Dick Cheney: Outspoken Defender Or Sore Loser?

The guys in this week's Barbershop take a look at former vice-president Dick Cheney's unabashed criticism of the Obama administration. They also offer their take on other recent news stories, including the growing dustup over Miss California Carrie Prejean, who continues to remain not only a beauty queen but also a lightning rod for criticism.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, media critic Eric Deggans, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin. Welcome everybody. I may jump in here or there, but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey fellows, what's up? How we doing?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Jimi.

ERIC DEGGANS: What's happening?

KEN RUDIN: Good.

IZRAEL: Oh man, you know what? For reasons that, I don't know, elude me, having spent so much time in undisclosed location, Dick Cheney is out and about, making up for lost time by commenting at every opportunity.

Unidentified Man #1: Waa, waa.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Michel, Michel, we've got some take. Is that right?

MARTIN: We have an abundance of tape, as you might imagine.

IZRAEL: Yeah, of course we do.

MARTIN: I thought we would play for you - this is former Vice President Dick Cheney on "Face The Nation" just this past Sunday, and he's of course commenting on what we talked about last week, that whole Rush Limbaugh-Colin Powell kerfuffle, and this is Dick Cheney's take on it. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION PROGRAM, "FACE THE NATION")

BOB SCHIEFFER: Rush Limbaugh said the other day that the party probably would be better off if Colin Powell left and just became a Democrat. Colin Powell said Republicans would be better off if they didn't have Rush Limbaugh speaking for them. Where do you come down?

DICK CHENEY: Well, if I had to choose, in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican.

IZRAEL: Holy mackerel.

MARTIN: Ouch.

Unidentified Man #3: Meow.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Homeboy is on "Face the Nation." He going hard at Colin Powell. Special K, you know, is it sour grapes, or is there something to his criticism?

RUDIN: Well, there's both, I think. Obviously, the moment that Barack Obama became president, there was obviously a repudiation of the Bush administration and their interrogation techniques, shall we say. And of course Dick Cheney took it to heart because he was perhaps more responsible for that policy than anybody else, perhaps even more so than the former president of the United States.

So he has been on every talk show possible. I don't know about - he hasn't been on TELL ME MORE yet, but it's early. But he's out there, and he's just saying look, we may have done X, Y, or Z, but there's not been an attack on this soil since 9/11, and therefore it works.

I mean, that's kind of a simplistic way of getting from A to B, but that's what he's been saying.

MARTIN: But here's what's puzzling to me about this is that he left office with abysmal approval ratings.

RUDIN: Yeah, but it was still in positive numbers. Now it's minus.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Right. Well, I mean, the last numbers I saw is that 63 percent of those surveyed viewed him unfavorably. So it just seems odd to me that your standard- bearer for the party would be somebody who...

NAVARRETTE: Oh, he's always been popular. This is Ruben. He's always been popular with the party, though, and it's always sort of bewildered me that, you know, he's so unpopular in the mainstream - I get that - but he's still popular with the faithful.

There are folks in the Republican faithful who thought that George Bush was too much of a moderate, too much of a squish on a lot of issues, and they liked Cheney's stance. I don't fault Cheney for speaking his mind. He really does feel like Obama's policies have made the country less safe.

What I fault Cheney for is this business about Powell. I mean, the tent should be big enough so that Colin Powell can endorse someone like Barack Obama for president and still remain a Republican, you know? I mean, there should be room for that, just like Reagan Democrats went over and voted for Reagan, but they didn't stop being Democrats.

And so I think his critique of Powell was way off the mark, but let the man speak up if he wants to.

DEGGANS: This is Eric.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Deggie.

DEGGANS: I would go ahead and say - number one, it does seem like Dick Cheney is sort of the embodiment of what the Republican Party is struggling with right now, this turn toward traditional and very extremist spokespeople who are pushing out the moderates. And I think there's an open question about whether or not that's the key to success, and I'm just not sure the GOP wants its future to be hung on the likes of Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh.

NAVARRETTE: I mean, I think you can disagree with Cheney, but I really do think he's one of the few people out there, unlike House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by the way, who on the torture issue has a different story every six minutes...

MARTIN: But here's the difficulty. The difficulty, Ruben, is that I take your point on Nancy Pelosi's sort of memory losses on this issue. On the other hand, the issue with the public with Dick Cheney is that they do not believe he is truthful.

They believe that he manipulated intelligence on crucial issues in order to advance his ideological agenda. And so for that reason, his own motivations aside, that's why I find it curious about whether this is actually helpful to the Republicans because he is not a standard-bearer for the - he may be ideologically pure, but is he a person that many people in the public find credible? And I'm not sure they do. In fact, I don't think that they do. That's why I find it puzzling that he's taken such a high-profile position.

IZRAEL: You know what, Michel? I don't know if it matters whether he's credible or not, because I think whoever controls the criticism controls the timbre and the beat of what's being said. That's what I think.

MARTIN: Well this is curious because his daughter, Liz Cheney, she's a former State Department official, says that she believes, she's quoted in the Washington Post on Thursday saying that he's only speaking out because he believes he's right and he does believe that he is having an impact on the debate, and evidence of that is the fact that President Obama did change his mind about whether to release the photos of the detainees, and I'm curious to know what you all think about that.

IZRAEL: You know what? I've been saying this since he took the oath you know shortly thereafter. My man just flips, he flips like John Kerry at the House of Pancakes, man.

NAVARRETTE: Yes. I know. I know.

IZRAEL: And what a man, and just real talk, real talk. You know, when a man gives his word that look, you know, this is how it's going to be, this is how we're going to roll, and then like two weeks or not maybe 24 hours later well, I have a special announcement. You know, we're not rolling that way, it makes all those cats with the, you know, change we can believe in and hope posters, you know, it makes him kind of you know...

MARTIN: What about the (unintelligible)? Wait a minute. Hold on.

DEGGANS: Well, you know, welcome to politics Jimi.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Wait. Wait. Wait. What about the substance of a decision? I mean is your standard for a leadership whether you never change your mind about something that you might have been wrong about to begin with? I mean I find it really interesting that people who, forgive me. I'm not being mean. Actually, I am being a little mean.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I'm kind of could be a little mean, is that people who really aren't in charge of anything use this term flip-flop so cavalierly as if that's the standard for leadership that you never change your mind about something.

DEGGANS: Not within a 24-hour period.

IZRAEL: Just to be right more than you're wrong. I mean...

DEGGANS: I mean wait 24 hours, you know?

IZRAEL: ... and don't get, don't be so wrong right out the gate. I mean what's up? What's up?

DEGGANS: Well I mean my question here is...

IZRAEL: Go ahead Eric.

DEGGANS: ... you know this photo thing, he changed his mind. I, what major policies are we talking about that sort of constitutes some sort of rollback on a change that we can believe in...

NAVARRETTE: I'll give you one. I'll give you, immigration.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben. Give me one.

NAVARRETTE: On immigration he's been, on immigration he and the administration collectively have been all over the map. In a one 24 hour period a month ago Cecilia Munoz, his chief of international, government affairs in the White House came forward in The New Times article said we're going to do it this year and before the evening was out CNN was quoting the White House spokespeople saying no that's not true. We're not going to do it this year. The economy has to come first. Twenty-four hour period they said that.

MARTIN: That's a question of tactics. That's not a policy decision. That's a question of tactics. That's not a policy change.

NAVARRETTE: No. It's a flip-flop over, it's in a 24 hour period, are you doing it or not doing it? Obama's really simple. He wants to be loved. He wants the maximum amount of support, and he wants to be popular across the board. The way to do that is promise everything to everybody. So when he promises one thing and it doesn't necessarily work out, he goes to another group and promises something else.

MARTIN: And what are you going to do if he advances the bill and it fails because you told him to? What are you going to say then?

NAVARRETTE: No. I'm not talking about me telling him to.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: I mean he won two-thirds of Latino votes.

MARTIN: To avoid disappointing Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: He doesn't need me to tell him that he won two-thirds of the Latino vote and he promised to deliver on this immigration reform. If he doesn't want to, fine, but don't start, don't be teasing me. Don't be teasing me and say you're going to do it and then don't do it. I mean make up your mind.

IZRAEL: All right.

RUDIN: We're not addressing...

IZRAEL: All right. Go ahead, go ahead Ken.

RUDIN: We're not addressing the argument that Obama came up with, and that is that according to military leaders, and his military advisors that it would be terrible repercussions against U.S. troops.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: Remember we have U.S. troops in Muslim countries with...

NAVARRETTE: That's the Dick Cheney argument.

RUDIN: ... we (unintelligible), exactly.

NAVARRETTE: It's the Dick Cheney argument. It's the same argument Dick Cheney made months ago and Democrats discounted it and now they're saying the same thing.

RUDIN: And...

MARTIN: Well what about the release of photos as a violation of the Geneva Convention, displaying prisoners for purposes other than their identification? It's a violation of the Geneva Convention.

NAVARRETTE: I don't remember (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Abu Ghraib. What happened during Abu Ghraib? They didn't have problems releasing them then.

MARTIN: And those photos were leaked. Those photos were leaked while we played them up.

IZRAEL: Either it's full disclosure or it's not. Either we're opening up the White House to transparencies...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

IZRAEL: ... it's a new day or sometime we're going to up the White House to transparencies. It's kind of (unintelligible)...

RUDIN: But you know the courts are going to agree with him and...

NAVARRETTE: The ACLU is hot on the president on this. They are angry at the president and with good reason. They said you know, you were supposed to be about transparency. We want our votes back.

DEGGANS: Right.

NAVARRETTE: I think that the thing that's interesting is that the left is going after the president and I think that's great when the right goes after a conservative I think it's great. Enough of this blue and red business where you always got to go in lockstep with your guy.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop with Jimi Izrael, Ken Rudin, Eric Deggans, and Ruben Navarrette. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks Michel and we got yet still more pressing news on pictures. This breaking, Miss California, Carrie Prejean gets to keep her crown. I don't know how that happened. But the Trump decided that, you know what? She gets to keep it. I'm wondering if she should've deluged the existence of all these semi-nude like quarter nude pictures so the press could see.

MARTIN: Well why don't you tell people what you're talking about for people who haven't followed this story as closely as you evidently have because...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Well I...

DEGGANS: Remember we're not a visual medium.

NAVARRETTE: Only in the interest of journalism.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Yes. We're not a visual medium, but yo, I guess this Miss California behind her goofball comments, somebody went and got papers on her. I mean evidently, she took some, some not so, well they're kind of, they were just...

MARTIN: Let's just give it, let me, let me help Jimi out here.

IZRAEL: Yes. Why work with me (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Miss California, Miss USA Pageant, which I know some of you watch closely. I don't want to say who. Although, we think we know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Made some, in response to a question by one of the judges, Perez Hilton, came out in opposition to same-sex marriage for which this same judge pilloried her on his blog. She was a runner-up and then it emerged that there were some semi-nude photos of her...

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: ...and there was a question about whether or not this was kind of consistent with her you know, moral position or her position as a spokesperson. And she, we have some tape of her talking about this. I mean she feels, I think that she has been targeted because of her stance in opposition to same-sex marriage.

IZRAEL: Okay.

MARTIN: And this is what she said at this press conference in New York on Tuesday. Here it is.

IZRAEL: Drop it.

CARRIE PREJEAN: While I am not the most vocal proponent of traditional marriage, it appeared by my singular response I have become the most visible. I am proud to be an American. I'm proud of the freedoms we enjoy because of the brave men and women serving this great country, and who have served. My grandfather served under General Patton during World War II and is someone I admire greatly. He never spoke about the Battle of the Bulge that he participated in as a rifleman or the honorary medals he received because of his bravery. But he did speak about the freedom he fought for and taught me to never back down, and never let anyone take those freedoms away from you.

NAVARRETTE: Oy, vey. Whoa.

MARTIN: Where - there you have it.

IZRAEL: Oh I'm crying already.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Is this fair, though?

IZRAEL: Well, hold Ken, can I just on record on saying that I am actually against beauty pageants of all kinds. They are sexist, they objectify. That said, this woman should have lost her crown.

RUDIN: But it's worse than...

IZRAEL: Period.

RUDIN: It's worse than that.

MARTIN: No, she should have. She should have? Why?

IZRAEL: Because she didn't, she didn't follow the rules. I mean this is about the rules at the end of the day. I mean the rules say you disclose whether or not you got these pictures out there and she said oops, I forgot I've had these pictures out. How you forget you forget you had these pictures out there? You're half naked. You forgot you had half-naked pictures out there?

RUDIN: You're missing the most...

IZRAEL: No see, she did not play by the rules.

RUDIN: Wow.

IZRAEL: Therefore if you do not play by the rules then you got to go.

RUDIN: Well you're missing the most important point because right after she talked about naked pictures she talked about Battle of the Bulge and I thought that was in bad taste.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Where's my rim shot?

IZRAEL: It's a two-drink minimum.

DEGGANS: Hey, what I will say here, what I will say here is that...

IZRAEL: Go ahead Eric.

DEGGANS: ... it looks to me like Donald Trump...

NAVARRETTE: This used to be a clean show.

DEGGANS: ... is running the Miss USA Pageant the same way he's running "Celebrity Apprentice," which is, whatever Donald Trump decides is what goes.

RUDIN: Absolutely.

DEGGANS: I was amazed at the amount of time that news channels gave this. At one point during this news conference where he announced that she was keeping her crown. All the three major cable news channels were covering it for 20 minutes. I can not believe...

IZRAEL: Isn't that sick?

DEGGANS: ... the amount of time we are spending on this. But here's the bottom line, you know, she did promise some things. She promised she would divulge these, you know, she had done any questionable pictures. She didn't tell the pageant officials. She was blowing off some of the duties associated with her job, and for a lot of reasons she crossed the line where she should have lost her crown. But it's Trump's gig. It's his contest and he obviously decided to step in and save her...

IZRAEL: Yes.

DEGGANS: ... because the best thing that you could do...

IZRAEL: She might be his future wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: ... when you're an employee of Donald Trump is create more publicity for Donald Trump.

IZRAEL: I got what it was she might be his future wife.

DEGGANS: And when you look at the pictures they don't look any worse than she - than her time in the swimsuit competition so what are we talking about?

RUDIN: No, those pictures...

MARTIN: Those pictures do look like an underwear ad. I mean those are ads. You could see them in a woman's magazine any day of the week.

NAVARRETTE: Yes. Somebody said, oh she's naked from the back. I mean come on, her back is naked.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: You know what? I applaud Donald Trump.

MARTIN: With that wait, can I ask about Eric's point though?

DEGGANS: I applaud Donald Trump. I applaud Donald, I applaud Donald Trump. He did the right thing. She should not have lost her crown.

IZRAEL: Really?

DEGGANS: This was always about an, this was all - yes really the difference (unintelligible). It was always about Perez Hilton in a very unfair, sandbagging of a question trying to elicit one particular response and then we've got to, we've gotten to this point somehow in this country where there is only one point of view. I pipe up and say she shouldn't have lost her crown and your response is what? Really? Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: There are different points of view okay? And she's allowed to have a different point of view than Perez Hilton. He was out of line. That blogger was out of line when he went online later and basically called her all these names and said basically she had answered the question incorrectly.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Right. Right.

DEGGANS: So basically we have gotten to the point that when you ask a question on abortion, gun control, capital punishment, gay marriage there is only one answer. And if you don't give that answer, you've answered incorrectly. And Donald Trump being a, and Donald Trump needs to...

NAVARRETTE: No I disagree. I disagree completely. I disagree completely.

IZRAEL: What does that have to do with the picture?

RUDIN: Donald Trump said that...

IZRAEL: Hold on. Hold on.

RUDIN: Donald Trump said that she had the same opinion on same-sex marriage as President Obama did and there's some truth to that.

DEGGANS: Correct.

RUDIN: But...

DEGGANS: Correct.

RUDIN: ...the way she went too far then she started begin - she began speaking to these pro, so-called pro family groups that became very political and that's exactly what the pageant didn't want. Is that it's not that her views on same- sex marriage was anathema to what the contest was all about, she just became too political, too political for the people who were running the contest.

IZRAEL: I don't why we have beauty pageants in the first place. I suspect - was what I said from jump-street that this is all about Trump shopping for his next wife. That's all it's about.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Thank you.

IZRAEL: That's it.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

IZRAEL: That's it. That's it.

MARTIN: But it is, it is curious though, that we're talking about this as long as we are. It just is interest to me that, the point that Eric made fascinates me. The fact that all three networks were carrying this, did anybody even watch that pageant? I mean I know I'm...

DEGGANS: No.

MARTIN: ... I'm giving you the business about it but I know...

RUDIN: No.

MARTIN: Did any, I bet you not one of you watched that pageant.

NAVARRETTE: No.

IZRAEL: No.

NAVARRETTE: I was seeing the finals, the NBA finals. What do you want?

MARTIN: Exactly. So it's curious to me that this...

RUDIN: I was reading the Bible.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ... hold on our conversation.

IZRAEL: I was playing the new "Godfather" game.

MARTIN: Exactly. You know...

DEGGANS: Certainly know how to push buttons.

MARTIN: Yes.

DEGGANS: I mean that's the bottom line.

MARTIN: And speaking of pushing buttons?

IZRAEL: Yes. We got to push the button on the show. So thanks so much everybody for coming to the shop and I have to now to kick it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for the Root.com. He joined us member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us from San Diego. Eric Deggans is a television and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times. He joined us from St. Petersburg, Florida. And Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, our political junkie. He joined us from our studios in Washington. Gentlemen, thank you all so much.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

RUDIN: I now have a new understanding of torture.

IZRAEL: Yep. Yep.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African American Public Radio Consortium. Let's talk more on Monday.

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