safe had shut down, with little fanfare, and pretty much overnight.
But it’s worth stopping to reflect on the audacity it takes someone who left office with an approval rating below 20 percent to interject himself so aggressively into public discourse.
Looking at the two websites together is enough to give rise to a bad case of nostalgia for pre-2012 neocon rage. The Keep America Safe website was at least a globally literate and coherent representation of international security issues. It invited readers to think about Russia, China, Latin America—as well as the hardy perennial bogeymen of Guantanamo prisoners roaming your grocery stores and American Muslims threatening, well, whatever it is they threaten by exercising the same rights as the rest of us. Back in the first Obama term, when I was running a national security nonprofit myself, it was considered déclassé—not to mention a tax-law violation—to have your organizational mission explicitly support or oppose the policies of a major political party. Keep America Safe, though its partisan aims were clear enough, largely played by those rules.
The Alliance for a Strong America site is like a caricature of what liberals said about Keep America Safe. (An alert soul got hold for the domain allianceforastrongamerica.com and produced a more informative parody.) Really sweet father-daughter pictures and a YouTube video—Liz’n’Dick for a new generation—and fulsome biographies of the pair. (Hey, how many times were Taylor and Burton broken up and back together? Imagine how many more Cheney vehicles we have to look forward to.) “About the Cheneys” has much more content than “About Us.” The site doesn’t cover any region other than the Middle East; no Russia, no China, no NATO, no democracy and human rights. Core concepts from the 2009 manifesto have grown more florid: U.S. armed forces have gone from “the best the world has ever known” to “the greatest fighting force and the greatest force for good the world has ever known.”
A terrific cultural studies dissertation awaits on how the fortunes of the Cheneys provide a mirror on a changing America. The cheat sheet: The declining support among Americans regardless of political party for the use of force abroad maps nicely onto the declining revenues of Keep America Safe, which IRS forms show dwindled (PDF) to just $129,000 before it was shut down. The failures of their policies—and Americans’ lack of desire to bring them back—led to a harshening and coarsening of the dialogue, even in the formerly rarified precincts of State Department officials, as Liz Cheney once was.
But their appeals to fear and canny marketing give them a continuing place in American life, as long as they can raise money for a media booker and a website. It’s a strategy the extremists and Saddamists who melted away when the U.S. “cakewalked” into Baghdad and Kabul, and waited for us to get distracted, would recognize.