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The old dog defends the home
I have memories. Specifically I have a memory of Dick Cheney debating John Edwards in the 2004 election. The debate was, compared to what we have now become accustomed to, a model of decorum. Both men spoke in an articulate, informed, intelligent and mostly polite style; each for example waited for the other to finish before speaking and there was no shouting.
Edwards wasn’t a shouter; Cheney didn’t need to shout. While his voice formed civil, considered words, his sulphuric eyes, antediluvian forehead and most of all his preternatural jaw expressed…a deep, highly sublimated desire to tear and rend. He was terrifying. He was substantial. Next to him, Edwards’ face and body expressed mostly superficial smarts and blitheness; he was like a spaniel gamboling around a restrained pitbull without the sense to be afraid.
Edwards said many things that I agreed with, particularly about Iraq. I voted for him and Kerry in fact; I never would’ve voted the other way. But what I remember about this debate was what Cheney said, not with his words, but under them. This is what I heard:
I am a very fierce dog. I am loyal to the home. The worthless animal you see sitting across from me is the kind of dog that, when the home is invaded by dangerous men, would run in circles barking while the intruders pillaged and raped. In truth the man at the head of the ticket on which I run is the the kind of dog that would, under those circumstances, hide under the couch and piss himself. All the more reason that you need me. Because what I would do is fight to the death to protect you and the home—and I do not think it would be my death. I would tear the intruders to pieces, I would eat their arms and legs, I would eat their heads if I was allowed.
Towards the end of the debate there was a moment of detente (at 57.23) when Edwards made a remark about the Cheney family’s acceptance of and love for their daughter Mary, who is gay. (It was relevant because of the discussion of gay marriage, whether or not it should be allowed.) Cheney’s verbal response was mild and polite. But this is what I heard:
Like any fierce, loyal dog I am of course especially loyal to my family. My family is what I love, the only thing I love. The home is to protect the family and I am to protect the home. If you are outside the home I don’t care about you. Leave us alone, I leave you alone. Mess with us, I tear off your limbs.
There was an element of theater to the presentation, for me even a dash of comedy and childhood romance; a bit of the paranoid Captain Hook, Hook as the shadow side of Mr. Darling, the ineffectual father of the fly-away children. There was also something genuinely tragic in it; that pure animality linked with and in the service of human mendacity, greed and indifference to suffering. I was moved by Cheney’s “dogness,” because I felt it showed a nature that was deep and absolute—passionate, I thought at the time. I remember thinking that he had decided long ago that the world was a terrible place, and that the only thing to do was protect those you love and screw everyone else. I remember thinking there was real despair in it. In that picture above, the one with his special snarl; if you look you can see the desolation in his eyes, especially the left one.
Eighteen years later, you can see it even more clearly, and there is no longer a snarl to provide a cover of menace.
He is much weakened: his stark, staring eyes have lost their sulphur, and his once terrible forehead is covered by an absurd hat that suggests vulnerability. As many people have pointed out, it’s gross hypocrisy for him, who so bluntly lied about weapons of mass destruction (“I know it, he knows it and, deep down, I think most Republicans know it”) to call It a liar. The moral posturing by a former torture advocate backgrounded by sappy music is hard to stomach on any sane level. But the video is affecting anyway. Because it shows him keeping a wordless promise to a moral value he believes in and has in common with almost everyone else: old and almost toothless, he’s still defending the home. Affecting but also sad. Because it’s too late. It was too late a long time ago.