Monday, February 13, 2006

Cheney as Raskolnikov (& friends!)

No doubt you've already heard about Dick Cheney's little hunting "mishap", and every wannabe comedian out there is pretty much obligated to take a cheap shot or two (so to speak) at his expense. And yes, it is pretty funny. For those of us who already had the guy pegged as a creepy, amoral sociopath with homicidal tendencies, it's also not very surprising. The guy just doesn't seem to attach any value to human life, even that of his closest friends. So even if it was really an accident, I don't see Cheney losing any sleep over it.

And what if it wasn't really an accident? One constant theme throughout Cheney's career is that he thinks he's above the law, and deserves to be treated differently than members of the toiling classes. He didn't go to Vietnam because he had "other priorities". He didn't unload his Haliburton stock when he became VP, because he didn't want to, and nobody was willing to try to force him to. And then there's the whole bit with lying about WMDs. Let's not forget that part. His attitude is always: Do as you please, as brazenly as possible, and challenge anyone to try to lift a finger about it. You have to admit it's worked great for him so far. He's got no reason to think there's any limit whatsoever on what he can get away with.

And on top of everything else, he didn't have a license to hunt quail, it turns out. From the linked article:

Cheney has a Texas non-resident hunting license, but he failed to get a $7 stamp that's required to hunt game birds, the vice president's office said in a statement Monday night. He has since sent a check to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to buy the stamp, the statement said.

Another article about that pesky $7 stamp business he felt only the "little people" needed to get.

Now he's gone and shot someone, and everyone from the White House to the media to the victim himself are all rushing to say it was a regrettable but unavoidable accident. So maybe it was, and maybe it wasn't. We'll never know for sure, because they'd all close ranks and behave exactly the same way regardless of what actually happened, just because he's important and powerful and therefore deserves infinite deference and benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he just decided he wanted to shoot someone, for some reason, and so he did, because he knew for sure he was totally immune to consequences of any kind. I certainly can't believe he has moral or ethical objections to shooting people, or to anything else for that matter.

He reminds me of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, who killed a couple of people because he decided they were bad and deserved to die. He, too, thought he was a law unto himself, an Übermensch outside society, entitled to kill with impunity as he saw fit. But then his conscience started to bother him, and in the end he got eight years in Siberia. This is where he and Cheney part company: Dostoyevsky (an extremely conservative and religious man, btw) hoped to demonstrate that everyone is ultimately subject to the same immutable laws and consequences. All I think he really demonstrated is that you can't get away with murder if you're an impoverished student, no matter how intellectual you are. If you're a czar, or a vice president, the rules really are different. If your czar/VP (the terms are increasingly interchangeable these days) happens to be somone like Cheney, a man who was born without a conscience, bloodshed of some kind is inevitable, and nobody will do anything about it. Nobody will even think less of him for it. After a couple of 24 hour news cycles, they won't even remember the episode ever happened, so if Dick says it didn't, they'll take his word for it.

I realize I occasionally rant about the misuse of historical analogies, but let me introduce a couple that I think are edifying. Inexact analogies, of course, but I think useful in understanding the icky Cheney mindset.

First there's the Leopold & Loeb case from way back in 1924, where a pair of rich teenagers decided to kill someone as an intellectual "experiment in sensation". They didn't get away with it, but this was back in the era when the media actually investigated things. Well, ok, it was also the era when they luridly exploited grisly crimes, too, but now and then there's an upside to that. Also, there's a big gulf between being the teenaged son of the VP of Sears, and being the VP of the whole country.

Or we can go a lot further back, all the way back to the Roman Empire. Not the end of the empire that conservatives obsess about, but its beginning, which marked the end of the centuries-old Roman Republic. An excellent popular account of that turbulent era is the recent book Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic. The lesson, in short, is that if you're ruled by men of unlimited ambition, who ignore with impunity any law or tradition that doesn't suit them, no republic can survive for long. I'm not going to compare Cheney with Julius Caesar (or Napoleon for that matter), since he (like most conservatives) would probably see that as a great compliment. Maybe he's more of a Sulla. Not in the details, perhaps, but in the larger sense, as someone who was the first to really knock the republic off its axis and make its basic institutions look vulnerable, laying the groundwork for another equally ruthless person later on down the road. President Roy Moore, anyone?

Yay. I can hardly wait.

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