As publisher of The Claremont Review of Books, the California-based Claremont Institute hosts some of the smartest conservative writers in the world, it’s been a staunch advocate for necessary reforms in my home state, and it’s provided invaluable support to thinkers like Harry Jaffa, whose Crisis of the House Divided remains one of the most challenging, thought-provoking scholarly works I’ve ever read.
Despite my affection for the organization — early in my career, I wrote for its publication Local Liberty, did freelance work editing a number of my fellow contributors, penned a white paper on the subject of municipal redevelopment, and enjoyed pleasant interactions with its kind staff and many of its fellows — I must take exception to its decision to honor a speaker I’d rather it shunned:
The Claremont Institute is proud to welcome Dick Cheney as keynote speaker at a dinner in celebration of our 30th Anniversary. It will be held on Saturday evening, March 27, 2010, at the Millennium Biltmore in Los Angeles, California. Vice President Cheney is to be awarded the Claremont Institute’s Statesmanship Award.
It is disheartening that Dick Cheney is a fund-raising draw for organizations within the conservative movement, and especially upsetting that he’ll be honored by The Claremont Institute, whose particular, quite worthwhile mission is “to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. These principles are expressed most eloquently in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that ‘all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.'”
Even if one thinks that Dick Cheney responded understandably or even correctly to the attacks of September 11, 2001, the measures that he advocated were incompatible with the principles of the American Founding. The men who created our system of government took great pains to institute checks and balances so that no one branch could threaten liberty, whereas Dick Cheney’s core argument is that safeguarding liberty requires an executive branch that possesses some unchecked powers necessary to fighting the Global War on Terrorism. It is possible for intelligent people to disagree about whether the Founders’ vision or Dick Cheney’s vision is correct or best suited to our times, but it is an intellectual error of the highest order to imagine that the two visions are synonymous or even compatible.
That the Claremont Institute believes the Founders expressed their principles most eloquently in the Declaration of Independence only compounds the error. Does Dick Cheney believe that “all men” are endowed by their Creator with “certain inalienable rights”? If so, how does one explain Mr. Cheney’s support for a depriving terrorist suspects of liberty even when he possessed wildly insufficient evidence that they were actually guilty? The United States government paid bounty hunters in Pakistan to round up terrorists, and threw the men rounded up into prison on the word of the bounty hunters. Mr. Cheney’s position with respect to these detainees was that they possessed no right to due process, that the United States government could subject them to waterboarding and stress positions, that the judiciary had no right to review their detention — and in hindsight, knowing that some of these men were wrongly imprisoned, it is notable that their innocence was determined and their liberty restored via processes that Mr. Cheney opposed.
It beggars belief that years later, serious people are implicitly asserting that Dick Cheney is a standard bearer for the proposition that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Again, I grant that many smart people earnestly defend the actions of Mr. Cheney during his tenure, but if the Claremont Institute honors Mr. Cheney for these actions, it is either a grave error or an implicit argument that the organization’s mission is no longer relevant in a post-9/11 world. I happen to think that safeguarding the principles of the Founding remains as vital an enterprise as ever, and quixotic as my admonition may be, I call on the folks at The Claremont Institute to revoke their speaking invitation.