The second in the Washington Post’s four-part series on Dick Cheney was published today, and it continues the story of Cheney’s behind-the-scenes control of administration policy on treatment of terrorism suspects. The story-line is pretty simple: Cheney, through his top legal advisor, David Addington, consistently and successfully pushed the administration into a position of minimum observence of domestic and international laws providing due process for suspects and prohibiting torture, and maximum assertion of a quasi-imperial concept of the president’s national security powers. Aside from its exposure of Cheney’s ability to overcome objections to these policies from the State and Justice Departments (and from the National Security Council), the series is also depicting then-White House counsel and now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a weak and often clueless accomplice for Cheney’s designs.
A subtext of the story is that Cheney’s policies have produced a major backlash in Congress, the courts, and among U.S. allies, unraveling some of the more outlandish administration positions. After outlining this backlash, the Post story reaches this sobering conclusion:
[A] more careful look at the results suggests that Cheney won far more than he lost. Many of the harsh measures he championed, and some of the broadest principles undergirding them, have survived intact but out of public view.
That may well be true, but one Cheney victory is right out there in public view: His contribution to the remarkable lurch towards authoritarianism in the Republican Party. The signs are all around, most notably in the glaring contradiction between GOP contempt for the rule of law in the fight against jihadist terrorism, and the hyper-legalism of the emerging conservative position on immigration reform, which focuses obsessively on the alleged outrage of tolerating violation of immigration laws.
Authoritarianism–the belief that those who make the laws, and no one else, can break the laws–is the only ideology that can square that particular circle. And to the extent that the GOP presidential field continues to make advocacy of torture and preemptive war, and opposition to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants, its dual litmus test–let’s call it the Cheney-Tancredo Doctrine–we are witnessing a truly dangerous trend in one of America’s two major parties.