Moral relativism, conservative style

MORAL RELATIVISM, CONSERVATIVE STYLE…. Mid-way through the “Fox News Sunday” interview, host Chris Wallace asked Dick Cheney if he’s comfortable with intelligence officials exceeding “legal authorization” to try to obtain information from a detainee. The former vice president said, “I am.”

And that, in a nutshell, is all one really needs to know about Dick Cheney. The law should be followed, except when it shouldn’t. And when the law isn’t followed, the only real outrage would be an effort to hold alleged criminals responsible for their conduct. Think conservatism is about moral absolutes, and stark lines separating right from wrong? Think again.

Michael Scherer noted, “There is not much nuance there…. One CIA contractor, according to the CIA Inspector General, is alleged to have beaten an Afghan detainee to death with a large metal flashlight and his foot. Released criminal records show that another CIA employee was interrogating a detainee at Abu Ghraib prison in a stress position with a bag over his head, when the detainee died of asphyxiation. Assuming that Cheney did not misspeak, his statement to Wallace suggests that he believes these deaths are “OK’ given the circumstances.”

Asked, in the same interview, whether he would cooperate if sought out by federal investigators conducting a criminal investigation, Cheney said, “It will depend on the circumstances.” (The former vice president may refuse to cooperate with the Justice Department?) Cheney also argued that the attorney general is a “political appointee,” who should base prosecutorial decisions on the political wishes of the president. Seriously.

Aside from Cheney’s crass partisanship and craven support for torture, why is he constantly in the public eye, making this case? I think publius had a good item on this.

To me, the goal of his recent charm offensive is simply to kick up enough dirt to force a “draw.” That is, he wants to politicize the torture debate as much as possible — to transform a profound debate about our country’s values into just another everyday Republican/Democratic partisan squabble that makes people throw up their hands and despair of knowing “the truth.”

If you’ve noticed, Cheney tends to pop up in the aftermath of damning evidence. We just (re)learned, for instance, that our CIA agents murdered detainees, choked them, and threatened to rape their wives. Normally, you would think these revelations would give pause to even the most ardent Cheney supporters.

But then Cheney comes along, and tries to reframe the whole story. His intended audience isn’t the nation as a whole, but conservatives. He wants to make sure that they view these stories through partisan-tinted lenses. […]

In short, Cheney wants to transform what should a broad consensus against torture into a “he said/she said” partisan squabble. And if most conservative blogs are any guide, he’s probably been successful.

One last thought. Early on in the interview, Cheney insisted that the Justice Department’s interest in illegal interrogation tactics is “clearly a political move.” The former VP added, “I mean, there’s no other rationale for why they’re doing this.”

“No other rationale”? How about the existence of evidence of criminal wrongdoing, brought to the attention of the Justice Department? Isn’t that a “rationale” for a prosecutor?

I honestly don’t get the “political move” argument. Indeed, it seems backwards. If Eric Holder had decided to go pursue Cheney, Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Gonzales, it’d be easier to understand the complaints. They’d be wrong, but the allegations would at least be coherent. In this case, though, the “political move” would be to ignore alleged crimes for the sake of political expedience.