[This piece was originally published in the Wheeling Intelligencer in September, 2015.]
Our local Chambers of Commerce can be great civic institutions. My company participates in the Wheeling Chamber actively, and we recently had a nice event bringing small business owners from the area to our front lawn for a summer get-together. It’s great for the community when local companies know one another and do business together. But the National Chamber, and State Chamber are something quite different.
Somewhere along the line, those organizations became captives of the Republican Party, and of the increasingly destructive, right-wing elements of the Republican Party at that. Nothing symbolizes that more than the West Virginia Chamber’s decision to bring former Vice-President Dick Cheney to Greenbrier County as some kind of keynote speaker.
The whole country, and West Virginia in particular, has paid an awful price for Mr. Cheney’s ascension to the second-highest office in the land. Not only did the Cheney-Bush Administration precipitate the Great Recession – the worst economic disaster in 80 years, it also started the Iraq War – the worst foreign policy disaster in at least 50 years. These completely avoidable twin catastrophes cost us thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars.
Shamelessly peddling fears of an Iraqi nuclear bomb that did not exist, Cheney is widely understood to have been the real force behind the push for war in Iraq in 2003. America lost 4,425 servicemen and women in Iraq, and trillions of tax dollars were spent, or committed as interest on debt. Despite incredible valor on the part of our military, no improvement in the overall situation materialized as a result of the war, and most indications are that things there are worse. There were hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties among the Iraqi population.
The mind can swim hearing numbers in the trillions, so it is worth making specific comparisons so we understand just what Bush-Cheney spent, in addition to the priceless lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines:
Social Security: Our seniors depend on social security, and the value of the benefits are losing ground to the cost of living. Various Republican plans to cut benefits, raise the retirement age, or end Social Security block grants are supposed to “save” anywhere from $15 billion to $50 billion a year. So we could fully fund, or even expand, social security for the rest of the century, had Bush-Cheney not wasted the money in Iraq.
Education: The unaffordability of college for our young people is a scandal. Several Democratic candidates have put forth proposals to help students afford the schooling they need to compete for jobs. One proposal that would make college at public Universities tuition-free for 10 years has a price tag of $350 billion over 10 years. Republicans deride this plan as “unaffordable.” But Bush-Cheney buried almost 10 times that much in Middle Eastern sand.
Roads: West Virginia needs somewhat more than a billion dollars to fix our roads. It will be tough to get it. But more than that amount was spent in any week of the unnecessary 10-year conflict in Iraq.
Health care: Medicare and Medicaid are key survival mechanisms in West Virginia. Without them, hundreds of thousands of West Virginians, many of them either elderly or children, would not be able to see a doctor or obtain needed prescriptions. Republicans insist we can’t afford them and want to cut several hundred billion dollars from these lifelines. Where might we have gotten the money? You get the picture.
Remarkably, the trillions spent in Iraq that could have protected our seniors in their retirement, educated our children, rebuilt our state, and healed our sick and injured are only a part of the disaster inflicted on this country by Mr. Cheney’s administration. The Great Recession, caused by reckless Republican spending, criminally unregulated banking, and massive tax giveaways to the wealthy, obliterated retirement savings for millions of Americans, and cost our country millions of jobs, some of which we’ll never get back.
So what in the world is the State Chamber of Commerce doing inviting Dick Cheney to West Virginia?
Believe it or not, Cheney is selling another Middle East war these days. He’s threatening Americans with nuclear war again, but this time Iran is his target. If we don’t remember how that turned out the last time he tried that line, shame on us. Cheney will always have another war to peddle, for other Americans to fight, but we should remember that he himself carefully dodged the draft.
I suppose Cheney has made himself a wealthy man – increasingly a prime qualification in the Donald Trump Republican Party. His old company, Halliburton, paid him about $35 million when he stepped into the vice-presidency – an amount he more than repaid as the company reaped billions on his war. But that kind of business plan is hardly useful to the Chamber of Commerce.
It’s more likely the West Virginia Chamber, increasingly dominated by hard-right Republicans, somehow admires Cheney. Regardless of his results, regardless of the disasters he brought upon our country, regardless of the naked self-interest and personal gains he reaped at the expense of our country, Dick Cheney remains rich and powerful. For the hard right in America today, that’s all they need to hear – all they will hear, in fact.
Consider a contrast with former President Carter: Recently diagnosed with cancer, President Carter never started a war and never profited from his office. In 35 years since his presidency ended, he’s served the causes of peace and democracy, here and around the world. A committed Christian, President Carter lived a life of humility, service, and prayer we read about in the Gospels.
Meanwhile, Cheney travels the country agitating for war. The West Virginia Chamber can be reached at 304-342-1115. Call and let them know Cheney can skip West Virginia.