Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake. It was only after the second term of George W. Bush began that I realized I’d been duped. Dubya wasn’t really the conservative I thought he was. For example, he began to surround himself with his father’s foreign policy advisors, and I knew that would not be good for a sound Middle East policy, or for Israel.
Yet a lone figure still seemed to stand for sanity and a realistic look at the world: Dick Cheney.
The crusty vice president had vast experience in Washington and a glittering resume. He seemed bemused by his debates with Joe Leiberman in the run up to that weird election in November 2000. Cheney was also well aware of the dangers America faced.
I always appreciated his presence, even when the president’s advisors outvoted him. Especially then.
So it was with great anticipation that I dived into his memoir, “In My Time.” Memoirs usually aren’t my cup of tea, since most powerful figures so distort the actual record that the final product isn’t a view of history in any reasonable sense.
Cheney, though, delivers what I believe is a superb account of his time in the power centers of our nation’s capitol. (Liz Cheney’s name appears on the cover as well, and one gets the feeling that this terrifically talented lady – the vice president’s daughter – had her fingers on the keyboard as the book was being written.)
Dick Cheney was a kid from Wyoming who wouldn’t have seemed likely to be selected to become vice president of his country, although an early note on a kindergarten report from Miss Korbel hinted at his personality: “Richard doesn’t give up easily.”
Not that he didn’t have skills, but as so often happens with young men, Cheney just engaged in the usual things boys do. However, as he prepared to enter junior high, he began to pay attention to a little-known engagement in Vietnam, between the communist Viet Minh and French forces. He would spread a map out on the living room floor and watch the nightly news. Not a bad beginning for a man who would one day become secretary of defense during a time of war.
Cheney attended Yale, but flunked out … twice. He eventually earned a degree from the University of Wyoming, and one can assume he flourished in a frontier, independent setting, away from the stuffiness of the East.
His first experiences in politics help make “In My Time” an absorbing read. In fact, one funny encounter will have you laughing out loud.
After college, Cheney headed to Washington, where he decided it would be a good idea to intern for a young congressman named Donald Rumsfeld.
A brief interview in the congressmen’s office ended with a thud: Rumsfeld stood up, extended his hand, and said, “This isn’t going to work, but thanks or coming in.”
Now, the really funny part of that story is that Cheney feels Rumsfeld thought of him as a “fuzzy headed academic.” (Cheney had begun a doctoral dissertation and, when Rumsfeld asked him for some background, Cheney decided that would be a great thing to bring up. Evidently not!)
Cheney recounts his years learning the rough-and-tumble world of Washington politics, which has destroyed many a man. Yet this grounded man possessed both the skills and the temperament to climb the ladder of power.
Also, although this will be an unpopular thing to say, I was captivated by his response to daughter Mary’s revelation that she is a lesbian. I hold the classic conservative, biblical view of homosexuality, but in this father-daughter exchange, I think Cheney did one smart thing: “I told her that I loved her dearly.”
Of course, for many, the meat of “In My Time” will be Cheney’s “war” years with George W. Bush, the surreal hours of 9/11 and then the shaping of policy in a maze of complexities that would stagger most administrations.
His recollections of directing operations from the White House bunker on 9/11 are riveting. Cheney even ordered Flight 93 to be shot down if it didn’t divert from Washington.
His reputation as a somewhat stodgy, mysterious lever-puller behind the scenes is probably deserved, but I’ll say this: I believe the man played a key role in keeping our nation safe.
He tells a funny story about the transition of power when Barack Obama became president. Outgoing chief of staff Josh Bolton, in a room with the cabinet members, asked each to give incoming chief Rahm Emmanuel their best piece of advice.
Cheney writes: “By this time, of course, there’d been years of stories about how I was the evil genius controlling the Bush administration from behind a curtain, so when it came my turn I advised Rahm, ‘Whatever you do, make sure you’ve got the vice president under control.’ It was one of my better lines.”
He then describes his thoughts and emotions from the inauguration, recalling his first days in Washington in 1968 and seeing how far the country had come. His thoughts then turned to his grandchildren and the future they might have in a troubled, yet still great United States of America.
It was a fitting way for a great man to ride off into the sunset. “In My Time” is a worthy memoir and tribute, not necessarily to a man, but to a country he believes in deeply.