As I See It by Cynthia Tucker — The younger Cheney took a page right out of the McCarthy playbook when she decided to attack several Justice Department attorneys who represented terror suspects in court before they joined the Obama administration.

Liz Cheney doesn't hold a seat in the United States Senate. She doesn't have the power to call committee hearings to intimidate those who dare disagree with her. And she isn't practicing her demagoguery in an era of widespread fear of an existential threat. Nevertheless, she has slipped easily into the role of Joseph McCarthy.

Maybe it's in her genes.

The daughter of the former vice president, she has her father's meanness, his dark view of the world and his autocratic sense of authority. Like her father, she disrespects the U.S. Constitution, berates the rule of law and sneers at old-fashioned tools of statecraft, such as diplomacy.

The younger Cheney took a page right out of the McCarthy playbook when she decided to attack several Justice Department attorneys who represented terror suspects in court before they joined the Obama administration. A group she co-founded — Keep America Safe, which is dedicated to the relentless advance of Cheneyite ideals on national security — launched an ugly online ad insisting that the Justice Department release their names. Headlined "DOJ: Department of Jihad?" the ad intoned, "Who are these government officials? ... Whose values do they share?"

Happily, Cheney's reprehensible tactics haven't gone unanswered. She's been denounced by Democrats and Republicans, liberals, moderates, conservatives and libertarians. Regardless of ideology, lawyers who cherish the U.S. Constitution have stepped forward to defend its principles.

Conservative legal luminaries — including Kenneth Starr and Larry Thompson, who served as deputy attorney general in George W. Bush's first term — signed a letter blasting the "shameful series of attacks on attorneys in the Department of Justice. ...

"We consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications. The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre," they wrote.

In our political system, I expect Republicans to keep up their attacks on President Obama as, in their view, soft on terrorists and an apologist for American failings. But I don't expect those who insist they're true patriots to attack basic American values.

Yet, that's exactly what the Cheneys and their minions have done. They deride attorneys who have upheld centuries-old legal traditions and supported the rule of law. They attack the practices that we have preached abroad. They criticize the very traditions that separate us from our enemies, such as al-Qaida.

If Cheney had any intellectual honesty, she'd attack the U.S. Supreme Court, too. After all, the court — not exactly a haven of jihadist-loving radicals — has endorsed the rights of terror suspects. In 2006, the court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the Bush administration's initial plans for military commissions to try detainees violated the law. (One of Hamdan's lawyers, not coincidentally, was Neal Katyal, now the principle deputy solicitor general of the United States. He is among the attorneys Cheney has targeted.)

The forthright denunciations of Cheney lack the drama that brought Joseph Welch so much acclaim. His retort to Joe McCarthy — "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" — has been immortalized in film and gone down in the history books. Still, Cheney's critics have managed to make their point.

Dick Cheney and his daughter are utterly without decency, shame or principle. They will continue to rail against the rule of law, to spread fear and hysteria and to promote policies that are indistinguishable from those of our enemies. But it's now clear that there is no reason to take them seriously.

Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution can be reached at cynthia@ajc.com; follow her blog at blogs.ajc.com/cynthia-tucker.