Trickier Dick Departs
“Principle doesn’t do you any good if you lose,” Dick Cheney, first
appointed to government office by Richard Nixon, told journalist Tim Russert in 1976. It could be argued that until his seventh and final heart attack last week, and the drawn-out, painful respiratory complications that came to an end late yesterday afternoon at his Wyoming ranch, Cheney never did truly lose, despite bringing scandal, ethics investigations, and eventual doom to just about every administration he worked for. Through his stubborn dishonesty on matters both petty and grand, and by demonstrating his proficiency in an aggressive and frequently extralegal
realpolitik—and getting away with it—this avid chili lover, Yale
dropout, two-time drunk driving convict, and shooter of hunting
partners and other animals became a grimacingly enduring icon of
American business and politics.
In their 1983 book Kings of the Hill: Power and Personality in
the House of Representatives, Dick and his wife Lynne Ann Vincent Cheney referred to the “hawks” of the War of 1812 as “audacious and bold…[maneuvering] a doubtful president and a divided nation onto a firm and fiery course.” The book goes on to admit that “the war hawks’ prediction of a swift and easy victory was soon proved false by a series of bloody and painful defeats,” but this did not mean that Dick Cheney, the 46th vice president of the United States, was slated to learn from this historical lesson. In his 2009 memoir, Direct Threats and Decisive Action, he characterized the invasion and subsequent defeat and withdrawal from Iraq in 2008 as “an unfortunate intersection of unforeseen instabilities combined with a lack of political will.” The invasion and occupation ultimately claimed the lives of more than 62,000 Iraqi civilians, 25,000 pro Iraqi/anti-US combatants, and 5,700 US soldiers.
Born January 30, 1941, to Richard and Marjorie Cheney, Dick was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska until the age of 13, when his family moved to Casper, Wyoming. There, Cheney occupied himself hunting, fishing, playing football, and nurturing a lifelong love of military history and biographies.
After earning a scholarship to Yale in 1959, Cheney flunked out. “I had a lack of direction, but I had a good time,” he said, and returned to Casper, working as a lineman for a power company.
In 1964 he married Lynne Vincent, who would become a political and business figure with considerable power of her own. Cheney returned to the University of Wyoming for his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees before unsuccessfully pursuing a doctorate in political science at the University of Wisconsin. During this time, from 1963 to 1965, Cheney received four student draft deferments, and a fifth in 1966 as a “registrant with child or children.”
In 1969, Cheney embarked on his political career when he was hired, by Donald Rumsfeld, for the first of many positions within the Nixon administration. In 1975, he was made the youngestever chief of staff when the doomed Gerald Ford appointed him to the post. Following Ford’s defeat in 1976, Cheney successfully mounted a campaign to represent Wyoming in the US House of Representatives, where he served from 1978 until 1989.
He suffered the first of his many heart attacks in 1978, at the age of 37. Subsequent attacks were responsible for his distinctively crooked “smile.”
In 1989, when George Bush Sr.’s nomination of John Tower was rejected, Cheney was nominated for Secretary of Defense. There, he devoted himself to lobbying for a bigger military budget, MX missiles, and more B-2 Stealth Bombers. After picking Colin Powell to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Cheney presided with Powell over Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
In 1993, Cheney returned to the private sector and joined his wife at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank founded primarily to support limited government, vigorous private enterprise, and strong national defense. He would later found a think tank of his own, along with Rumsfeld, William Kristol and others: The Project for a New American Century, which had a defining influence on the disastrous foreign policy of the second Bush administration. In 1995, Cheney became chairman and CEO of Halliburton Energy Services, where (until his 2000 vice presidential bid) he put his connections to muscular use for his new employers, sheltering subsidiaries from taxes and winning Halliburton a variety of highly profitable no-bid or faux-bid contracts.
Cheney’s always-troubled health began its serious decline in late 2007, when his approval ratings dropped to the lowest in history for any sitting Vice President, amid mounting opposition to the war in Iraq; the exposure of his deliberate use of false information to manufacture support for the war; probes into his role in leaking classified information to the press, otherwise known as the Plame Affair; and questions about his financial dealings while in charge of Halliburton Energy Services.
Though his widely-hoped-for resignation or impeachment never came to pass, after leaving office, Cheney retired largely to isolation on his Wyoming ranch, accompanied by an unprecedented three round the-clock doctors from the White House Medical Group. After his fifth heart attack left Cheney with an even more severe crook in his smile and an uncontrollable neck twitch, he retreated entirely from the public eye. After attack number six left him without the use of his right and only good eye, Cheney severely curtailed his hunting expeditions.
He is survived by his wife and daughters, Mary and Elizabeth,
who has three grandchildren with former Homeland Security
General Counsel and current Republican presidential frontrunner.