Tuesday, February 14, 2006

How Significant is the Cheney Story?

My initial reaction was: it isn't. It's unfortunate, it's funny, but it's not significant. Sure, Dick Cheney is arrogant and irresponsible and thinks he's above the law...but (a) we already knew that and (b) an incident like this could have happened to anybody. Though, um, I suppose it could especially happen to anybody who is arrogant and irresponsible and thinks he's above the law...

I seriously distrust the instinctual urge to assert that this incident tells us something about Cheney and the administration, but it's almost impossible to resist that urge. The defining characteristic of this administration has been its inclination to use deadly force in an irresponsible manner. It's pretty damn hard to ignore the whop-you-upside-the-head similarities. But resist the urge I did.

Then the facts about the administration's handling of the story started to come out, and it started to get very, very hard to resist the inclination to conclude that the incident really was rather like Bush's term in office writ small. It's the special treatment and the urge to conceal and control information that is most telling. (Another defining characteristic of the Bush presidency: they're information fascists. They think that we only have the right to know what they want us to know, and they think we should be grateful for what we get.) Kevin Drum agrees, incidentally, that it's this part of the story that's most striking. So it's not just me.

If there's any moral to be taken from this it's that this administration's first impulse is to conceal and control information. Their presumption is that information is to be witheld if possible and only released if necessary. This is an administration that hates sunlight, thriving in and yearning for the darkness. Even when there should be no thought of concealing information, they automatically do so, even if only for 24 hours, until they convince themselves that they've got to give it up. They've got this all backwards, of course--and that's one of the reasons so many of us have come to distrust them so profoundly.


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