Liz Cheney, the infamous political operative and daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, announced last night that she is running for Senate. After careful consideration, I believe this is welcome news for the country and today I would like to offer my endorsement.
I’ve thought about this over the past several days, in anticipation of Cheney’s announcement. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, Cheney had already moved her family to Wyoming. She alerted the sitting senator, Republican Mike Enzi, that he might face a challenger. And fearing a charge of carpetbagging, she has been, according to the Times, “showing up everywhere in the state, from chicken dinners to cattle growers’ meetings.” I’ve also enjoyed that in her Twitter feed, Cheney has started referring to Wyoming as “God’s country.”
Or in hashtag form:
There’s nothing wrong with this. Wyoming is awesome. But, Liz, a little free advice: When you’re actually from a place, you don’t need to constantly prove it by giving it a nickname. People who live in Chicago don’t post pictures of themselves eating bready pizza with the caption “Windy City!” It should be noted that in Cheney’s announcement video, she also listed relatives who hailed from the Cowboy State, without mentioning, though I suppose implying, that one is her well-known and well-respected father.
But whatever. I don’t care where she was raised and I don’t care who her father happens to be. And neither should you. Liz Cheney deserves more respect and substantive attention. She is among the most vicious, cynical and talented partisan operatives in American public life. She helped led the appalling campaign against the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.” Her political action committee baselessly accused several Justice Department lawyers of al-Qaida sympathies. Time and again, she has rooted her political attacks not in policy differences but in an easy, slimy willingness to suggest that President Obama and his administration are disloyal to this country. “Whose side are they on?” she asks.
And, yikes, her foreign policy! It’s just this breathless, nervous, aimless belligerence. (There is plenty of good stuff here at the YouTube page of the PAC she founded with William Kristol.) For example, of modest spending cuts at the Pentagon (in part, quite sensibly, because of the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) she said: “What President Obama is doing is something that America's enemies – the Taliban, al Qaeda – have been unable to do: which is to decimate the fighting capability of this nation.” Cute.
Cheney in recent years has also come out against withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, closing Guantánamo, reading terrorism suspects their Miranda rights, and trying terrorism cases on U.S. soil. This is a position that, oddly, became commonplace among a certain conservative set even though it is obviously weak and cowardly to suggest that terrorists are too scary to try in our courts or hold in our jails. It’s also hammer-to-the-head stupid because we have done it countless times before. Oh, and by the way, she’s also one of those fantastic people who likes to deny the existence of climate change whenever it snows.
Now, it is hard to tell where Liz Cheney’s ideology ends and her cynicism begins. (She – unlike, say, Sen. James Inhofe – is certainly too smart to believe that climate change is a hoax.) But it doesn’t so much matter. The toxic brew of fervor and contempt that Liz Cheney offers is at the core of what plagues the Republican Party today.
Sure, I am a Democrat, and I know this means, despite my best efforts, that I am prone to being too hard on conservatives and too easy on liberals. It also means that I tend to have greater appreciation for moderation in Republicans than in Democrats. Nonetheless, it to me seems indisputable that the Republican Party is heading toward a reckoning. This reckoning will take place when smart, reasonable, passionate, decent conservatives take their movement back from those like Liz Cheney who have encouraged the kind of radicalization that has made governing nearly impossible, who think “compromise is akin to communism,” as former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson said to the Times. (To that point, in Cheney’s announcement video, which was mostly aimed at President Obama, she took two veiled swipes at her primary opponent, Sen. Mike Enzi: criticizing those who “[cut] deals with the President’s liberal allies” and promising to “never compromise when our freedom is at stake.”)
Now, obviously, it is important to note: If Liz Cheney were to win she would without a doubt be a shittier senator than Mike Enzi, but only because Mike Enzi is an honorable and decent man. On policy grounds, he is very conservative. Beyond a proposal to levy a sales tax on Internet purchases, it’s hard to find a conservative mark against him. For the most part, it seems Liz Cheney is really only troubled by two facts: that Mike Enzi isn’t enough of an asshole and Liz Cheney isn’t enough of a senator. But the fact that Mike Enzi has failed some purity test for many conservatives, for a few meager attempts at compromise and a reasonable proposal to level the playing field for brick-and-mortar companies (and, one suspects, for failing to use the kind of fire-and-brimstone rhetoric that has become common on the right), tells you all you need to know about the state of conservatism today.
America needs a strong, positive, rational conservative movement that appeals to a wider range of voters; that offers market-oriented policies and shows a willingness to work with Democrats; that serves as a check against the centrist liberal philosophy that is now, like it or not, the natural home of the majority of Americans. That is the conservative counterweight that would serve America well. But it will only be possible if the Republican Party faces its demons and the shrill and strange voices that now dominate. Liz Cheney’s candidacy will help force that conversation, and it is one the country sorely needs.
In the same interview with the Times, Alan Simpson, the former senator of Wyoming, said that a contest between Liz Cheney and Mike Enzi might bring about “the destruction of the Republican Party in Wyoming.” Maybe that’s right. And maybe that’s what has to happen.
Perhaps the Republican Party needs to hit rock bottom and Liz Cheney is the last shot of rail tequila before the conservative movement blacks out, wakes up and heads to a meeting.
One can only hope.
Liz Cheney for Senate.