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September 10, 2004

Dick Cheney: Once A Bad Cop, Always A Bad Cop?

copscheneymiller1

(After Republican Convention)

copscheneymiller2
(After Cheney Wandered Off Message This Tuesday)

If you factor out the ideology, the Bush spin machine is a pure wonder to behold. Look at the way the Republican’s used the convention to moderate Dick Cheney’s image, for example. By featuring his speech alongside a decompensating Zell Miller, the GOP managed to make the (typically Zell-like) Veep seem mild mannered and statesmanlike in comparison.

To function at peak efficiency, however, this spin machine requires a high level of discipline. As expected, the post-convention scenario was playing out perfectly. The polls were ticking up, and the Kerry campaign staff was suddenly undergoing its own emergency bypass surgery. That was until Tuesday. That was until the cantankerous Dick Cheney, in a speech in Des Moines, somehow strayed from his written remarks. The election of John Kerry, he warned ominously, would bring with it the danger that “we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating.”

Although famous for fear-mongering, Cheney and the White House are always incredibly careful about how (and when) to couch such things. Rarely can you find a phrase that is not pre-formulated in the most carefully coded terms. In this case, however, Democrats freaked out that Cheney had gone too far. Republican insiders, as well, conceded that Cheney had crossed a line. What had to irk the Bush campaign most, however, was how Cheney had suddenly wiped out his “Zell differential.”

In a “Political Memo” in yesterday’s NYTimes, Adam Nagourney analyzed Cheney’s gaffe, and his propensity for alienation. Nagourney commented that Cheney’s fear tactics were the worst in a presidential campaign since LBJ broadcast the infamous 1964 mushroom cloud commercial to try and undermine Barry Goldwater. The article went on to cite the belief among Kerry officials that Cheney’s warning had been deliberate. “A sitting vice president does not make a comment like that without knowing the implications of it,” said Kerry’s communications director.

Personally, I’m not so sure. I think Cheney realized afterward that he had fallen out with the team. Given his general level of contempt, however, he probably couldn’t help himself.

daisy

(To view Johnson’s 1964 “Daisy” ad, go here.)

(video source: AMMI)

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