Monday, October 29, 2007

Dick Cheney: Mad like Ahab

Moby Dick as Unity
If you have read Herman Melville's classic, Moby Dick, you are aware of Captain Ahab. He is the monomaniacal captain of the Pequod who uses his charge to pursue Moby Dick, the Great White Whale. Ahab's quest is his own; the Pequod's owners and financial backers have underwritten the voyage with the understanding that Ahab will undertake to hunt whales for commercial trade. Little do they know that one-legged Ahab is obsessed with exacting revenge on the beast that maimed him: Moby Dick, the Great White Whale. The story tells of the eerie voyage of the Pequod, and the transitions that occur within each of her doomed crew, from mad Captain Ahab, to noble but impotent first mate Starbuck, to poor, hapless cabin boy Pip. In the end, the Pequod encounters Moby Dick and is destroyed.

Literary critics suggest that Melville used the Great White Whale as a device to represent the Universe: all powerful and utterly indifferent to the fate of mankind. And Starbuck's empassioned plea to Ahab on the last day of the chase confirms it:
"Oh! Ahab," cried Starbuck, "not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!"
But Ahab cannot desist. He cannot accept a Universe that is indifferent to his desires. The very concept has driven him insane. Ahab exhorts the crew onward, and leads them all, save Ishmael, the narrator, to a watery grave.

Today, Melville's genius is confirmed in the form of Vice President Richard B. Cheney. I contend that Cheney has become mad Ahab, and that the United States is the Pequod, which he steers forward in pursuit of his insane goals.

In order for this contention to have merit, let me point out the ways in which Cheney resembles Ahab:
  1. Maimed: Like Ahab, Cheney imagines that he has been wronged by the Universe. Cheney's career began, tellingly, in the Nixon adminstration. He rose through a variety of positions in the White House, ultimately becoming the Deputy Assistant to the President, under Gerald Ford. During this time, Cheney produced a memo to his lifelong partner in ambition, Donald Rumsfeld (at the time, Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity) suggesting that the Justice Department be used to exact retribution against reporters that had written embarrassing stories. (Note you well, how the ugly case of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame jibes perfectly with said memo). Throughout his career, Cheney has advocated for a strong executive branch of government, at the expense of legislative oversight and judicial review. Now that he is at the helm of the Pequod, Cheney holds these other governmental branches in contempt, defying subpoenas, refusing to explain himself, expressing his scorn. One can only imagine that the fall and disgrace of Richard Nixon left Cheney feeling wronged and aggrieved... that is to say, maimed.

  2. Insane: There have been many exhibitions of Cheney's strange behavior of late. Consider the hunting "accident" with Harry Whittington. Or consider his refusal to admit that the alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda did not exist, despite the findings of the September 11th commission. Or, perhaps the most telling indication that the Vice-President is dangerously unbalanced, consider this creepy video.

Cheney, like Ahab, has been driven insane by the wrongs he imagines he has suffered at the hands of an indifferent universe. Now, hand on the helm of the Pequod, he exhorts the frightened and confused crew (that's us, the citizenry) in pursuit of his "justice." Like Ahab, Cheney is little concerned about the fate of his crew; we are merely the tools he has at his disposal as he strives to attain his goal of reddress. He is hell-bent on retaking the power that he imagines rightfully belongs to himself and other men of his "caliber," history's "leaders," who should be free to operate, unfettered by the petty concerns of the hoi polloi. The great John Huston adapted Melville's novel to the cinema screen in 1956. (Gregory Peck plays Ahab.) In the climactic scene, Ahab has been thrown from his whaleboat and is lashed by harpoon lines to the back of the great beast. The whale submerges with Ahab firmly affixed and stabbing his harpoon in a frenzy. When Moby Dick resurfaces, the crew espies Ahab, drowned, but still lashed to the beast's back. One arm, flopping lifelessly as the whale makes its way through the waves, seems to beckon the surviving crew on, exhorting them to continue the quest....

It doesn't end well...

"From hell's heart, I stab at thee!"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or could it be that he's just after as much money as he can make from his investments in the military industrial machine? Maybe the mad ones are the people that write and protest about the people in power when it does little or no good Is this not unlike butting heads with a great white beast? maybe you should shut up and live your life like you want and stop screaming at others that don't fit your vision of how they should live thier lives