Thursday, May 21, 2009


From Jim Rutenberg's New York Times liveblog of Dick Cheney's speech:

At the American Enterprise Institute, "think tank" and "electrified" are words that do not usually go together. But something tells me that the conference room where Vice President Cheney is about to speak here is as excited as a policy institute can get. The room, with closed wooden shutters, is buzzing, and it seems to be on the verge of the world record for "TV cameras per capita in a single room." While I was asking a helpful publicity agent for the Institute to point out any luminaries in the room, John Bolton, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, walked up to take a seat toward the front, his famous mustache neatly trimmed. But suffice to say, this room is packed mostly with press, with high-profile network correspondents -- Jon Karl of ABC News and Bill Plante of CBS News -- mingling with partisan bloggers and mainstream reporters, all here to capture what is something of an historic moment. When was the last time you saw head-to-head speeches from a newly minted president and a freshly former vice president from diametrically opposed political and stylistic bents?

This is part of the reason Republicans control our political discourse, even now: they invest their heroes (even stumblebums like George W. Bush and Joe the Plumber) with an aura of superstardom, and it becomes infectious -- note how giddy Rutenberg is about this "historic moment" (as, presumably, are all those "high-profile network correspondents").

Contrast Rutenberg's breathless prose here with the dry factual recitation of Kate Phillips, whose liveblogging of Barack Obama's speech is interleaved with Rutenberg's.

Much of the stagecraft of the High Bush Era -- Mission Accomplished day, the '04 campaign speeches packed tight with audience zealots -- was intended to create that sense of rock stardom. It worked for Bush for a long time -- and, yes, Obamania was similar in '08, but Republicans seem to be able to gin it up for all kinds of people (not just Cheney now, but Ann Coulter a few years ago, Sarah Palin more recently, and even Limbaugh at CPAC), while Obama's rock stardom is clearly not transferable outside his immediate family. Republicans are believers -- and they make believers out of reporters, too.


And now I've just started reading the prepared text of Cheney's speech, which The Weekly Standard has posted -- and what strikes me about the opening passages is the ego. The introductory passages include all the hero-worship talking points others have used about Cheney -- except here he is using them about himself:

... Those eight years as vice president were quite a journey, and during a time of big events and great decisions, I don't think I missed much.

Being the first vice president who had also served as secretary of defense, naturally my duties tended toward national security. I focused on those challenges day to day, mostly free from the usual political distractions. I had the advantage of being a vice president content with the responsibilities I had, and going about my work with no higher ambition. Today, I'm an even freer man. Your kind invitation brings me here as a private citizen – a career in politics behind me, no elections to win or lose, and no favor to seek....

But, of course, all the Republican rock stars come to believe the hype about themselves -- Bush, Palin, Coulter, Limbaugh, Gingrich, Joe the Plumber. (Often, of course, they're the hype's originators.)

And many of them get quite a bit of love from the press for loving themselves.

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