Before Cheney comes on, a bunch of CPAC dignitaries are introduced. Who gets the biggest applause? Wayne LaPierre, the human bulldozer of the National Rifle Association. The only person of color on the panel, Niger Innis of the race-baiting Congress for Racial Equality, actually draws boos. This is officially the only time in my life I have actually felt sorry for Niger Innis. (Note: I’ve got photos, but I’ll have to wait until I’m back in the hotel to post them — I left the connecting cable for my digital camera there in a slick fog of opiatic decay.) It’s a real cross-section of the American privileged class, the rich and angry from A to B.
People are clapping rhythmically – well, as rhythmically as this crowd is ever going to get – for Cheney. For Cheney! I keep expecting them to start chanting “WE WANT THE SHOW” like they’re waiting for the Blues Brothers, the presence of whom would color up the crowd considerably. Wyoming senator John Barrasso introduces the fiend of the hour: “The C in CPAC should stand for Cheney!” The C in CPAC should stand for cocksucker, how about that?, I think, as the combination of drugs and fear turn me into a surly 15-year-old. Cheney is damned lucky I don’t have a roll of toilet paper, that’s all I can say. The crowd gives Dick a standing o, and, as a gang of bull-veined dudes in front of me start chanting “FOUR MORE YEARS!”, I get the sensation for the first time all day that I’m at something that could easily turn into a fascist rally. When the applause finally quells, Dick chuckles evilly. Can that be done? Is a chuckle even feasible as the delivery vector for evil? If it is, Dick Cheney is the man capable of pulling it off with finesse. I have to admit, the guy has a certain degree of charm, but it’s the same kind of charm that you might find in Stalin or Dracula: the easy charisma of a man who knows he can, with a wave of his hand, have you ground into paste.
The first part of Cheney’s speech is right at the wheelhouse of the CPAC crowd: lower taxes, lower taxes, lower taxes. “Lower taxes are always good for this economy,” he says. Which economy is he talking about? The economy in general, or the economy of the people in this room? Any program that gets cut is inevitably referred to as “wasteful”, “bloated” or “special interest”, without any details as to what’s being disappeared. Oddly enough, “wasteful”, “bloated” and “special interest” is language perfectly suited to describe almost every penny being spent in Iraq, but Cheney doesn’t have anything to say about that.
National security, though, that’s another matter: he gets another standing ovation for “The absence of another 9/11 is not an accident, it’s an achievement”. (The presence of the first 9/11, apparently, was and accident.) A laundry list of constitutional butt-wipes get standing ovations from about half of the crowd: an expansion of FISA, the torture of terror suspects, and the financial protection of any big corporation who might theoretically have allowed illegal wiretapping to take place. The telecoms, says Cheney, shouldn’t be “hassled” for acting in “good faith”, which usage of the phrase is unfamiliar to me. Terror, terror, terror: it’s the Dick Cheney boilerplate. (Bonus homosexual innuendo, Dick Cheney edition: describing the President’s term in office, he says “We’ve done hard things and done them well.”) Weirdly enough – or maybe not so much – his defense of torture gets a standing ovation, but his praising of our fighting men in uniform does not. It takes a man to fight, but it takes a train to waterboard.
Defense, security, prosperity. America is a country of good: thus stated, it need not be defended or explained. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, but somehow hearing it in person, in the presence of true believers, it leaves a haze in the air, a strange absence of rhetoric: it seems less like a speech that has been delivered and more like a series of directives that have been issued. Cheney leaves the building (his last appearance here as vice-president, Keene notes with a lick of the lips, but not his last appearance here) to thunderous applause, having gone out with a workingman’s damn and told us all that the nation will be safer and more prosperous for having had Bush as president for eight years. It is not an assurance: it is an order.