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Paul Ryan: Dick Cheney With a Smile | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Paul Ryan: Dick Cheney With a Smile

Never afraid to go against the crowd, or the facts, Dick Cheney found Paul Ryan’s performance in Thursday night’s vice presidential debate dazzling.

Following the debate, Cheney declared that ”there is no question in my mind when I look at Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on the stage there last night, I think Paul Ryan’s got what it takes to take over as president. I don’t think Joe Biden does.”

How did George W. Bush’s number-two see what so many mere mortals missed?

Cheney pays serious attention to Ryan.

Indeed, he says: “I worship the ground that Paul Ryan walks on.”

And no one should doubt Cheney’s sincerity.

The former Republican vice president adores the Republican vice presidential candidate because Ryan is a fresh, young Cheney.

Cheney moved to Washington as soon as he could and became a political careerist, working as a Capitol Hill aide, a think-tank hanger on and then a member of Congress. Ryan followed the same insider trajectory.

Cheney’s a hyper-partisan Republican with a history of putting party loyalty above everything else. Ryan’s an equally loyal GOP mandarin.

Cheney’s a rigid ideologue who has never let reality get in the way of cockamamie neocon theories about where to start the next war. And Ryan’s every bit as much a neocon as Cheney.

Americans should reflect on Ryan’s performance in Thursday’s vice presidential debate with Cheney in mind. When they do, they will shudder.

In the 2000 vice presidential debate at Centre College in Kentucky, Cheney was asked if he favored using deadly force against Iraq. “We might have no other choice. We’ll have to see if that happens,” he replied. Why? He said he feared Saddam Hussein might have renewed his “capacity to build weapons of mass destruction.” “I certainly hope he’s not regenerating that kind of capability, but if he were, if in fact Saddam Hussein were taking steps to try to rebuild nuclear capability or weapons of mass destruction, you would have to give very serious consideration to military action to—to stop that activity.”

Two years later, Cheney was leading the drive to send US troops to invade Iraq. Three years later, US troops were bogged down in an occupation that would cost thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. No weapons of mass destruction were found and America’s international credibility took a hard hit.

Cheney didn’t care. He never apologized for leading America astray. And he never offered any indication that he had learned from the experience.

Thursday, in the 2012 vice presidential debate at Centre College, Ryan put a smile on the Cheney doctrine. But there was not a sliver of difference between the politics of the former vice president and the pretender to the vice presidency on questions of how to deal with foreign policy challenges in Afghanistan, Syria and Iran.

At the close of an extended discussion of Afghanistan, in which he repeatedly suggested that the Obama administration was insufficiently committed to fighting America’s longest war, Ryan actually suggested: “We are already sending Americans to do the job, but fewer of them. That’s the whole problem.”

On Iran, Ryan was so bombastic that an incredulous Biden finally asked: “What are you—you’re going to go to war? Is that what you want to do?”

Ryan did not answer in the affirmative Thursday night in Danville.

Neither did Cheney twelve years ago in Danville.

But Cheney signaled his inclinations in the 2000 vice presidential debate. And Ryan has signaled his intentions this year—confirming that the neoconservative fantasy, despite having been discredited by experience, dies hard on the neocon fringe of the Grand Old Party.

Paul Ryan bears resemblance to another famous Republican—Nixon. Check out John Nichols's post here. And don't miss any of The Nation's election coverage: sign up for our weekly Election 2012 email here.

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