Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2009 / 30 Kislev 5770
Cheney's abuse of freedom of speech
By Michael Smerconish
I used to hold
Of the many outstanding interactions, one was truly exceptional. I can still picture the obscure sole member of
Cheney was impressive in his remarks and gracious with his time. Since that day, I've maintained respect for the man who has served his country for the better part of four decades as
Now he's losing me. By using a 90-minute interview with Politico to pre-emptively criticize President Obama's decision-making process regarding
That the former vice president said Obama was projecting "weakness" was bad. Worse was when he suggested that Obama was "far more radical" than expected on some foreign-policy and national-security issues, which was wholly over the line.
It is not always Cheney's message with which I disagree. I happen to concur with his defense earlier this year of harsh interrogation methods. My objection is to the messenger and the timing. Whatever he says carries the imprimatur of the office he once held, and speaking up at critical junctures undercuts the president before his policies can take hold.
It also places Cheney at the wrong end of the spectrum among an important constituency: the fraternity of retired
While Cheney's disapproval has been almost constant,
That approach is more in keeping with American tradition, according to presidential historian and author
During a phone conversation last week, Brands told me: "Generally speaking, retired presidents stay out of day-to-day politics. They give speeches sometimes, but the speeches usually don't touch on current controversies. There's been a feeling that retired presidents form a very exclusive club, and they know the responsibilities of the office. They can remember what it was like when they were in office and the last thing they needed was one of their predecessors taking pot shots at them."
That's not to say that former presidents and vice presidents have never criticized their successors.
But that comment came in
"I can't think of anything close to this," he said. "Generally speaking, people who have held the highest offices in the land, president and vice president, have sufficient respect for what their successors have to do, and how the actions of any president impact on national security, that they're usually quite loathe to make anything like a partisan issue of big national-security policies."
And unlike many of his vice-presidential predecessors, Cheney is at this point beyond the realm of future political ambition, Brands noted.
"I think it's important to note that we're really talking here about good or poor taste. There's nothing obviously in the Constitution or American law that says a retired president or vice president can't speak his mind. This is in the tradition of American freedom of speech," he said. "The question is whether it's in good taste, whether prudentially they ought to exercise that right."
Time and a place, my parents often said. Time and a place.
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