A lot of the discussion around Dick Cheney's exit interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace yesterday focused -- appropriately enough -- on his war-powers grab and his continuing defense of telling Patrick Leahy "Go f--k yourself" on the floor of the Senate.
There was much remarkable in the interview, but this exchange particularly stood out for me, because I think it's telling and symbolic of the conservative approach to governance:
WALLACE: According to the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll — and I know how much you like polls — you now have the lowest approval rating of the last eight years. Twenty-nine percent have a favorable opinion, 61 percent unfavorable.
I know that you say that politicians shouldn't chase polls. But when people see all that you did as vice president and, in a kind of final report card over your eight years, say they still disapprove, does that bother you?
CHENEY: No. We didn't — if — we didn't set out to achieve the highest level of polls that we could during the course of this administration.
We set out to do what we thought was necessary and essential for the country. That clearly was the guiding principle with respect to the aftermath of 9/11. I feel very good about a lot of the things we've done in this administration. I think that they will be viewed in a favorable light when it's time to write the history of this era.
I think the fact that we were able to protect the nation against further attacks from Al Qaida for 7.5 years is a remarkable achievement. To do that, we had to adopt some unpopular policies that have been widely criticized by our critics.
But I think in terms of — is 29 percent good enough for me? Well, we fought a tough reelection battle. We won by an adequate margin in 2004. We've been here for eight years now. Eventually, you wear out your welcome in this business.
But I've — I'm very comfortable with where we are and what we achieved substantively. And frankly, I would not want to be one of those guys who spends all his time reading the polls. I think people like that shouldn't serve in these jobs.
Funny thing about "wearing out your welcome in this business": When Bill Clinton left office in late 2000, his approval ratings were at 66 percent. And that was not only after the same eight years that Bush and Cheney had, it was after he had been impeached by the Republicans in Congress.
I don't know about you, but I would interpret that data as suggesting that one wears their welcome out in this business mainly when you do the job you were elected to do poorly.
After all, one only need look at the differences in the two administrations in terms of managing the economy -- employment and the economy generally soared under Clinton/Gore, and it now teeters on the brink of collapse under eight groaning years of Bush/Cheney -- to get a look at the drivers in the differences in their poll numbers.
Of course, the looming economic collapse went entirely unmentioned (except for a brief discussion of the bailouts) in this interview. But then, maybe it's a sore subject for Fox interviewers too.
Now, there certainly are political vissicitudes that ebb and flow over the course of the years in Washington, and polls are often the main indicators. Real leadership does indeed mean being able to stand on principle in the face of these winds.
But these polls showing sub-30 approval ratings for both Bush and Cheney have been a fact of life for nearly two whole years now, and more importantly, they were directly manifested in the 2008 elections, which were as clear a repudiation of Bush/Cheney policies and their decision-making as one could imagine. Even the Republican nominee ran by casting himself in contrast to them.
The polls showing such a high disapproval rating for Cheney are more than mere polls: they reflect the public's judgment of his job performance.
Not that guys like Cheney or Bush really care: Their ruling view of input from people outside their corporate bubbles was always "Who cares what you think?" and "Go f--k yourself." That's what Cheney means when he says, "We set out to do what we thought was necessary and essential" -- they weren't interested in what anyone else thought.
This was as true of their governance style in economic matters (the Bush crew never met an upper-income tax cut or a deregulation scheme they didn't cream their jeans over) as it was in foreign policy, embodied by the misbegotten invasion of Iraq, which of course has demonstrably made us more likely in the long term to suffer terrorist attack (see the 2006 National Intelligence Estimate for the final word on that) -- only one of the many ways Bush/Cheney actually made us less safe.
These people were oligarchs who demonstrated an open contempt for democracy and democratic values at every turn. This contempt is part and parcel of modern movement conservatism. And it has finally come home to roost -- not just for them, but unfortunately, for the rest of us as well.