A noun, a verb, and 9/11

A NOUN, A VERB, AND 9/11…. Now that it’s over, Dick Cheney’s speech on national security was clearly a mistake. It’s been easy for the former vice president to show up on various news programs and attack the president, but today’s appearance at a conservative think tank put Cheney in a position in which he had to present an actual vision. He would have been better off repeating talking point to Hannity and Limbaugh.

Note, for example, that Cheney referenced 9/11 25 times. It was enough to make Rudy Giuliani blush.

For that matter, the speech was striking in its lack of anything new or compelling. Even casual political observers probably could have sketched out the framework of the speech in advance, and been pretty close to the actual thing. Looking at counter-terrorism as a law-enforcement matter is a mistake; Obama, Democrats, and the New York Times are putting us at risk; except for all of the spectacular failures, Cheney’s approach to national security was effective; torture is good, but releasing torture memos is bad; the rule of law is “an elaborate legal proceeding”; Obama is only worried about impressing Europe; and someday, historians will agree that Bush/Cheney was just terrific.

It’s almost as if Cheney just grabbed a couple of copies of the Weekly Standard from January and pasted them together.

One of the concerns that stood out for me, though, was Cheney’s frequent references to “euphemisms.”

“Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and the terrorist enemy…. In the category of euphemism, the prizewinning entry would be … It’s one thing to adopt the euphemisms that suggest … “

Since when does Cheney find “euphemisms” so offensive? We are, after all, talking about the leader of an administration that came up with some doozies in the euphemism department.

“Terrorist surveillance program” is euphemism for warrantless wiretaps. “Enhanced interrogation program” is a euphemism for torture. Indeed, the previous administration used euphemisms as the basis for an entire national-security strategy: “war on terror,” “weapons of mass destruction,” and “mushroom clouds” were standards for quite a while.

Cheney probably thought it would raise his stature to speak after the president on the same subject. The strategy was half-successful — he got the media to characterize this as some kind of showdown between relative equals. But the other half was a humiliating failure — Cheney came across as a small, petty man, trying a little too hard to undermine the nation’s elected leadership while salvaging some shred of personal credibility.

He failed.