Last night's Frontline documentary "Cheney's Law" was a chronicle of horrors, to be sure, but there were no new revelations about the Vice President's implacable assault on the Constitution. The dramatic tension of the documentary was provided by Jack Goldsmith, a conservative law professor from the University of Chicago who served, briefly, as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel before he ran into the David Addington buzz saw. It was Goldsmith's legal analysis that set off the near-palace coup surrounding the renewal of the warrantless wiretapping program. By demonstrating how Cheney's legal team had stepped well beyond conservative legal principles--well beyond any recognizable legal principles--Goldsmith revealed how monadic, not to mention fanatic, Cheney's claims for executive privilege have become.
Cheney's version of events was provided by a series of black and white photographs of the vice president in which he displays his entire emotional range, conveyed in exactly two expressions: the beady-eyed stare of the monomaniac, and the cagey smile of a man who has the entire nation bugged. David Addington, Cheney's Cardinal Richelieu, looks as innocuous as a stamp collector. Strung together in a narrative, Cheney's machinations enhancing presidential power are mortifying, but the documentary didn't do much to solve the essential mystery of the man. "Cheney's Law" doesn't convey the grandeur of his secrecy and fanaticism, or why the issue of executive power, which he can never enjoy directly, became his reason for being. While there are plenty of logical explanations for the policies of the Bush Administration, none to them, to my mind, satisfactorily explain the vehemence of Bush and Cheney's beliefs or the magnitude of their failures. It seems that the more we know about what goes on inside the Administration, the more baffling it appears.