To understand the philosophy of government that Dick Cheney brought to Washington over the past seven years, it is most instructive to see Frost/Nixon, with Frank Langella’s remarkable reanimation of Tricky Dick for a generation that never knew him. In Nixon’s famous conversation with David Frost, there came a moment when the old reprobate uttered the truth—a truth that Cheney still prefers to obscure when he talks about illegal surveillance, torture and other violations of the Bill of Rights, as he did in his exit appearance this week on Fox News.
The crucial moment of candor arrives not when Nixon briefly pretends to feel deep remorse over his actions (a pose he later abandoned in his memoir). Instead it is when he offers his perspective on the powers of the president, and unintentionally reveals the full extent of his lawlessness.
Asked by Frost to explain how he could justify illegal wiretapping, black-bag jobs and other gross violations of law in collecting intelligence on the movement against the Vietnam War, he replies in a blandly sinister tone: “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
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