Some notes, one day after speeches by President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney discussing the use of torture and the detention of terrorists at Guantanamo:
My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.
President Gerald R. Ford, Aug. 9, 1975
Ford made that statement as he took office, after Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency in the wake of the Watergate Scandal.
Ford’s speech to the nation and his swift decision to issue an amnesty for Nixon came to mind yesterday, during the back-to-back speeches by President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
In 1975, Cheney was Ford’s assistant — eventually, Ford’s Chief of Staff. He presumably heard Ford say:
“Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.”
Cheney has been with us for more than three decades, and out of office, he apparently intends to give us lessons on truth, justice and the Constitution. He said in his speech in Washington yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute that the country has been in danger ever since Sept. 11, 2001, because of terrorists who hate America.
“Nine-eleven made necessary a shift of policy, aimed at a clear strategic threat — what the Congress called ‘an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.’ From that moment forward, instead of merely preparing to round up the suspects and count up the victims after the next attack, we were determined to prevent attacks in the first place.”
Cheney also reminded us of his years of service in successive governments; perhaps that’s why the Ford administration came to mind. He and his mentor, Donald Rumsfleld (in the Ford administration as secretary of defense and again under George W. Bush) have been said to advocate almost unlimited powers of the presidency.
Ford issued a controversial pardon for Nixon exactly one month after he took office, saying “ugly passions would again be aroused, our people would again be polarized in their opinions, and the credibility of our free institutions of government would again be challenged at home and abroad.”
Thirty-four years later, Cheney was living through days of “ugly passions” again. He has been warning Americans that they are not as safe as they were during the Bush administration. He used the words “true” or “truthful” eight times in his speech, and one time referred to (even warned against) a truth commission on actions carried out during the Bush administration.
One is reminded of a famous movie line — “Truth, you can’t handle the truth” — delivered by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film, “A Few Good Men.” Interestingly, the setting for the trial in that movie was the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
The point of all this is to say perhaps Cheney does a service by raising the issue: are there truths that Americans need to consider? Can we handle the truth, or even discern it?
– Peter Eisner