Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cheney's biographer on The Daily Show

I just posted the transcript of Bill Kristol's interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from Monday; as I was typing it in, tonight's show came on, featuring an interview with Stephen Hayes, a senior writer at Kristol's publication, The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative magazine now owned by Rupert Murdoch. Hayes was on the program to discuss his new biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, but he wound up getting a grilling over the disservice that the neocons — including Bill Kristol and Dick Cheney, and many others — have done to our national interest by distorting the debate about how most effectively to deal with terrorism.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, original air date 2007-08-15, ©2007 Comedy Central
Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, he's also a best-selling author. His latest book is Cheney: the Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President. Please welcome back to the program, Stephen Hayes. Nice to see you again. How are you?

Stephen Hayes: I'm good, for now.

Stewart: Cheney! The book is called Cheney! You sat with him, in the same — this close?

Hayes: This close. Not this close, a little bit farther.

Stewart: Does he smell like pastry? What is it, when you walk into his office — is there a cinnamon candle lit in the corner, and he's meditating? What's the vibe?

Hayes: I don't think there's a lot of meditating for Dick Cheney. No, it's just, we were casual, I interviewed him at his house in Jackson [Wyoming]. He has one in Maryland. He's casual; he wore jeans, fleece jacket, tennis shoes, relaxed.

Stewart: Why not? Never know when a "hunt" might break out. You've written an editorial also today in the Wall Street Journal. I think, in many ways, very supportive, saying that Dick Cheney is a very solid Vice President. I'm glad you wrote this now, because when Rupert Murdoch takes over this paper, you're not gonna get away with this kind of thing. In it, though, you say we need more Dick Cheneys.

Hayes: We need more Dick Cheney. You know, as I wrote that line last week, honestly, I thought, "Jon Stewart is gonna like this."

Stewart: I am, though, because, here's why: given this administration's position on embryonic stem-cell research, we will never get to the point where we can create more Dick Cheneys. They need to change that position now, for this to come true.

Hayes: I did not know you were pro-cloning.

Stewart: Well, I am now, now that I've read this article. Here's the thing I can't figure out about Dick Cheney, and I think you kind of speak to it. He has this — the idea of him is this straightforward, no-nonsense, capable leader, but everything that I've heard him say publicly seems to turn out wrong. So, how do we jibe those two, this man that you've interviewed and you've written as, behind the scenes, a very powerful and smart and steadfast man, with the one who talks to us, the American public, and seems to not know a lot?

Hayes: Well, I guess I would argue that one of the negative consequences of him not being out more is that, the things that he says that he does get wrong, get a lot of attention. When you don't talk much, that's what people pay attention to. So, I think there's a focus on the mistake because he's not out more.

Stewart: But he's had an awful lot of time. For example, the clip from 1994 where he says we were right not to go to Baghdad because it would be chaos; that seemed right. But then when he came out later and said we'll be greeted as liberators, I don't see this thing lasting more than a few weeks, that was wrong. Explain that to me.

Hayes: Well, in the book, I actually have a speech that he gives in 1992 and then another one in 1996 where he says much the same thing that he said in 1994. I think his argument would be, things changed after September 11th.

Stewart: But the space-time continuum didn't change after 9/11. I mean, that whole argument about "things changed"; what changed about "it would be chaos"?

Hayes: Well, I'm not sure that he would say it wouldn't've been chaos, necessarily; it's just that he would've argued that the nature of the threat from Saddam Hussein after September 11th, with his relations with terrorists, we thought he had weapons of mass destruction stockpiles (but he did have programs) — was an unacceptable level of threat.

Stewart: But even given the unacceptable level — let's say he decides it's an unacceptable level of threat, we have to go in. Clearly, 1994 Dick Cheney foresaw all kinds of crazy complications of that, but 2002–2003 Dick Cheney didn't apparently plan for those complications. So, where's the — why didn't 2002 or 2003 Dick Cheney remember that '94 Dick Cheney — I have a headache. Do you understand what I'm saying?

Hayes: I do, I do.

Stewart: Their argument is always, "9/11 changed everything!," but it didn't change that, did it?

Hayes: Well, I think you can make a criticism that it didn't, but I think what he would say is, even if it were the case that it was going to be much more difficult, after invading Iraq, after overthrowing Saddam in post-war Iraq, it was worth it because Saddam Hussein was an unacceptable threat.

Stewart: I get what you're saying about the unacceptable threat; my point is, why didn't 2002–2003 Dick Cheney come out and say to the American people, "This is going to be chaotic. The reason we didn't go in before was, we knew the issues."? But they didn't. Person after person after person in the administration said, "Ah, it's gonna be like a million dollars, it's gonna take a week, this guy's a — baah."

Hayes: I know. I'm not sure they said that.

Stewart: They came out person after person. That is the essence of people's anguish, is they feel that they've been —

Hayes: I mean, I'm not sure that they said exactly that, but I will say that, when I asked him —

Stewart: I was using hyperbole, and also a funny accent, but the essence of their argument was, this wasn't gonna be a problem.

Hayes: When I asked him about that, it was interesting, because he, I mean, as you've pointed out on your show, numerous times, he's not someone who likes to admit mistakes, and one of the things he did say was, we underestimated, obviously, how difficult it was gonna be. He also spoke to the Coalition Provisional Authority, and said that that was not the right way to have handled post-war Iraq.

Stewart: Then stop making the rest of us feel like idiots when we question their strategy in the war on terror, and stop making the rest of us feel like — and I don't mean you, I mean them — I think that they've seemingly gone out of their way to belittle people. You know, he's actually literally come out and said if you don't elect us, we might get hit again. That to me is — I can't jibe the portrait you paint of the steadfast leader with the fear-mongering not-bright guy that I've seen.

Hayes: Yeah, but, no, really, isn't it the case that, I mean, that's essentially what this debate has been about, the political debate has been about, since 2001?

Stewart: No. They keep saying that we don't understand the nature of this war, and critics keep saying, "We understand the nature of it; you've been doing it wrong."

Hayes: Right, so what's the quality of difference there?

Stewart: Well, no, the difference there is, we're not calling them traitors.

Hayes: Yeah, but I don't think that the administration has called anyone a traitor. [audience groans and boos] When has it happened? I mean, I'm serious; when has that happened?

Stewart: Let me say this: I think there's a real feeling in this country that your patriotism has been questioned, by people in very high-level positions, not fringe people. You know, I myself had some idiot from Fox [News Channel] playing the tape of me after September 11th, very upset, and them calling me a phony, because, apparently, my grief didn't mean acquiescence. So, I think that it's a fair point to say —

Hayes: I think we can agree that we shouldn't be questioning other people's patriotism; on the other hand, I think it's totally legitimate to talk about different ways of handling the war on terror and for them to make their case.

Stewart: If they were to make their case on that, I'm saying to you, I think we'd have a fair argument and agreement on how to move forward. They haven't done that, and the evidence that they haven't done that is, he made that case in 1994, he knew those were the problems, and they never brought it up in the run-up to the war. And that to me proves the entire — but that's — we gotta get going, obviously. Again, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you coming on and hearing it, and I didn't mean to get, you know, whatever; I just — you know, you can't read 400 pages of Cheney and not have it make you a little rrbrr-rr-rr. Cheney is on the bookshelves now; Stephen Hayes was here. Thank you.
For Stephen Hayes to say with a straight face that no one in the administration has impugned the patriotism of people who have challenged the Bush Administration's approach to terrorism, demonstrates an alarming disconnection from reality. The belittling of their opponents has been the cornerstone of their political strategy, dismissing as "pre-9/11 thinking" any position that questions their authority or wisdom, saying that opponents don't understand (or don't take seriously) the threat of terrorism, saying that we will be attacked again if the other side wins an election, and damned nearly every word that has come out of the mouths of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Fleischer, McClellan, Snow, and all the rest. It has been an unremitting barrage of attacks on the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with the Official View. As to the legitimacy of discussing different ways of handling terrorism, that's precisely the point: the administration has systematically shut off that discussion, clearly because they don't know what the hell they're doing.

Anyhow, enough for tonight; tomorrow is John McCain on The Daily Show.

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