EDITOR’S NOTE: Molly Ivins is taking a break from her column as she undergoes the latest round of cancer treatment.

Dick Cheney just doesn’t get it. He makes the president look like a model of contrition.

The situation in Iraq is either better than everyone else in the world thinks, or someone else’s fault. His lesbian daughter’s pregnancy is no one’s business, even though he and his presidential partner have fought against efforts to protect women and children in precisely her situation. His former chief of staff is on trial for his role in an effort to squelch criticism of the ill-fated war, but does that have anything to do with Cheney? It must be nice, speaking personally, to be that self-confident, self-righteous and self-serving. But it’s a disaster for the country.

John McCain, the president’s new best friend, recently came right out and said what many people have been thinking: that the president listened to Cheney too much and mishandled the conduct of the war as a result. Gerald Ford, in his posthumously published interview, was sharply critical of his former chief of staff. Walter Mondale, in a recent conference on the Carter presidency, suggested that even though it was Jimmy Carter who expanded the role and influence of the vice president, he would never have tolerated the way Cheney has conducted himself in this position.

Mere mortals might be chastened by the criticism, not to mention the disaster their policies have produced.

But Cheney is no mere mortal. He may be the most arrogant man to ever be elected to high office in America.

Cheney is in that position because he essentially picked himself. Asked to lead the process for selecting someone else to run as vice president with George Bush, he managed it in such a way that he became the choice. At the time, many people hailed the result, saying the relatively inexperienced Bush needed the strong and experienced hand of a Dick Cheney. We should have known better. Having manipulated himself into the No. 2 job, what was there to stop him from trusting himself above all others? Too much praise is a bad thing.

Even apart from his role in the war, Cheney has been a model of arrogance from the start. The law is no limit for him. His secret meetings of the energy task force should have stirred a revolt, not simply a lawsuit. His ties to Halliburton, subsequently awarded billions of dollars in contracts to rebuild Iraq, should have made the result of that revolt inevitable. Instead, Cheney has simply pushed forward, unrepentant.

In 2005, Cheney assured Americans that the insurgency was in “its last throes.” He was just plain wrong. But he has never acknowledged it, never admitted to any mistakes. He has taken the adage that the best defense is a good offense to a ludicrous extreme. Even as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was voting for a resolution opposing the latest escalation of the war, Cheney was busy making clear that he didn’t care and it wouldn’t stop him.

“There’s problems” in Iraq, Cheney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, but it is not a “terrible situation.” Really? Only the day before, Bush’s choice to lead the troops in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, said the “situation in Iraq is dire.” Is he wrong, too? Congressional opposition “won’t stop us” from sending 21,500 more troops, but will only “validate the terrorists’ strategy.” That was just the sort of conclusion respected Republican Senator John Warner cautioned against, at Petraeus’ confirmation hearing.

Cheney’s own lesbian daughter may be having a child, but that presumably has nothing to do with the consistently anti-gay policies pursued by this administration, which leave other women and their children in the same situation with no protection of their fundamental rights. The personal is not political when Dick Cheney’s blatant hypocrisy is at issue. If this administration were not so hostile to gay rights, no one would care about his daughter.

But Dick Cheney is smart like a fox. He would rather polarize the country than face his own mistakes. He would rather have Americans yelling at each other than accept legitimate criticism. He isn’t running for anything, so what does he care?

The question is: Is the president listening? At some point, he needs to decide that he’s heard enough from the man who has, more than any other, destroyed his presidency.

Susan Estrich writes for Creators Syndicate Inc.

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