Cheney's Ragged Dick Tale


Cheney's still clearing his throat and has already coughed up a great biographical tidbit, an incredible Ragged Dick Horatio Alger tale: His grandparents lived in a Union Pacific railroad car but still thought Franklin Delano Roosevelt should know about their grandson's birth (who shared a b-day with FDR).

(Somewhere, a Democrat strategist is hatching an Edwards' counter-claim in the inevitable VP debate: How about great-grandparents who lived in a shoe once owned by Mr. Warren G. Harding?)

The larger point of Cheney's family anecdote is the unassailable Yakov Smirnoff punchline: Wotta country!(speaking of end-of-Cold-War casualties, word is that even Chechen terrorists refused to take Smirnoff, currently in internal exile in Branson, Missouri, hostage). Pace economist Joseph Schumpeter, who famously quipped "that Americans go from workclothes to workclothes" in three generations, the Cheney clan has gone from nothing to next-to-the White House.

But the (red) meat of this talk is the need for a tough commander-in-chief. (Christ, how different it was four years ago, when that presidential role was seen as outmoded.) Cheney is now in the thick of a long litany of just how wrong Kerry has been as a senator. It's late, Cheney's voice is soothing, monotonous, sleep-inducing, the political equivalent of smooth jazz. With every passing charge from the VP, Kerry's strategic mistake at the DNC is becoming clearer: By failing to characterize his Senate career in terms of themes, legislation, and leadership, Kerry has allowed the GOP to write a script that is unrelentingly negative. And, in the absence of a counter-story, mostly believable. Certainly, Cheney's attack on Kerry was helped immensely by the VP's blunt, plainspoken style.

Yet Cheney's speech–like much of the RNC–pivots on a highly debatable, indeed, the highly debatable point that "we're in a war we didn't start." That's only partly true: Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. and deserves to be killed to the last man for that; they started things. Yet no one–certainly no one in mainstream politics–is against blowing Al Qaeda to kingdom come. The questions most Americans have relate to the war in Iraq, a battle whose timing and shape was very much dictated by the White House.

Bracketing for the moment the large question of how the economy will affect votes, if the GOP is able to define the War on Terror and the war in Iraq as coterminous, they'll win in a walkover. If the Dems somehow manage to separate the two, it'll still be competitive.