Dick Cheney’s Moral Standard, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Damon Linker is perturbed at what Cheney – “along with a distressingly large number of Americans – understands by patriotism: a willingness to do just about anything to advance the interests of the United States and decimate its enemies”:

Cheney’s hardly the first person to defend such a position. Machiavelli advocated a version of it in The Prince. It’s been favored by some of the most ruthless nationalists and totalitarians in modern history. And it’s expressed in Book 1 of Plato’s Republic by the character Polemarchus (the name means “leader in battle”), who defines justice as helping friends (fellow citizens) and harming enemies (anyone who poses a threat to the political community). This is what patriotism looks like when it’s cut off from any notion of a higher morality that could limit or rein it in. All that counts is whether an action benefits the political community. Other considerations, moral and otherwise, are irrelevant.

The problem with this view, which Socrates soon gets Polemarchus to see, is that amoral patriotism is indistinguishable from collective selfishness. It turns the political community into a gang of robbers, a crime syndicate like the mafia, that seeks to advance its own interests while screwing over everyone else. If such behavior is wrong for an individual criminal, then it must also be wrong for a collective.

Chait helpfully dismantles Cheney’s defense of torture. And Waldman focuses on his refusal to define the term:

[E]ven after this repeated questioning, we still don’t know how Dick Cheney or any other torture advocate defines it. Why not? It seems pretty clear. There is simply no definition that anyone could devise that wouldn’t apply to things like stress positions or waterboarding. Try to imagine one. Torture is the infliction of severe physical or mental suffering to obtain information or a confession — but only if it leaves a mark? Or only if it’s done by non-Americans? Any such definition would be absurd on its face.

So when people like Cheney are asked what the definition of torture is, they say, “September 11!” When asked what definition of torture wouldn’t apply to the particular techniques the CIA employed, they just repeat, “We didn’t torture” over and over. They not only defend torture as a means of obtaining intelligence, they sing its praises and insist that it was spectacularly successful, all without having the courage to call the thing by its true and only name.

Froomkin is concerned that, for Cheney, his Meet The Press appearance “was still a win – at least in the short term, until history passes a more considered verdict”:

Because our elite political media is unwilling to call out the morally abhorrent self-interested ravings of a torturer, Cheney’s statements effectively push the envelope for what is treated as legitimate debate. So while we finally have this long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report, full of achingly detailed descriptions of abuse and lies even more depraved and duplicitous than any of us had imagined, the media just sees the “revisiting of a debate” about torture.

Previous Dish on Cheney’s MTP appearance here. Andrew’s take here.