Dick Cheney is one of the most remarkable figures in American political history.
There, I said it.
Objectively speaking, no matter your ideology, take a step back. One can only marvel at the former vice president’s moxie, mettle and maneuverability over a storied 40-year career. Forget that the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., authored some 300 or so laws, most of which undoubtedly touched every American — Dick Cheney wrote the book on how to work the system to one’s personal advantage.
Cheney’s simply a much better read: no apologies, no surrender.
To start, how does one rationalize coming to Washington in 1969 as a conservative’s conservative, after securing a remarkable five draft deferments from the Vietnam War, a disastrous war Cheney always praised as necessary?
Cheney then spent his entire 40-year working career ideologically wedded to reducing the size and scope of the government, only to end up as a 68-year old retired federal government employee with a pension estimated at $132,451 per year, complete with guaranteed access to high-quality affordable government-run health care, and with a big, fat lucrative book contract to boot.
How exactly did Cheney manage to become White House chief of staff — the youngest ever in history, at age 34 — a mere six years after beginning his career with a congressional internship? Cheney followed that with five terms in Congress, quickly rising No. 3 in the Republican leadership. He then jumped back to the executive branch, with a credible term as Defense secretary and the success of the first Iraq War. How does Cheney rationalize his many lucrative private-sector years as the top executive of a Fortune 500 firm almost completely reliant on government defense contracts (oh, the irony!), or his subsequent million-dollar bonus payments he received as vice president?
There’s then the juicy story behind how Cheney famously oversaw the 2000 vice presidential selection process for Gov. George W. Bush. It’s said Cheney masterfully leaked to the press the foibles of every other likely prospect, such as former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, which caused Bush to scratch them from his short list until — surprise, surprise — Cheney was the only viable VP candidate remaining. Sheer brilliance, eh?
It’s a remarkable life story, so it’s no surprise Cheney’s now frantically researching and writing his autobiography, with its rumored $2 million advance, which, given his current abysmal approval rating means that his publisher, Simon & Schuster, expects its author to settle scores, take no prisoners, and tell all. After all, that’s how you move books.
Cheney is justifiably considered the most influential, manipulative and secretive vice president in history. As such he has an obligation to set the record straight from his perspective and in his own words, if nothing more than for his grandchildren to read when they are adults. Cheney’s also a mysterious figure to most Americans, certainly the least-known well-known prominent politician alive today.
In a peculiar way, Cheney found his success by avoiding the spotlight. He’s unique in that he seemed to not care that the public didn’t like him. Charm offensive? Yeah, right. He figured the less known about him, the better. That’s a complete throwback in the modern political era, and only with his public service completed is Cheney attempting to define or mold the public’s perception.
That would explain his rising profile, including an in-your-face-Obama speech and appearances planned for this week. Cheney has quickly emerged as the public face of the Bush administration.
Cheney’s surely on a concerted campaign to lay the groundwork for a huge book launch. Or perhaps he feels it necessary to defend deeply held ideological beliefs that he previously left to others to defend — or inversely, argue on record against certain domestic policies he did not want to publicly defend as vice president.
Or maybe he’s simply angry — no surprise there.
This is, after all, an individual whose self-awareness is non-existent. He’s never admitted to a mistake, let alone ambivalence. Indifferent, yes, but never uncertain. Sometimes wrong but never in doubt.
So if you’re never wrong, and every one else is, that must be very, very frustrating. Indeed the only evidence of Cheney modifying a significant policy position was when it affected him directly, in the case of his daughter Mary’s sexual preference. Prior to that revelation, Cheney was solidly homophobic. Afterward, he preached tolerance and acceptance of gays. How convenient.
So we’ll soon know juicy details about Cheney’s take on his eight years spent a heartbeat away from the presidency: his defense of torture; Valerie Plame Wilson and Scooter Libby; yellow cake and a guy named ”Curveball”; his delusional justification still of the latest Iraq War.
The former vice president’s even hinted that he’ll expose arguments and differences he had with President Bush and that certain previously secret matters are now deemed outside their “statute of limitations.”
Do or do not, Darth Vader. There is no try.
In other words, don’t expect Cheney’s memoirs to be a sappy romance novel filled with lesbian love scenes, by any means. It won’t be some dull policy-laden rationale for or against compassionate conservatism either. And don’t expect Cheney to apologize — stuff happens — it’s not his thing.
“Veni, vidi, ego sum non rumex”: I came. I saw. I will not apologize.
Instead of score-settling, Cheney should model his book after the late Bob Novak’s autobiography. Novak, a longtime heralded reporter and columnist, published a brutally honest 2007 tell-all disclosing many personal faults and shortcomings, including a drinking problem and sub-par parenting skills. He broke the mold for Washington tell-alls, but with such refreshing honesty his grandchildren will most likely appreciate in adulthood.
One suspects, though, that Cheney is incapable of humility or atonement. Oh, I’ll buy his book, sure. You can even put me down to host a book party for him — but only if Cheney’s tell-all contains two simple words, about anything: “I’m sorry.”
John Edgell is a former Democratic congressional staffer.