I was once a big believer in American exceptionalism.
I don't mean the quasi-mystical version of exceptionalism in which God laid down the foundations for his favored nation around the time he introduced Adam to the dinosaurs. What I do mean is the idea of a nation that believes in the rule of law and a system of government that requires the consent of the governed.
That's not to say that we've always lived up to that belief — ideals, like perfection, are things to strive for, not necessarily to achieve, and a government by the people will include some of the more unfortunate aspects of human nature.
All that by way of saying that the past decade hasn't been the most inspiring for those of us who think that the nation should conduct itself by a higher standard, who believe that it's wrong to become a thug to beat a thug.
Can you tell I'm working my way into a column about Dick Cheney?
The former vice president was in the news once more over the last weekend, continuing his barrage against the current administration's anti-terrorism policies. Cheney's prescription can, as always, be condensed into two words: more torture.
Cheney also made news by voicing support for the repeal of ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell.''
Given the combination of pro-torture and pro-gay going on there, it's unsurprising that some of us would be left with mixed feelings.
Way back in the early 1990s, Cheney famously dismissed the military ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers as an ''old chestnut.'' That, along with the fact that his openly lesbian daughter, Mary, was an obviously valued and loved member of his family, led many to believe that as vice president he could be an important moderating influence in a Republican administration with such deep ties to the anti-gay far right.
It made sense at the time.
During those eight years, as the country fought two wars and engaged in massive anti-terrorist campaigns, the Bush administration kept right on dismissing needed gay and lesbian soldiers. If ever there were a time for a Republican — especially the second-most-powerful Republican in the country — to speak out against the military ban, it would have been then.
And let's be clear: As vice president, Dick Cheney was able to engineer a massive and unprecedented expansion of executive power. He was intimately involved in the campaign to launch a war in Iraq. In a nation that had been a beacon for human rights, he took the torture techniques of tyrants and made them official American policy.
No matter what you may think of those accomplishments, the man knows how to get things done. So, it's not unfair to note that his ex officio support for repealing DADT falls somewhere near the category of too little, too late.
Though not entirely. Cheney's word does carry weight in certain Republican and conservative circles. It's unlikely to change the minds of the most rabidly anti-gay members of the party's base, but it may provide the necessary cover for some congressional Republicans to quietly disengage and let repeal move forward.
Still, as someone who's invested in the idea of an exceptional America that leads by example and lives by its own laws, I'm wary when accepting a hand of friendship from Dick Cheney, given that I know where that hand's been.
E-mail Sean Bugg at .