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Anyone expected a polemic against Vice President Cheney will be disappointed -- somewhat. Some mythomanes on the extreme will judge it as a leftist polemic but it's not a hatchet job. It's a rather straightforward look at a man of principle who may have been the most powerful Vice President in American history, including Woodrow Wilson's wife.
There are half a dozen or so talking heads and much documentary footage as we travel briefly through Cheney's early years and then through his eight years as Vice President. They divide themselves into two terms.
(Term 1.) Bush runs for the presidency in 2000 and asks Cheney to find a proper candidate for VP. Cheney subjects all possible candidate to a thorough and demanding vetting process and they all fail until only Cheney is left. I emphasize that one event because it provides a thumbnail pic of the rest of the first term.
Bush has little experience in foreign affairs, or in Washington for that matter, and Cheney is the proper guide. He's a very portrait of the seasoned policy maker who was sure of himself, never made a mistake in judgment, never backed down, didn't play a defensive role, genuinely believed that kicking ass worked -- and Bush was the apt pupil. When 9/11 took place, Bush was stuck in a primary school in the South. Cheney took over in Washington and more or less remained in charge for the next few years, feeding what information to Bush what he felt Bush might absorb. For some of the growing internal crises Bush was kept out of the loop entirely. The president was surprised to find that some of his own lawyers had threatened to resign over issues like "data mining" by the NSA or the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that Cheney advocated.
(Term 2.) The tensions between Bush and Cheney increase as the wars in the Middle East turn more complicated than had been expected. Public criticism grew so intense that Bush finally asked his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to resign. Rumsfeld and Cheney had been close friends and colleagues for years. Cheney: "I'd have kept him on." Eventually, tiring of Cheney's dominance, Bush avoided seeing Cheney and wouldn't accept calls from him. When Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, was convicted of lying to the FBI, Bush commuted his prison sentence. Cheney wanted a pardon but Bush felt that justice should be served. Cheney: "There was a lot of tension." As he fades from the president's grace, his place is taken by Condi Rice, who prefers diplomacy to bombs.
Bush comes across as amiable, naive, not too perceptive, but fundamentally a nice guy. Cheney, on the other hand, emerges as an exemplary authoritarian personality. He was a man of principle. The problem with having principles is that, as in Cheney's case, they may lead you to make mistakes -- grave mistakes -- in judgment. He doesn't admit to any mistakes. No authoritarian makes mistakes. I don't think he lied about the evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. I think it was worse -- he actually believed his own misperceptions. And he virtually convicts himself of being not just the most powerful VP in American history but one of the worst. "I'd do the same thing all over again," he tells the interviewer. A man of real principle never gives an inch. Washington is now full of men of principle.
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