The complete victory of Dick Cheney versus the earth

Way back in 2001, Vice President Cheney infamously dismissed energy conservation as (perhaps) “a sign of personal virtue.”

Ten Earth Days later, his prescription has become the template for thinking about environmental activism.

What gives?

In other areas we are not so enamored of individual solutions to political problems.

We rightly sneer at the stupid right-wing trope that says, If you like higher taxes, go ahead and pay them.Tax fairness is not about personal philanthropy.

We do not pretend that personal virtue is a sufficient answer to racism.

Those who oppose the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are not satisfied by being exempt, personally, from fighting in them.

But on Earth Day we are scolded with our own personal deficiencies: Recycle more! Drive less! Be more virtuous to save the planet.

These green admonitions may or may not be good advice. But personal virtue cannot save the earth unless it translates into collective action and government policy.

I know plenty of activists and advocates who understand this perfectly. But somehow the public message has become entirely a sort of good-natured scold, an appeal to individual, private actions.

Meanwhile, somewhere in his undisclosed crypt, Dick Cheney is laughing.

Recommended by jasiu, petr, hesterprynne, kbusch.



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  1. Cheney's victory is Romney's victory

    Way back in 2001, Vice President Cheney infamously dismissed energy conservation as (perhaps) “a sign of personal virtue.”

    Ten Earth Days later, his prescription has become the template for thinking about environmental activism.

    I would take one step further: Cheney’s tell is the default assumption about our politics: it’s how Romney can square an apparently personally devout spirituality while running a campaign so mendacious as to make George W Bush look merely post-modern.

    Personal virtue, the Cheney doctrine relates, is fine for the personal sphere but is a liability for political leaders in a dangerous world: it’s the converse of the old saw: “Anybody who calls themselves a realist is steeling themselves to do something for which they are secretly ashamed” This, not surprisingly, hearkens back to Nixon, where the Cheney doctrine was spawned. The difference is that Nixon wasn’t wedded to an ideological purity, nor subject to such purity tests as our simple minded media allows.

    If personal virtue were to be seen as important as ‘tough-minded’ and ‘realist’ then Romney would have been laughed off the stage some time ago and Cheney would be, this day, warming a bench at the Hague, waiting for his chance to give the Goldwater defense: “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

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Fri 31 Oct 12:01 AM