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Friday, September 10, 2004

The Man at The Helm

Vice President Richard Cheney possesses an enormous power in the US today. There are indications that he is hardly the second in command, that in this administration it is rather a "power sharing" arrangement of sorts we are talking about, with Cheney actually calling the shots on many issues.

So, who is that quiet man who to a large extent calls the shots these days? In his Rolling Stone article T. D. Allman provides a fairly detailed, even if somewhat biased, account of Dick Cheney's life and career.

One would think that a man who has successfully ascended to the upper levels of power in a superpower state would have a string of untarnished victories under his belt, or at least that successes would punctuate his entire career, growing in significance as he progressed. However, according to Allman's presentation, that is not even close to being the case with Dick Cheney.

Cheney's record of mistakes begins in 1959, when Tom Stroock, a Republican politician-businessman in Casper, Wyoming, got Cheney, then a senior at Natrona County High School, a scholarship to Yale. "Dick was the all-American boy, in the top ten percent of his class," Stroock says. "He seemed a natural." But instead of triumphing, Cheney failed. "He spent his time partying with guys who loved football but weren't varsity quality," recalls Stephen Billings, an Episcopalian minister who roomed with him during Cheney's freshman (and only full) year at Yale. "His idea was, you didn't need to master the material," says his other roommate, Jacob Plotkin. "He passed one psych course without attending class or studying, and he was proud of that. But there are some things you can't bluff, and Dick reached a point where you couldn't recover."

Cheney might have been flunking in the classroom, but he excelled at making connections. "Dick always had this very calm way of talking," recalls Plotkin, now a retired math professor at Michigan State University. "His thoughtful manner impressed people." Forty years before the son of a U.S. president picked Cheney to be his running mate, the son of a Massachusetts governor picked him to be his sophomore-year roommate. Mark Furcolo, whose father, Foster, had been elected governor as a Democrat, invited Cheney to Cape Cod for a visit. "Dick came back enraptured," Plotkin says. "He was fascinated by the official state cars and planes. The trappings of it got him."

His manner is certainly impressive as is the grim determination he displays when it comes to life-and-death issues such as war and terrorism. However, this hawk of today appeared not to be so eager to participate in a war that was going on while he was in his prime years,- namely, the War in South-East Asia.
After leaving Yale, Cheney had one of his few experiences working in the private sector, on a telephone-company repair crew. He showed no interest, one way or another, in the Vietnam War -- until a Texas president, nearly forty years before George W. Bush, turned a remote foreign struggle into a catastrophic, unwinnable war. Thanks to Lyndon Johnson's escalation of Vietnam, lounging around was suddenly no longer an option. Cheney snapped into action. First he enrolled in Casper Community College; then he went to the University of Wyoming. That kept him out of the draft until August 7th, 1964, when Congress initiated massive conscription in the armed forces. Three weeks later, Cheney married Lynne Vincent, his high school girlfriend, earning him another deferment. Then, on October 26th, 1965, the Selective Service announced that childless married men no longer would be exempted from having to fight for their country. Nine months and two days later, the first of Cheney's two daughters, Elizabeth, was born. All told, between 1963 and 1966, Cheney received five deferments.
As a side point, note that the telephone repairman's job was about the only one Cheney ever had outside of the government and not due to his political connections.

And I really hope that Allman's silent hint that Elizabeth Cheney was born as a way for her father to avoid draft has no backing in the reality of the events. But be that as it may, at the time the war which Cheney claims to have supported was in progress he received five deferments and never went to this war, whereas many of those who were against the war ended up going there,- and some came back in flag-draped coffins. As Allman aptly observes,
He has never candidly discussed his feelings about the war, the traumatic, formative event for American males of his age. Only once, in fact, has he even answered a question as to why he avoided serving.

"I had other priorities," was all he has ever said.
Allman makes a number of astute observations.
Should George W. Bush win this election, it will give him the distinction of being the first occupant of the White House to have survived naming Dick Cheney to a post in his administration. The Cheney jinx first manifested itself at the presidential level back in 1969, when Richard Nixon appointed him to his first job in the executive branch. It surfaced again in 1975, when Gerald Ford made Cheney his chief of staff and then -- with Cheney's help -- lost the 1976 election. George H.W. Bush, having named Cheney secretary of defense, was defeated for re-election in 1992. The ever-canny Ronald Reagan was the only Republican president since Eisenhower who managed to serve two full terms. He is also the only one not to have appointed Dick Cheney to office.

This pattern of misplaced confidence in Cheney, followed by disastrous results, runs throughout his life -- from his days as a dropout at Yale to the geopolitical chaos he has helped create in Baghdad. Once you get to know his history, the cycle becomes clear: First, Cheney impresses someone rich or powerful, who causes unearned wealth and power to be conferred on him. Then, when things go wrong, he blames others and moves on to a new situation even more advantageous to himself.

I hope that his November we as a nation stick to the time-honored tradition of not allowing Mr Cheney to serve in any administration more than one four-year term in a row.

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