Liberty at the Movies: Vice

Liberty at the movies:Vice

Vice tells the story of how Richard Chaney went from being expelled from Yale and drinking and fighting in his spare time to becoming the most influential Vice-President in history.

Written and directed by Adam McKay who also directed The Big Short, Vice employs the same techniques that made The Big Short one of, if not the, best movies to address the 2008 financial crisis. Like the Big Short, Vice uses a short entertaining vignette to explain complex concepts. The film also has an excellent cast, starting with Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Liz Cheney (who the film portrays as the motivating force behind Dicks decision to clean himself up and enter government). Fans of The Office will enjoy Steve Carrell’s portrayal of Donald Rumsfeld as a smarter, shrewder, more ruthless and self-aware Michael Scott.

Libertarians will enjoy the films critique of the Iraqi war and the rise of the surveillance state. They will also enjoy the films exposition on the unified executive theory— which is the idea that the President has unchecked authority to run the executive branch without interference from Congress or the courts.

The unified executive theory is presented as the basis of Cheney’s worldview from the moment he is informed of it by a young lawyer named Antonin Scalia. However, the film portrays Cheney as embracing the unified executive theory simply as a means to enhancer his power. There is no suggestion that Cheney held an ideological commitment to America serving as the world’s policemen abroad while promoting a conservative pro-business welfare -regulatory state at home. For Cheney it is all about the money and the power.

Vice presents a left-liberal cartoon version of the entire conservative movement which is shown as nothing more than an attempt by billionaires to subvert democracy for their own benefit. There is no attempt to explore conservatives libertarian ideas, and all “right -wing” policies are presented as equally bad. The makers of the film are the type of progressives to whom cutting taxes is an equal or greater sin than starting a war.

The film gets key facts wrong as well. For example, there are claims the Koch brothers were part of the right wing billionaire plot to take over the country by ousting Jimmy Carter and replacing him with Ronald Reagan. At the time the Kochs were financing the Libertarian Party. The film also lumps in the CATO Institute with conservative think tanks, ignoring CATO’s opposition to the Iraqi war and the Patriot Act. Of course, there is no mention of the fact that the most consistent critique of Bush-Cheney politics came from a certain pro-life, pro-gun and pro-gold Texas Congressman.

Vice also presents George Bush as a clownish buffoon who lets Cheney act as virtual President. While it is true Cheney had more influence than any other Vice President, he was not actually running the country. Another scene that does not ring true is when Cheney and his advisors discuss the people and dismiss them as “lightweights”. You can say a lot about Karl Rove (and I don’t have much good to say about him) but he is not a lightweight.

In conclusion, Vice is worth seeing for the acting and entertaining way it tells the story but it present a false history of the Bush-Cheney years and the American right.

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