Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Did Cheney Just “Come Out” as a Racist?

The 24/7 Dick Cheney interview tour keeps defending torture–and keeps giving evidence that could be used in future trials against him and his regime.  The blogs are abuzz because he said Sunday that Bush authorized the torture programs.  When will he be confronted with these claims under oath in a court of law?  Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who has enormous contacts deep in the intelligence community and has broken many a govt. conspiracy  over the years, has claimed that high-ranking intelligence officials have told him of a Bush-era “assassination squad” that ran directly out of Cheney’s office.  I wish he could get them to go on the record, publicly.  Could others in Congress or the Dept. of Justice know of these squads? Do they fear that they still exist and still report to Cheney? Is this why Obama and Congress are so reluctant to hold the Bush admin.  accountable?  Did even G.W. Bush keep going along with Cheney out of fear for his life? I don’t know. I do know we ordinary Americans have to keep pushing for real investigations and prosecutions by a special prosecutor.

But Cheney’s bold defense of his lawbreaking is not new. What was new Sunday was that he seemed to “come out” as a racist.  We have long known of the deepseated ill will between Dick Cheney and former Sec. of State Colin Powell, dating back to before Powell was Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Personal animosity between two people of different races is no proof of racial prejudice.  I don’t like RNC Chair Michael Steele (though he’s entertaining), but it has nothing to do with his race. If he knew me, I assume he’d dislike me, too, but I wouldn’t attribute it to any anti-white feelings on his part.  Sometimes folks just clash.  So, Cheney’s Sunday claim that the GOP should stick with Rush Limbaugh as its voice and reject that of Powell need not, on its face, be racist.

But. . . .

Limbaugh has claimed repeatedly that Powell, perhaps one of the most widely respected Republicans beyond GOP circles, had no other reason for his endorsement of Barack Obama for Pres. last Fall than race.  He repeated that recently and Powell told Republicans that Rush is a poison to their party.  So, in endorsing Rush over Powell–and questioning whether Powell was still a Republican–was Cheney also claiming that Powell had been motivated strictly by race in his late Fall endorsement of Obama? (Remember, grassroots Republicans tried to draft Powell as a presidential candidate in 2000.  Had they succeeded, they might have had a black presidential nominee BEFORE the Democrats.  Among young Republicans and conservative independents I know, Powell is their favorite Republican.)

Still, agreeing with a radio loudmouth that a former 4 star general (one who served for years in Vietnam while both Cheney and Rush, huge supporters of that war in theory, sought and received numerous deferments), former Chair of the Joint Chiefs under both a Republican and Democratic administration, and former Secretary of State is a black racist doesn’t AUTOMATICALLY make Cheney himself racist–just a fool. 

So, are their other indications that Cheney is racially prejudiced?  Well, in 1986, Cheney, then a Rep. from Wyoming, voted AGAINST a Congressional resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa. Cheney, like Pres. Ronald Reagan, supported the deeply racist SA Pres. P.W. Botha and considered Mandela a terrorist.  (In 1986, Botha ordered the bombing of the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches, but MANDELA was a terrorist?) 

Cheney also voted against making Martin Luther King’s birthday a  holiday when he  was a Republican Congressman (1979). He voted against Head Start which, though facially race neutral, helps out African-Americans and Latino children disproportionately because they are more likely to come from the impoverished backgrounds that need the extra help to be ready for Kindergarten. (It is significant that Rep. Linda Chavez (D-CA), the first Head Start grad to become a sitting member of Congress, is also sometimes mentioned as a possible Obama nominee to the Supreme Court. Would Cheney have apoplexy?)

Cheney has generally hated the press.  He has given more interviews since leaving the Vice Presidency than in his  entire career as a legislative aid,  Deputy Chief of Staff for the Ford White House (during which time he tried to get the DoJ to perform the kinds of illegalities it eventually got caught doing under Ashcroft and Gonzalez–which always led me to think Cheney was behind it all), 5 term Republican Congressman from WY, Secretary of Defense for George H.W. Bush or VP under Bush II.  So, there’s not a lot of verbal record to compare and say conclusively that Cheney is a racist.  But neither is there anything in the record to refute the claim.  The evidence is slim, but it all points one way.

We might add one more piece of evidence:  Cheney’s endorsement of the “Shock and Awe” strategy in the Iraq war–his complete disregard for civilian life.  (Bush I had to reign him in during Gulf War I and insist on the standards of international law.) Was this because Iraquis are generally darker skinned?  Would Cheney have endorsed such tactics if the U.S. was at war with a white majority society like France? (Some would say that Cheney only cares about his own life.) This, too, is not conclusive.

But I think the evidence is definitely starting to pile up that Dick Cheney is a racist bigot.


May 11, 2009 - Posted by | prejudice, race, tradition, U.S. politics


  1. Cheney’s criticism of Powell is a weak indicator of his bigotry; it is an easy argument to make that Powell is no longer much of a Republican, if he was ever. Powell has always been pro-choice, he recently supported the Democratic nominee for President, and he recently stated something to the effect that the American people want more government services and are willing to pay higher taxes for them.

    So what aspect of the Republican party base WOULD Powell appeal to? On Economic and Social issues, he is much more in line with the Democrats than the Republicans. He would probably make a good Democrat too, and his participation in that party would benefit everyone, so he should be honest about where he stands at this point.

    Comment by wilsonrofishing | May 11, 2009

  2. Sigh.

    Comment by K Gray | May 11, 2009

  3. It’s not that Cheney said that he thought Powell was no longer GOP. It was that he agreed with Rush–who said Powell only backed Obama for reasons of race. Rush is a known racist. Cheney’s preference for Rush certainly SOUNDS racist.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 11, 2009

  4. Interesting conjecture, but I think you’re grasping at straws. Modern “Republicanism” has often justified the means with the outcome, regardless of how unsavory those means may be. In the “Cheney supports Rush” scenario: the outcome was bad-mouth Obama, discourage supporters, etc. How they achieved that was virtually acceptable in any form.
    It very well could be that Cheney has some forms of racism. Sociological and psychological research tends to show that racism is more of a continuum than a “state.” Meaning, racism is not a light switch (On = “racist,” Off = “non-racist”).

    Comment by Vinnie | May 11, 2009

  5. Whether Cheney is a racist or not (His record and his extreme views seem would certainly put him in that corner.) is less of a concern to me compared to his outright extremist, anti-American views. He has already proven to be a danger to the country and continues to spew his venom at every opportunity. Some see him as an emerging GOP leader. That in itself should signal the final death knell for the GOP.

    Comment by Ralph | May 11, 2009

  6. I think you’re really stretching now. Plus the whole burden of proof is on you, so the statement that there isn’t “anything in the record to refute the claim” is just out of line.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | May 11, 2009

  7. Powell certainly does appeal to the Republican base… well, the base that is leaving the party in droves and supporting these same policies Powell supports. Seems pretty Republican to me.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | May 11, 2009

  8. You really are reaching. Cheney was not agreeing with Rush’s assessment of why Powell endorsed Obama, what he is saying is Rush’s brand of conservativism should be the face of the GOP, not the brand Powell supports, which has a lot of Republicans saying looks “more Democrat than Republican.”

    Comment by Steven Kippel | May 11, 2009

  9. I don’t follow. If you vote for someone based solely on their race, does that make you a racist? I would say possibly depending on what you mean by racist.

    But if you simply CHARGE that someone else voted for someone because of their race, how does that make the person making the charge a racist?

    Rush’s charge of racism against Powell was more of the superficial variety that most minorities are guilty of and is viewed as harmless considering the particular history of blacks. But of course the point Rush was making was if any white had violated their historic party affiliation because of emotional ties to their race then the media would not have given them a pass. It’s a tired but valid point the right continually brings up. It doesn’t make them racists for pointing it out however. You simply have trouble being charitable with those you disagree with.

    Comment by james | May 12, 2009

  10. I may have trouble being charitable to those with whom I disagree. It depends on the subject and the person, I guess. But I don’t think Powell’s endorsement of Obama had anything to do with either’s race. Powell never endorsed Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Powell spelled out very carefully the reasons why he could no longer endorse McCain.

    And the charge that most African-Americans voted for Obama based on race are also baseless. Remember that, in the beginning, Hillary Clinton had upwards of 80% of the “black vote” including the support of most of the Congressional Black Caucus. Obama had to earn those votes with his policies (and he could lose them the same way.) Sure, there was an element of pride that one of “their own” so excluded throughout most of our history was finally winning the biggest seat at the table. Sure, many agreed with Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson in saying, “Now when I tell kids and grandkids that you can be anything you want in America if you work hard enough, I’ll finally be telling the truth.” (That is fundamentally different than voting AGAINST someone because you want to keep all of their race out of places of power.) But it’s not like African-Americans voted for just any black face–ask Alan Keyes or Michael Steele. As Chris Rock likes to joke, they weren’t supporting “Flav-r-Flav.” I guarantee you that African-Americans, including Powell, have voted for far more white candidates than whites have voted for candidates of ANY racial/ethnic minority group.

    Powell was: Reagan’s National Security Advisor; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both Bush I and Clinton (and a registered Republican during the Clinton years); subject of a grassroots committee to draft him for Republican nominee for president in 2000; the favorite choice of many Republican insiders as Bush II’s VP running mate (but Cheney chaired a committee for that running mate and then, surprise, picked himself!); Bush II’s Secretary of State. So, the charge that Rush (and Cheney?) make that Powell is a Democrat in sheep’s clothing and voted for racial reasons, is very suspect. Did they claim that such prominent white Republicans who endorsed Obama as Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Goldwater’s niece, Chris Buckley (son of the founder of The National Review, all endorsed Obama because of his race?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 12, 2009

  11. “the charge that Rush (and Cheney?) make that Powell is a Democrat in sheep’s clothing and voted for racial reasons, is very suspect”

    Again this is muddled. The original charge by Rush is that because Powell was truly a REPUBLICAN and agreed with McCain (vs. Romney or Huckabee) on more than he did with Obama, then his choice of Obama must be rooted in allowing racial solidarity to trump his actual politics.

    Now as Powell has begun to actually endorse specific policies of Obama’s, they tend to find that he is actually just a Democratic convert. The racial solidarity argument is no longer as relevant, but does in fact make one wonder how much Powell has become a Democrat.

    Of course there is so much leeway with ideology and party affiliation that this really is just Rush and Cheney enforcing their ideological boundaries on the party. I would think Rush hasn’t narrowed so much, but Powell clearly has drifted. He didn’t vote for Clinton, he contemplated a run against him in 96, against Gore in 00. And yet he can support Obama? No DLC candidate, but Obama’s fine (and race is not a factor?!?)? His Republican pedigree notwithstanding, Powell has moved. This is what Cheney and Rush are saying.

    Comment by james | May 12, 2009

  12. I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Down under we see things in black and white. This is a pretty clear case of racism. To accuse Powell of endorsing Obama because of his race is racist for the reasons Michael has explained. Cheney could apologise – but to defend Cheney from racist charges is quite frankly ludicrous in down under thinking.

    Comment by steph | May 14, 2009

  13. Steph you seem sincere.

    If the charge is true it is not racist. If it is false it is wrong and still not racist. You are over-sensitive and apparently think that speculating about racial motivations or simply using the word “race” when referring to blacks means one is racist.

    If Cheney had said, “oh well, who cares what blacks think of Obama and his policies, they all vote alike and don’t use their brains” that would be racist. Here however Powell appears to have violated his principles and past voting patterns. He is being called on it.

    Comment by james | May 14, 2009

  14. “Powell appears to have violated his principles and past voting patterns.” Really? Up until 1996, Powell was a registered independent who sometimes voted for Democrats and sometimes Republicans. He was always conservative, but never rightwing.

    He warned the GOP repeatedly since 2000 that they were moving the Party too far to the right and would lose the majority of American people–and they have. He always was in favor of affirmative action and spoke out against the Bush II attempts to roll it back even when serving as Bush II’s Sec. of State. Although duped (willingly? I don’t know) into pushing for the Iraq invasion, Powell’s foreign policy has always been closer to Obama’s–strong military, but not extreme–and use it as rarely as possible (in his understanding of that); hard-edged, but pragmatic, diplomacy; willingness to talk with enemies (remember that Powell helped Carter negotiate the ouster of Haiti’s military govt. and the return of its duly-elected president, Aristide, in the Clinton admin.–forceful negotiation backed up by threat). In fact, Powell’s foreign policy, like Hillary Clinton’s, is closer to Obama’s than most of us on the left are.

    Powell, like Condi Rice, always was pro-choice and pushed for the GOP to have a wider role for pro-choice Republicans.

    I’m not a huge fan of Powell. I think he was involved in Iran-Contra up to his eyeballs and was just never caught. Plus, I think he was the only one who could have stopped Bush II’s invasion of Iraq and he didn’t have the guts to do so. The more that I think about how closely Powell’s politics fit with Obama’s, the less I like Obama. (I’m beginning to think we on the left were suckered again, just as with Clinton. Obama will do something progressive one day and undermine it the next–especially in civil liberties and foreign policy and national security matters.)

    But I don’t think Powell’s vote is inconsistent with what he has stood for. I think Powell was driven from the Republicans, though he has not yet left the party.

    Today’s Republicans would have no room for Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Chafee, Jacob Javits, Harold E. Stassen, Mark O. Hatfield. Today’s GOP would be too controlled by religious fundamentalist for the otherwise very conservative Barry Goldwater. It would be too anti-environmental and too controlled by market fundamentalists for Richard Nixon(!) who said, “We’re all basically Keynesians, now.”

    Judge Richard A. Posner, one of Ronald Reagan’s earliest judicial appointments and one of his most conservative, has just blogged about the intellectual decline of conservatism as a movement. See http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/archives/2009/05/is_the_conserva.html This follows his book-length rethinking of his longtime commitment to deregulation, The Failure of Capitalism. Yesterday’s conservative heroes were people of ideas. Today’s conservative heroes are “Joe the Plumber” (who just quit the GOP, too!), Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and the 24/7 torture apologists–not a serious intellectual among them. Yesterday’s GOP could embrace people as liberal as Jacob Javits and as conservative as Milton Friedman with many a Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell ranged along the middle. Today’s GOP is trying to chase out any semblance of disagreement on anything.

    Cheney may not be racist–although his support for Botha over Mandela says he is louder than anything else–but he is certainly no one to charge Powell with compromising principles. Cheney never had any principles to compromise. He has always been about only one thing: His own power.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 14, 2009

  15. So Michael, are you saying that any time someone accuses another person of doing something because of their race, the accuser is proving he or she is a racist?

    If that were true, then every time anyone in the media or on blogs or even personally accused white Southerners of voting only for McCain because of Obama’s race, then in fact they were showing themselves to be racist.

    Taking your conclusion to it’s logical end, there were many racists revealed during the last election. Why not a post about all of them?

    Comment by D.R. Randle | May 14, 2009

  16. D.R.:
    Good point.

    1. I think there is a fundamental difference between someone of a minority voting for someone of their race out of a sense of pride, “at-last-we-have-arrived” feeling and someone REJECTING a candidate based on his race and feeling that such a group never deserves the office in question. While the first may not be the best reason for voting, it doesn’t show the level of hatred and discrimination of the second view. Any black voters who voted for Obama BECAUSE he was black could point to many times they voted for white folk–even over black folk. Many of the whites who backed McCain because Obama was black have NEVER voted for an African-American for ANY office.

    2. Accusing someone of doing something because of her or his race doesn’t automatically make the accuser a racist. (I thought I said that.) It should make observers compare records. I can find far more evidence that Rush and Cneney are racist than I can find that Powell is one.

    3. Why not post about all the racists? I repeatedly posted about various dimensions of race revealed by this election–not all those dimensions in one party or facing one direction. But this post on Cheney was to highlight something I thought could be overlooked in an interview that was mostly his tired rehearsing of his same ol’ “defenses” of his blatantly illegal and immoral behavior.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 14, 2009

  17. Now that’s a much more reasonable rant from the left!! The situation is indeed so bad for the R’s currently that it has led to piling on with this silly racist charge. It’s gotten so easy the pundits are “phoning it in” now. It’s a narrowing of ideology, that’s all.

    Comment by james | May 14, 2009

  18. James: Of course I am sincere! If Powell had endorsed other African Americans before Obama I might have been persuaded but actually Michael has provided the argument that makes it quite clear to me, and our view of racism, that Cheney is racist.

    Comment by steph | May 14, 2009

  19. How about issuing an update? Seymour Hersh has repudiated the entire “Cheney ran death squads out of his office” connection:

    “Vice president Cheney does not have a death squad…,” Hersh said. ‘I have never suggested that he was involved in political assassinations or death squads on behalf of Mr Cheney, as the published stories state….This is another example of blogs going bonkers with misleading and fabricated stories and professional journalists repeating such rumours without doing their job – and that is to verify such rumours.”

    – quote from Daily Times online story, today.

    Whatever people might think of Cheney, the disservice here is to the public.

    And perhaps to Mr. Hersh (who also has unfortunate experience publishing sensational stories based on false information).

    It will be interesting to see if any publication corrects and/or retracts.

    Comment by K Gray | May 19, 2009

  20. If you have a link to this repudiation, K., I will be glad to update this. As I understand it, Hersh still claims that his sources high up in the intelligence community make this claim, but whereas he thought they would be willing to speak on the record after the inauguration and change of administrations, they still fear to do so because the members of those squads are still “burrowed” into the government.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 19, 2009

  21. Here is the link where Hersh repudiates that hit squad left wing fantasy, sorry not enough time for HTML : http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2009%5C05%5C19%5Cstory_19-5-2009_pg7_4

    Comment by wilsonrofishing | May 19, 2009

  22. Your reasoning for why Bush era officials are not being held accountable for what some believe is torture is playing out right now.

    There were plenty of people on both sides of the aisle who had oversight of the programs initiated over the past eight years, and other than a few terse memos they filed, they did little to nothing in their critical oversight role. They continued to fund operations and activities of the CIA, NSA, DOD, etc. Including the time since the Democrats rolled into DC in force back in ’06.

    So if you haul Cheney into the sunlight, there will inevitably be some Dems who get pulled out from under their rocks to answer as well. Are the Democrats in DC idealistic enough to do this to themselves?

    So why would Cheney have a hit squad running out of his office? He didn’t need one!

    Comment by wilsonrofishing | May 19, 2009

  23. I don’t know if the Dems are willing to do this or not. I am hoping the American people are willing. This is not “what some are calling torture,” but what U.S. law and international law call torture.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 19, 2009

  24. Thanks.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | May 19, 2009

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