Even Cheney is capable of lucid bursts

WASHINGTON — Do you believe in miracles? I do, and here’s the proof: Dick Cheney said something reasonable.

I heard it with my own ears. In the latest of his regular Sunday morning fireside chats, when he customarily tries to scare the nation silly with ghost stories and other tall tales, Cheney said it’s time to “reconsider” the ridiculous “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays in the military, and added that he believes the policy will be changed.

Unsurprisingly, that nugget of good sense came amid an avalanche of the usual blather. Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Cheney demonstrated once again that he spends most of his time in some parallel universe. In the real world, the Obama administration inherited an unnecessary and ill-advised war in Iraq whose main geopolitical impact has been to strengthen neighboring Iran and its dangerous regime. But in Bizarro Cheney World, apparently, Obama somehow owes his predecessor “a healthy dose of ‘thank you, George Bush.’”

Cheney also criticized the administration’s anti-terror policies — or rather the Obama team’s “mindset.” One of his specific gripes was Obama’s ban on torture. “I was a big supporter of waterboarding,” said the former vice president of the United States.

If the Bush-Cheney administration’s White House lawyers could invent a legal justification for torture, can’t somebody come up with a theory that would allow retroactive impeachment?

But back to the news: Cheney became perhaps the most prominent conservative voice thus far to speak out in support — or, at least, acceptance — of the Obama administration’s decision to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” and allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

Cheney stopped short of saying flatly that he advocated a change. He based his view that “it’s time to reconsider the policy” on the public statements of Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other military brass in support of ditching “don’t ask, don’t tell.” But Cheney did volunteer that “things have changed significantly” in the two decades since he ran the Pentagon as secretary of defense under George Bush the Elder. “I think the society has moved on,” he said. “I think it’s partly a generational question.”

Last week, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 75 percent of Americans favor letting gay people serve openly in the military. This compares with just 44 percent when the poll asked the question in 1993.

Those in favor of tolerance include 64 percent of Republicans — along with bigger majorities of Democrats and independents — and, in what may be the poll’s most significant finding, 81 percent of young adults under 30. In other words, abandoning the policy has overwhelming support among the age group that the nation depends on to enlist in the all-volunteer armed forces.

Four out of five respondents who said they have a gay friend or family member favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. It’s relevant to note that one of Cheney’s daughters, Mary, is a lesbian who lives with her longtime partner, Heather Poe, and their two children. It’s also worth mentioning that Cheney has said he has no objection to gay marriage and believes the issue should be left up to the states — a stance that puts him considerably to the left of President Obama, who says he opposes gay marriage.

“I think that freedom means freedom for everyone,” Cheney said last June. “As many of you know, one of my daughters is gay and it is something we have lived with for a long time in our family. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish.”

What does this tell us? Basically, just that once or twice a year Cheney says something reasonable about gay rights before hastily retreating to his fortress of solitude, where he worries that archvillain Saddam Hussein still plots to use his stockpile of imaginary weapons of mass destruction against the United States, despite the impediment of being deceased.

But Cheney’s burst of lucidity should help Republicans in Congress understand that there is no longer any reliable constituency for the troglodyte position on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If a long-overdue policy shift that would allow gay people to serve openly in the armed forces is fine with three-fourths of the American public, the top officers in the Pentagon hierarchy and Dick Cheney, too, then the times aren’t just a-changing. They’ve already changed.

Eugene Robinson is a Washington Post columnist. His e-mail address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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