The Who2 Blog

Dick Cheney’s Heart, Then and Now

So Dick Cheney had a pump implanted in his heart last week. The prognosis is uncertain: it may be the prelude to heart transplant surgery, or it may be a semi-reliable solution that could endure for years.

James Fallows of the Atlantic has a very generous take on Dick Cheney this week, one a lot more generous than I could ever muster up.  Good for Mr. Fallows. And agreed: you hate to think the worst of people.

A photo of Senator Joseph McCarthy from 1954. U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

(U.S. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

Even Senator Joseph McCarthy, as terrible a figure as he was — and I would put Dick Cheney in McCarthy’s category in terms of the damage done to the common good in our resilient country — even Joe McCarthy seemed more like a sad figure, not an evil one, when he drank himself to death.  (Not everyone agreed: “America was the cleaner by his fall, and is cleaner by his death,” wrote one English newspaper.)

That said, it’s being VERY generous towards Dick Cheney to say that his actions of the last 10 years might have reflected “a growing awareness of life’s hard realities.” Quite the opposite.

Surely he meant well, but Cheney’s nefarious choices on invasion and torture showed a profound *misunderstanding* of the U.S. Constitution and the hard realities of power and injustice that the Founders set out to control.  Shoving the invasion of Iraq through Congress with phony data, scare tactics, and votes that carefully avoided declarations of war while giving all power to George W. Bush — that was a triumph of political trickery, but not a triumph of much else.

Dick Cheney knew the advanced tricks of grabbing and using power, but he didn’t have a realist’s view of any of the important topics in the world: international relations, the future of energy, human rights, you name it.  In every case his view was that power and a few well-placed tricks could force the world to do your bidding. They can in the short run — and do all the time! — but never in the long run.  Has any administration ever kidded itself more than his about what the world can be forced to accept, if only enough force is applied?

At least Fallows mentions a topic that gets ignored too often: “the way [Cheney] became the Vice Presidential nominee.” Which is to say, the way Cheney hoodwinked George W. Bush after Bush made him head of his vice-presidential search committee in 2000. Cheney’s aw-shucks protests aside, making yourself look like the best guy for the job is the oldest trick in the book, yet candidate Bush was just sucker enough to fall for it.

Photo of Dick Cheney

(Photo: Carrie Devorah / WENN)

I was about 30 when I first read about this old trick of VP search directors positioning themselves for the job. It came up in Clark Clifford’s memoirs Counsel to the President.  (30 was pretty old for me to be learning about it, but at least I was still five years too young to run for president.)  John F. Kennedy asked Clifford to help vet vice-presidential candidates in 1960, and Clifford agreed — but only on the condition that he himself be disqualified from the start. Clifford may have been flattering himself a little, but he knew the score.

Dick Cheney also knew the score, all too well. And that’s probably the truth of my anger at Dick Cheney: it’s really anger at George W. Bush for letting Cheney play him for a sap. That, it seems to me, is what you get with a callow president who bluffs and parties his way through school and early adulthood instead of reading a history book or two. It’s not like “the power behind the throne” is a new phrase. Bush must have read enough to know that phrase well, but not enough to realize it could ever apply to a well-meaning throne-holder like himself.

Photo of George W. Bush

(Photo: Carrie Devorah /

Any president who calls himself “the decider” admits that he is at the mercy of those who bring him the information and frame the questions that he decides. It really wouldn’t be too surprising to learn that Cheney himself was the one who first dropped the phrase “the decider” in Bush’s ear.

Well, in the spirit of James Fallows, I will say: Get well, Mr. Cheney. Here’s hoping you DO live long enough have a change of heart.


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