After an administration ends and the other party takes over, key members often find an institutional home from which to continue their arguments. In 2003, for example, veterans of the Clinton administration founded the Center for American Progress, to provide research and talking-points for center-left policies.
Following this basic model, Liz Cheney — daughter of the former vice president and a former State Department official herself — has gathered a group of conservatives of a particular ilk into a group she’s calling “Keep America Safe.” However, it’s not exactly a Bush administration in exile. Considering some of the people involved — Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, blogger Michael Goldfarb and Cheney herself — it might be more appropriate to call it a Cheney administration in exile.
Given the group’s principals, there should be little surprise about the main issues with which Keep America Safe is concerning itself. It’s basically your big neoconservative three: detention, torture and bombing. Nor is the argumentative style of the group and its members exactly a breath of fresh air. Bill Kristol explained the group’s purpose to Politico this way: “The Left has dozens of organizations and tens of millions of dollars dedicated to undercutting the war on terror. The good guys need some help too.” On Twitter, Michael Goldfarb wrote, “Why doesn’t the left want to Keep America Safe…sort of surprised by all the hostility.”
The Politico article on the group also highlights a two-minute promotional video that it produced. You won’t exactly be enlightened by the content, which is a series of intensely misleading half-truths. The basic gist is, to paraphrase Goldfarb, that President Obama doesn’t want to Keep America Safe.
So here’s a quick breakdown of the video’s claims. Thanks goes out to “Keep America Safe” for the “rhetoric vs. reality” format, which I will shamelessly appropriate:
Keep America Safe rhetoric: Barack Obama gives a good speech.
Reality: Okay, this one is basically true.
Keep America Safe rhetoric: Obama is scrapping the European missile shield, creating an opening for Iranian missiles to pour into Europe.
Reality: Unmentioned, naturally, is the fact that Obama junked the plan in order to secure Russian cooperation in pressuring Iran.
Keep America Safe rhetoric: Obama isn’t interested in protecting the CIA; you can tell this because his attorney general is investigating possible violations of the law by interrogators, which past CIA chiefs dislike.
Reality: This is, strictly, true. However, it neglects to point out that we do not traditionally rely on the chiefs of an agency to determine whether lawbreaking by their subordinates should be punished. We — typically — count on the judiciary for that instead.
Keep America Safe rhetoric: Obama promised to send more troops to Afghanistan, but hasn’t done it yet.
Reality: The military has already significantly enlarged its presence in Afghanistan, technically fulfilling the president’s campaign promise. Further, it came out recently that Obama quietly sent 13,000 new troops to Afghanistan. But yes, he’s still considering sending tens of thousands more, and on that front, he is taking a bit of time to think over his options.
Keep America Safe rhetoric: The president isn’t protecting the country because he’s slacking off, going on TV and golfing and vacationing and jet-setting to Copenhagen.
Reality: The trip to Copenhagen took, like, a day. Obama was already in New York when he went on the Tonight Show. And as for the golf game, well, remember which president spent the most days on vacation? On a related note, do you really want to be criticizing presidents for spending too long thinking over whether and how to commit American soldiers to battle? (Maybe better not to answer that one.)
Here it might be instructive to go back to Center for American Progress for a moment. As it happens, Politico recently ran an article on Think Progress, a CAP-based blog. Among the people asked for a quote was none other than Keep America Safe’s Michael Goldfarb. Said Goldfarb, “They’re a shameless bunch of lying, distorting, propagandists, which I respect, and I don’t know what MSNBC would do without them. But I think the high watermark for Think Progress is long past.”
And with that, Goldfarb went back to his office in the Cheney administration in exile.
Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.