The dismal spectre of Dick Cheney
As if current affairs were not bleak enough, there is word that a new biopic of none other than Dick Cheney called “The World According to Dick Cheney” will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. If the title is any indication, much original thought was put into this portrait.
While most of us would rather have a root canal than see Dick Cheney again, there is one group for which this will be a major life event: The Washington intelligenciacracy. To again bask in the disdain of this cynical political manipulator and once more be subject to his contempt is a pleasure that Washington pundits will be unable to deny themselves. Unless copies can be immediately sent to DC, chances are all Sunday morning “news” shows will have to be broadcast from Park City, Utah. Surely GE will spring to have the McLaughlin Group head to the Rockies.
I wouldn’t have disturbed your equanimity, Dear Reader, with this unpleasant news if the director R.J. Cutler had not ventured into the field of American Political History to hype this event. “To me, he’s as significant a political figure as this country has ever known,” Cutler said. “Certainly as influential a nonpresidential figure as we’ve ever had.”
Now of course everyone can and ought to have his own opinion about what is significant in history. And there are those who get positively giddy in the presence of Dick Cheney. Joe Lieberman did during the 2000 Vice President debates. And surely no Washington pundit would question the intellectual and world historical heft of Joe Lieberman. But “as significant a political figure as this country has ever known”? Really Mr. Cutler! Did you forget that in the second Bush term Cheney was not “significant” enough to have the President give a blanket pardon to his own aid for outing Valerie Plame (presumably at the direction of Cheney himself)? If you can’t get away with one or two dirty tricks, you are not even in the game when it comes to significant American historical figures.
One could easily off the top of his head come up with numerous figures who will be taught to grade school children long after the significance of Dick Cheney has been buried in rightful obscurity. For example: Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, William H. Steward, Thaddeus Stevens, James G. Blaine, William Jennings Bryant, George Marshall, Earl Warren, etc., etc., etc. I won’t list non-elected officials who had greater significance than our last vice president, names such as Tom Paine, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Susan B. Anthony, because the insignificance of Mr. Cheney will become all the greater. And of course, military figures couldn’t be made part of the list because as one of the proud chicken hawks, Cheney always maintained that his genius lay in sending others to fight the fights that he found important.
Perhaps it’s unfair to list all the people who arguably did good for the country. Maybe Cutler meant, just like Time magazine did some time after it selected Hitler as its Man of the Year (once it became clear that Hitler was not an unqualified success), signficant for evil as well as good. This of course would be more to the point, but even here Cheney’s limitations are evident when we continue our thought experiment by listing obvious candidates in the category he belongs in: Timothy Pickering, John Calhoun, Roger B. Taney, Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forest, Alexander Mitchell Palmer, Willis Van Devanter, John Foster Dulles, McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara, John N. Mitchell, Henry Kissinger, H.R. Haldeman, and so on.
All of this goes to show how superficial our public “intellectuals” have become. As our history is now served us in 90 minute videos, we lose all sense of what has gone before. This loss not only restricts our present policy options (because we have refused to consider how others, possibly even more significant others, have handled similar things), but it also proves the truth of Santayana’s observation: Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to watch a stupider version of it on TV. And this would be like being eternally condemned to live during the Bush Administration.