NEW YORK -- If I were to meet Dick Cheney, it would not be for the first time. And I have always thought he was a sly devil.
"Nice one, Dick!" I thought during the vice presidential debate when he questioned Sen. John Edwards' attendance record by saying: "I'm up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."
I was flabbergasted when I learned that was not true. My view of political character is that an honest politician is one who lies only when he has to. In this case, it was more than not true; it was obviously a deliberate and unnecessary lie. You do not forget meeting people who are after your job. It is not only politicians who lie in predictable situations. We all do, of course. Honesty is almost always a virtue, but there are times for all of us to sin, perhaps when someone asks, "How do I look?"
In matters political, the first witness any observer calls in these matters is that most cynical and clear-headed of thinkers, the real founder of political science, Niccolo Machiavelli. The author of "The Prince," written in 1513, was probably the first to argue that political character is in the eye, the heart and the ideology of the beholder.
"Everyone understands how praiseworthy it is for a prince to remain true to his word and to live with complete integrity without any scheming," said Machiavelli. "However, we've seen through experience how many princes in our time have achieved great things who have little cared about keeping their word and have shrewdly known the skill of tricking the minds of men. ... A prince doesn't need to have all the qualities, but it is necessary that he appear to have them. It's good to appear to be pious, faithful, humane, honest and religious ... as long as one keeps in mind that when the need arises you can and will change into the opposite."
Some of Cheney's changes are necessary. He had to say last week, during his debate with Edwards, that he has never suggested there was a terrorism link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. If he had told the truth there he would have been seen as a knave and a fool, a judgment I expect history will endorse. But politics happens before history and, as the first Republican president said long ago, you can fool some of the people all of the time. All that takes is a contempt for the idea of democracy. It does not matter what you tell people if you believe they will probably not understand and probably not care when they realize they were deliberately deceived.
If you own a television set, you should realize that the people who wanted this war, Cheney prominent among them, were not telling the truth before, are not telling the truth now and will not tell the truth after. That does not necessarily mean that they were wrong to invade Iraq -- I thought they were foolish to do it, but that was not a compelling reason to pull back and let containment and sanctions do the job -- but we now know that to do what they thought was right they had to deceive us, lying about what they knew and when they knew it.
So I conclude by citing a lie by our president, an untruth that John Kerry did not rebut in his first debate with George W. Bush. The president twice used the line, "You saw the same intelligence I did before the war ..."
That is absurd, and it was foolish for Kerry to let it go. I have been around the White House under six presidents and have written, quite extensively, about their decision-making. I know, and so does Bush, that no one, no one at all, sees what a president sees. That is what the classification "Eyes Only" means. We now know that Bush was a wannabe war president who was holding back a great deal of pre-war intelligence for his own purpose -- and his purpose was to go to war.
Sadly, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were deliberately deceiving the people of the democracy. There are lies, and then there are deliberate lies. They did not trust the people -- and it is for that they deserve to be thrown out of office next year.
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