No one here has yet written or commented about a story on the senior thesis of Elizabeth Cheney at Colorado College that appeared three days ago in Slate. For those of you with an interest in Presidential Power and the Cheney philosophy of American government (of which I have most recently written here), reading it is brief time well-spent: it takes Dick Cheney's philosophy of government, about which he tends to be elliptical, and lays it bare.
Elizabeth Cheney could also be, in the Bush offspring parlance, known as "Not-Mary" -- she's the eldest daughter of the Cheneys, the one who isn't famously and ironically gay. She's a prominent attorney, the mother of five of Dick Cheney's six grandchildren, the wife of the General Counsel of the Department of Homeland Security, and for those of us born after 1959, she is likely to be in public life for the rest of our lives.
She -- and her senior thesis -- are worth knowing about.
In addition to getting you to click the link to the Slate article, you may want to spend some time reading Elizabeth Cheney's Wikipedia page, which details everything from her marriage to Washington D.C. power attorney Philip Perry (great quote from him: "The term 'revolving door' implies people going in and out of government in order to obtain monetary gain. The reason people go into government is to serve their country. It's not appropriate to describe that as a 'revolving door.'") to her service as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State For Near Eastern Affairs and heading the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group to her later criticism of Bush and Rice for being too easy on Iran and too positive towards Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. (!)
But enough about that for now. My entire purpose today is not to wow you with a well-crafted diary; it is simply to get you to click a link, make and read some useful comments about it, and embed the story of Elizabeth Cheney's senior thesis and what it says about the mindset of many of our leaders deeper into our collective consciousness.
The story, by Zac Frank (a New York-based freelancer who unearthed the senior thesis while working in the library at Colorado College), does not assert that Elizabeth Cheney in any way formed her father's beliefs about Presidential power; rather, the implication is that she reflected them -- indeed, refracted them, pulling them together through the prism of "need to finish my thesis" into a single, legible, comprehensible point.
In 1988, while Dick Cheney was Wyoming's sole representative in the House of Representatives, his daughter's senior thesis was quietly published in Colorado Springs. The 125-page treatise argued that, constitutionally and historically, presidents have virtually unchecked powers in war. Thirteen years before her father became vice president, she had symbolically authored the first legal memorandum of the Bush administration, laying out the same arguments that would eventually justify Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, wiretapping of American citizens, and, broadly, the unitary theory of the executive that shaped the Bush presidency.
Elizabeth Cheney, in a manner we have become accustomed to in the years since, slices up one truth about the intent of the Founders, mixes it together with an ambiguous term (what precisely does it mean to be "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States"?), half-bakes it, and brings out a piping hot justification of tyranny.
Elizabeth Cheney begins her survey at the Constitutional Convention. Contrary to today's middle-school mythology, she tells us, fear of enabling a tyrannical monarch was not foremost in the Founding Fathers' minds. Rather, they did not want to repeat the failure of the Continental Congress' attempts to manage the war for independence. Our constitutional architects, she argues, believed they could not "foresee every possible future use of American armed forces" and, as a result, wanted a commander in chief endowed with great latitude in wartime.
Present in Cheney's thesis is the notion that Constitution limitations are only present when they are not inconvenient. "Self-preservation" -- a loose enough term to be deployed whenever desirable, without definition of either "self" or "preservation" -- trumps them whenever the President says it does. And, of course, any limitations what can be folded into a "war power" -- domestic surveillance? breaking union contracts that can be depicted as hampering a war effort? abrogating environmental agreements that could weaken our fightin' energy companies? -- are left unstated.
For Cheney, apparently, the Constitution and rule of law are no more of a check on this unitary power than Congress. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus and imposition of military tribunals present no legal dilemma to her. "To assert that the Constitution is a shield of protection 'for all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances,'" she writes, "is to deny the nation the right of self-preservation. There have been and will be times in the experience of the country when constitutional provisions will of necessity be suspended to guarantee the survival of our democracy." The Supreme Court's chief justice was wrong in declaring his actions illegal in Ex Parte Merryman because his power "was actually an assertion of the power of the people." How he divined that will of the people, Cheney does not explain.
There's more there to read -- go read it. And if anyone knows how we could get a copy of Elizabeth Cheney's thesis, to stand as a symbol of and guide to Creeping Cheneyism, please post the information here.
The public still, I believe, does not understand what people like Dick Cheney really believe. They sense that it is bad -- "a great disturbance in the Force," perhaps -- but not that it really does mean the end of what we learned as schoolchildren is our way of governing. Rarely is the philosophy put quite so clearly as it appears to have been done in this writing -- it needs to be read, rebutted, and turned into an object of scorn. This woman and her husband are going to be around for a long time; they will be a major part of the Republican Party's future. If that's so, then Elizabeth Cheney can't be allowed to escape her past.