Sympathy for Dick Cheney

By David Swanson

Remarks delivered in Oakland, Calif., on April 24, 2008.

It’s wonderful to be here in the Bay Area and to discover that wherever Nancy Pelosi gets her ideas from, it’s not from her constituents. But I have some bad news for you. Last night I spoke in San Luis Obispo on why we should impeach Dick Cheney. The night before that was a speech in Ventura on why we should not dump another $178 billion into the occupation of Iraq and why we should impeach Dick Cheney. But on the drive up here from San Luis Obispo I had a long conversation with someone who began to change my mind. I confess that I had, prior to today, not given proper consideration to how impeaching Dick Cheney could backfire, namely by turning Dick Cheney into a figure of sympathy.

Imagine if we held impeachment hearings on Cheney’s support for torture, for example. This could involve dragging across our television screens and newspaper front pages accounts, and possibly videos, of meetings in which Cheney and his lawyer and his close associates discussed and dramatized and gave approval for specific acts of torture, including some very intense and in some cases probably sexual acts of torture performed on some very exotic and thrillingly frightening evildoers. The personal pleasure that Dick Cheney may have derived from these torture approval sessions is as private an affair as some past president’s oral sexcapades, and sticking the public’s nose where it doesn’t belong is likely, I now realize, to result in comparisons being drawn between the victimization of Dick Cheney and that of Princess Diana.

Or imagine if we were to hold impeachment hearings that meticulously laid before the public the lead role Cheney played in fabricating a false case for attacking Iraq. Americans admire a strong work ethic, and Cheney worked very long hours for many months without a break, relentlessly badgering the CIA, the Pentagon, Congress, and the media. And we put him to all that trouble because of our predictable failure to understand the need to attack Iraq for the reasons Cheney and his friends had so straightforwardly presented in the papers of the Project for a New American Century. If we had supported the real reasons, Cheney would never have had to go to all that trouble to invent fake ones. Now guilt may begin to set in, which will only add to the sympathy we feel for Dick Cheney.

And, remember that when certain busybodies exposed some of Cheney’s laboriously constructed lies, he was forced to go to even more trouble to destroy their careers or expose their wives as secret agents. Do you think that was pleasant? Do you think Cheney enjoyed exposing a CIA agent? This is the same man who is presently constructing a multi-million dollar house in Virginia just a few minutes’ walk from CIA headquarters. Don’t you think he’d prefer to get along with the neighbors and not have been caused all that grief? Imagine the sympathetic figure Dick Cheney might become if impeachment hearings examined where he obtained his millions of dollars, profiting from a company to which he directed no-bid contracts for the work of pretending to reconstruct a country he had just destroyed.

So, I now take my friend’s concerns very seriously. Impeachment, I now see, might very well backfire. In fact, I think it might go even worse. Along with Dick Cheney, we might very well turn John McCain into a figure of sympathy. An impeachment hearing on torture, for example, would bring back into the news that unfortunate incident in which Cheney lobbied Congress not to absurdly and redundantly re-criminalize torture, but McCain lobbied successfully to do so. Bush signed the bill into law and added a little “signing statement” drafted by Cheney’s lawyer that said, effectively, “We’ll torture if we want to, and we’ll start with you, John McCain, if you make a peep about it.” OK, it didn’t actually say that last bit, but from that moment on, McCain became a supporter of torture.

Imagine if the media were forced to drop its fascistic fetishes with flag pins and religions and instead ask John McCain if he would torture as president, and how a supposed victim of torture who used to condemn it as both evil and useless can justify that, and if he can justify that how there can possibly be anything he couldn’t justify. If those mean reporters make John McCain scream or cry, he might not stand a snowball’s chance in hell of being elected president, but he’ll become a figure of sympathy. I feel sorry for the poor gutless murdering bastard myself already.

You know who else I feel sorry for – seriously – Nancy Pelosi, because she has Shirley Golub and Cindy Sheehan and all of you to contend with. When you get your so-called economic stimulus tax rebate checks in the mail, I recommend signing them over to one or both of those candidates. And write in the memo line “FOR IMPEACHMENT.” And photocopy the check, and send photocopies to Nancy Pelosi and to newspapers.

Almost three years ago, on May 1, 2005, the Downing Street Minutes were published, and a lot of us worked for a year together with John Conyers pushing for impeachment. Well, we were pushing for impeachment. Conyers may have just been pushing for our votes to make him a chairman and give him a bigger office. Because guess what happened in the first week of May 2006? Actually two things happened, but I’ve come to think of them as one. First, the Republican National Committee released a statement announcing that any talk of impeachment would backfire and benefit Republicans in the 2006 elections. This statement did not even pretend to be based on any evidence, and it flew in the face of every relevant poll. In fact, as it turned out, a poll not long before the elections found that a majority of Americans believed that giving the Democrats a majority would mean impeachment. And what happened? Americans gave the Democrats 30 new seats and the Republicans not a single one (or possible 40 or 50 new seats if we had elections that based the outcomes on – you know – who got the most votes).

So, the RNC’s statement looked like a bluff, and it proved to be baseless. But I forgot to mention the second thing that happened that first week of May 2006: Nancy Pelosi announced that impeachment was off the table, in obedience to the RNC. And from that moment on, John Conyers’ position on impeachment has paralleled John McCain’s on banning torture.

But the movement for impeachment has grown anyway, with leaders in Congress including Dennis Kucinich (ask him to please introduce the articles of impeachment he has drafted on George W. Bush!) and Robert Wexler, who is pushing for impeachment hearings from within the Judiciary Committee. Those supporting impeachment include Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey, and more recently Pete Stark. Barbara Lee was invited here tonight and did not come. Brad Newsham did come and is running against her in the primary on June 3rd because, while she’s put her name on a resolution, she has not spoken out for impeachment, lobbied her colleagues for it, or introduced a new resolution or articles of impeachment. And Brad is going to be a write-in candidate, something that any of you can be in any California district by collecting 40 signatures by May 20th.

Another Brad, Brad Sherman, has been moved by his constituents and by new revelations regarding torture, and he is moving in the direction of supporting impeachment. And Pete Stark signed onto Kucinich’s resolution because the amazing Cynthia Papermaster threatened to run against him. Having won that battle, Cynthia announced she would run against Zoe Lofgren instead. And Lofgren’s constituents are pushing her too, and she’s starting to come around.

Other pro-impeachment candidates I know of include Bill Callison challenging George Miller, Eugene Ruyle challenging Ellen Tauscher, and Republican Mike Moloney and Barry Hermanson, both in the 12th district. And Carol Brouillet who is here tonight and running in the 14th. Support these candidates!

And don’t imagine that we can’t accomplish anything. Last week Senator Hillary Clinton gave the peace movement credit for defeating her campaign. She didn’t concede yet, although mathematically she has no chance, but she made clear who will get the credit for it when she does. She blamed the Democratic Party’s activist base, which she said turns out in annoyingly large numbers and disagrees with her on foreign policy. She meant you. Give yourselves a round of applause.

Now the Democrats are hurting their own chances in 2008 by failing to do what we elected them to do in 2006 on impeachment and on peace. And we are losing the power we gained in 2006 by not forcing them to do so. Impeachment hearings would benefit Obama and the Democrats as well as restoring the rule of law to Washington. A commitment by Obama to prosecute Bush and Cheney for their crimes would give him a landslide. A serious effort by Obama to block the next $178 (or so) billion for Iraq would also give him a landslide. Have you noticed that the White House wants another war money vote just before the elections, and the Democrats don’t? Obama won’t understand unless we show it to him. Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney are trying to show it to him, and they could use our help. We need to make clear to the Democrats that they cannot fund another year and a half of slaughter, spending our grandchildren’s borrowed treasure, and still call themselves opponents of what they are funding.

Imagine if Nancy Pelosi were to mortgage her house, empty her bank accounts, max out her credit cards, and give all that money to Halliburton with a little gift card expressing her sincere opposition to everything Halliburton does. She would look no more foolish than she does right now, and I’d prefer that scenario because she’d be leaving the rest of us out of it.

With apparently no awareness of irony, Pelosi apparently now wants to include unemployment benefits in this latest bill to fund a war that is wrecking our economy.

If we do not push back against this funding, we lose all credibility and we lose any momentum to push back next year should we fail this time. And do not doubt for a minute that we will have to keep pushing hard next year to end the occupation of Iraq no matter who gets elected. It may be Obama and he may prove to be a better president than he currently lets on, but if so it will be because we built the movement to compel him / allow him to be a great president.

We also must keep up the pressure on the counter-recruitment front. Medea tells me that San Francisco may ban the JROTC. Those are the steps that will make a difference. Wars begin in our schools, and they cannot be fought without troops to fund them.

And I have a support-the-troops proposal for you. If Speaker Pelosi insists that the $178 billion is for the troops in Iraq, then I say give it to them. That’s roughly a million dollars per troop. The troops that want to give part or all of their share to the contractors and mercenaries and profiteers can do that. Those that want to fund a continued occupation can do that. And those who choose to can buy a plane ticket home. Remember Petraeus bragging about how the United States is selling commercial airplanes to Iraq. Somebody has to use them.

Support the troops.

Bring them home.

I want to close by mentioning the first of May which is fast approaching. May Day is the original Labor Day, 122 years since the Haymarket Massacre during the successful struggle for the 8-hour day. Imagine if those who struggled for generations had said “I’d really like an 8-hour day but I know it’s not likely to ever happen and we’d just look foolish asking for it.”

This May Day is 5 years since Mission Accomplished Day, 3 years since Downing Street Minutes Day, and 2 years since Pelosi desecrated our Constitution by stripping out the power of impeachment. The International Longshoremen’s and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU) plans to block the ports in opposition to the occupation of Iraq. Finally, after five years, we have a labor movement worthy of the name! Other unions and peace and impeachment groups and immigrants rights groups plan a day of resistance. I know there are a lot of events planned in the Bay Area, but I encourage you to go to and post there that you will go at some time on May 1st to the nearest office of your congress member and demand impeachment hearings for Dick Cheney.

We have killed over a million people in Iraq and probably injured 10 million more and made 4 million refugees. We have ruined or ended the lives of at least half the population of Iraq, and we are committing these crimes right now. Impeachment and only impeachment can halt the slaughter and prevent similar future wars, including the “obliteration” of Iran. Impeachment and only impeachment can give us once again a government of, by, and for the people. Let’s save our country. Let’s keep our republic. Thank you for everything you do.

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