Alan Zendell, May 6, 2021
As the Biden administration moves to get COVID under control and counter the stupidity of anti-vaxxers, Americans are responding positively. He has consistently polled better than his predecessor since the day he took office. There’s no doubt that the majority of Americans approve of the way Biden is leading the country, and that only a relatively small minority (I estimate it as less than 30%) support Trump and his Big Lie that the election was stolen. Despite those impressive and unusually consistent numbers, the two most important political issues in our country today are partisan gridlock and who controls the Republican party.
For people who believe, as I do, that Biden’s fight for the soul of our nation is critical to our future, there’s a bitter irony in that observation. Two decades ago, Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense and Vice President under George W. Bush, drew the ire of the country as the evil genius who pushed President Bush into the twenty-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan, based on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and considerable financial self-interest. His politics were considered extreme, Reaganism on steroids. The positions Cheney convinced Bush 43 to take were largely responsible for his presidency ending with one of the lowest approval ratings in our history.
One decade ago, with Dick Cheney out of politics, his daughter Liz took up the baton for her father’s brand of conservatism and became a loud voice for Republicans in Congress. In our naivete, those of us who believed the country needed to change direction from war and the financial dangers caused by an unregulated and irresponsible banking system saw Liz Cheney as the enemy, and not without good reason. New York Times columnist Charles Blow reminded us why, yesterday:
• In 2009, she refused to speak out against the birther movement that claimed Barack Obama was not eligible to be president
• In 2010, she labeled Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) the Department of Jihad, because of Obama’s alleged support for radical Islam
• In 2016, when the infamous Access Hollywood tapes showed Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, she said that wouldn’t stop her from supporting him
• In 2017, she reiterated her father’s controversial support for torturing prisoners captured in the war against Al Qaeda
So yes, it was reasonable, until recently, to view Liz Cheney as the enemy if your political beliefs were anywhere to the left of the Tea Party’s. And then, much like her fellow Conservative Jeff Flake did, a few years earlier, she took a courageous stand against Trump’s lies and willingness to subvert the Constitution for his own benefit. It was courageous because it was an almost lone voice among traditional Republicans arguing for principle, and it put her political future in serious jeopardy. She drew a line between politics and the Trump philosophy of winning at all costs. She denied Trump’s Big Lie and stood tall against the wave of Trumpism attempting to retain leadership of her party.
For me, this is another Flake moment, and a far more important one. Senator Flake made me realize that political opposition is a very different thing from undermining the basis of our democracy. Unfortunately, Flake lacked either the courage or the stamina to fight back against his primary challenge in Arizona, and he faded into relative obscurity after the 2018 election. I admired Flake for speaking out against Trump’s abuses and for arguing that Conservatism, as the polar opposite of Progressivism, was a necessary component of a two-party system of government, whereas Trumpism was about the loss of morality and common decency. But where Flake just quit the fight, Liz Cheney is willing to stand alone even it ends her career.
As Charles Blow said, fighting for truth over dangerous lies is a pretty low bar for defining heroism, but I’m not picky. I choose my allies where I find them, and right now, anyone willing to stand up to Trump has my support. Liz Cheney’s politics, like Flake’s, are completely opposite to mine. But integrity is a whole different thing. Without it, our government and our Constitution cannot long survive. I will cheer for Liz Cheney in her attempt to get the Republican Party back on track. I’ll do whatever I can to help her win, and when she does, I’ll fight like hell against her reactionary politics and in favor of Biden’s centrist progressive leadership.
I will likely oppose Cheney’s political philosophy at every turn, but I will thank her for reminding us that democracy only survives when both sides are free to fight for what they believe, if what they believe in is the future of our country.