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Former Vice President Dick Cheney.

March 20, 2018

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Upcoming Visit to Campus Sparks Protest Plans, Dialogue

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A previous version of this article indicated that the speech will be held in Bailey Hall. The correct location of the speech is Statler Auditorium. 

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s planned appearance on Wednesday has sparked planned protests and varying student reactions as the campus anticipates the lessons he brings from his term in the White House and his predictions for America’s political future.

Omar Din ’19, the College of Human Ecology representative for the Student Assembly, is working with an umbrella of activist student organizations to stage a “peaceful, ethically fair and inclusive demonstration” outside of Staler Auditorium during Cheney’s speech to represent other political perspectives.

The conglomeration of groups protesting Cheney’s appearance include Amnesty International, South Asian Council, Islamic Alliance for Justice and La Asociacion Latina. The groups plan to demonstrate “considerately beside the venue to allow participants free right of entry and exit.”

“The fact is that Cheney has never publicly apologized for any political, ethical or moral decision he’s made,” Din told The Sun. “He’s coming to give the photocopied speech he always gives unapologetically, perpetuating falsehoods to no challenge. We just want to present the other side to create a dialectic.”

Cornell Republicans president Austin McLaughlin ’18 has heard the talk of demonstrations across campus and defended the decision to invite Cheney “to learn and listen” from a definitive figure of American history.

McLaughlin said he “encourages opposing opinions” but asked audience members inside Statler Auditorium to refrain from protest.

“[Cornell Republicans] respect people’s rights to protest,” he said. “At the end of the day, we advocate for those in the auditorium to be respectful of the room itself, to allow others to exercise their right to listen.”

Hadiyah Chowdhury ’18, a member of Islamic Alliance for Justice and Students for Justice in Palestine, said she has heard rumors that “some students” may have acquired tickets en masse at Willard Straight Hall with no plans of attending.

According to Prof. Richard Bensel, government, most students immediately identify Cheney’s significance with his two main contributions to the George W. Bush administration: “he provided advice to a president who was not particularly well-trained for the presidency, stabilizing the administration. Also, he was a major advocate of the war in Iraq.”

In the midst of these two points, while some students are repulsed by what they perceive to be Cheney’s negative role in the Iraq War, others are attracted to the level of authority he commanded as vice president.

“[Cheney] cast a shadow on every aspect of political life for eight years of our childhood, which can still be felt to this day,” said Cornell Democrats social chair Ethan Rosenbaum ’19.

Speaking for the Cornell Democrats’ reaction to potential protests, Rosenbaum stated that his organization will not join the protest because Cheney is not provocative enough to warrant action.

“While we oppose everything he stands for, I understand why he appeals to Cornell Republicans. We do not find him controversial to the point to where we feel like we should take serious action,” Rosenbaum said. “The manner in which he painted everyone who opposed his administration’s actions as traitors to control opposition speaks for itself.”

Cornell Republicans member Thomas Hartman ’19, who grew up in a conservative household, aligns with a positive interpretation of Cheney’s legacy and longs for recovery of a political atmosphere he believes vanished long ago.

“His politics are not what we would call Republican today,” Hartman said. “So his opinion can elucidate the benefits and calamities of having a traditional conservative administration during a time before the modern faux conservative movement overtook the right.”

Members of organizations like Islamic Alliance for Justice and Students for Justice in Palestine disagree categorically “with the sentiment that much could be gained by Cheney’s insight,” according to Chowdhury.

“His administration’s policies were a manifestation of American masculine power, and it’s much more critical that we hear from someone who was actually affected by his decisions,” Chowdhury said.

A “laundry list” of grievances may explain why students decry the Bush administration, according to Prof. Joseph Margulies ’82, law and government.

Margulies, who acted as lead counsel in a landmark Supreme Court case against the Bush administration which granted Guantanamo Bay detainees the right to habeas corpus, believes that Cheney’s legacy for American students is “pushing for unilateral executive power, and being a principal architect of the torture scandal” in the immediate post-9/11 milieu.

To Margulies, the impact of Cheney’s role in the Bush administration was “having a legal conversation about whether hanging a man from a ceiling for 11 days and waterboarding him 83 times in one month constitutes torture, or merely an enhanced interrogation.”

Ultimately, Margulies can empathize with some student sentiments that see Cheney as a “stain on American pride” for his role in “enhanced interrogation.”

“It’s hard to fault him for his handling of America’s safety in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” Hartman said. “It was a tragedy unexperienced in the nation’s history, and the defining moment of the Bush administration.”

McLaughlin stated that for Cornell Republicans, the goal of the speech is holistic.

“I do hope this leads to more conversations on significant issues of the past that we still have to address on both sides,” McLaughlin said, explaining that Cheney’s appearance is “about the importance of hearing from someone who’s made hard decisions.”

Anthony Notaroberta ’19, vice president of Cornell Libertarians, believes that the value in Cheney’s speech is in the noticeable distinctions which have cast him as “part of the old establishment now revered with dismay in the age of Trump.”

“He may not be very relevant and is perhaps controversial in a nefarious manner, but he epitomizes both the establishment and the ability of a few in power to distort truth, which the Trump campaign and the age of new media are very much a response to,” Notaroberta told The Sun.

The speech will take place on Wednesday from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. in Statler Auditorium. The venue was changed from Bailey Hall, where the C.U. Republicans had expected that all the seats of the Bailey Hall auditorium might come into use.