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The Cheney Chronicles


Summertime in Wyoming is usually quite pleasant for the Cheney family. Last Thursday, the day before Lynne Cheney’s 68th birthday party, the Washington Post soured spirits just a bit with this headline: “Cheney Uncloaks His Frustration With Bush.” The front-page story detailed, with the help of numerous unnamed “associates,” how former vice president Dick Cheney’s upcoming book will supposedly open a “second front” against “Cheney’s White House partner of eight years, George W. Bush.” Team Cheney was not amused.

“From the first sentence, the piece was clearly biased and inaccurate,” Mary Matalin, Cheney’s former White House counselor, told NRO. Matalin now works as editor-in-chief of Threshold Editions — the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster — which will publish the former veep’s yet-to-be-titled memoir in spring 2011.

What irked Matalin was the Post’s reliance on whispers from sources alleged to have been present at the “informal conversations” Cheney is having with colleagues — where, the Post reports, the former vice president “broke form when asked about his regrets.” Matalin says “inaccuracies were evident since I was privy to what transpired at the book meetings. What was claimed to be said in them and about the vice president’s book was flatly and categorically untrue.”

Matalin, though miffed about the Post piece, admits it did get one thing right: Cheney’s book will uncloak many new things — just not a vendetta against George W. Bush. Cheney’s sense of humor, for starters, will be on full display. “He has some slap-your-mama funny tales from the around the world,” she says.

The Post also reported that a “participant” in the Cheney book sessions claims the former vice president is now telling friends that “Bush was moving away from him” in their second term. “Shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took . . . [Bush] had hardened against Cheney’s advice.” An accurate characterization? No way, says Matalin.

“There appears to be some calculation by the media and knee-jerk Cheney-hating Democrats to equate documenting policy development and behind-the-scenes thinking that went into it with some nefarious motivation,” she observes. “Cheney is not and will never be a ‘bean spiller.’ He has always been a man of deep thinking, one who has strong opinions based on that thinking, and who is articulate in public and private when sharing those opinions. That others with whom he worked over his many years in public service did not agree in every instance does not reflect negatively on either them or him. His M.O. is to make the argument, to present the analysis that is the basis of his opinions.”

Regardless of any frustration with the Post, the Cheney camp seems pleased with the progress of the project.

Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s eldest daughter, has been in Wyoming for most of August working on the book with her father. Right now, they’re researching and writing on the period covering the Gulf War between 1990 and 1991, she told NRO.

“I’ll sit with him and go over the stories he wants to tell and we look at how we want to structure parts of the book,” says Cheney. “I’ll give him research packages that include timelines, contemporaneous press accounts, interviews he’s done, and oral histories from whatever period we’re working on. He then uses that material to write the narrative.”

The former veep “writes mostly in longhand on a yellow legal pad,” either “in Wyoming, in a converted office above his garage in McClean, Virginia, or at the family’s home on the Eastern Shore,” says Cheney. Helping out with research is Robert Karem, a former national security aide to Vice President Cheney during the Bush 43 years.

The main goal of the book, Cheney reveals, is to cover her father’s career in Washington: “He first came to Washington in 1968. He had a fellowship with Congressman Bill Steiger from Wisconsin and he ended up staying for the better part of 40 years.”

“This will be a unique and important work, examining the career of a man who served at the highest levels of our government, from Congress and the Pentagon to the White House,” she observes. “It covers an important and momentous period of time, really the last half of the twentieth century, and from the perspective of the substance of things, it’s a real insight into American politics and policy.”

“In terms of the process of the book, I was hoping that he would write when he was out of office, for my kids, his grandkids,” continues Cheney. “Since he had never planned to write before, we spent some time sorting out where all of his papers were — his Congressional papers, those from his days at the Pentagon, and tracking down oral histories that he had done in the past.”

Cheney says that, so far, her father has enjoyed writing and thumbing through old papers. “He really feels strongly about it. He has a real love of history, which he’s had for most of his life,” she recalls. “He recently talked with me about the summer when he moved from Nebraska to Wyoming, when he was 14. He was the new kid in town, didn’t know many people, and split his time that summer between playing baseball and reading history in the Casper library.”

Asked just how much of her father’s life the book will cover, Cheney says that it will “will cover everything,” going back to his childhood and “stories even I haven’t heard.” From a personal standpoint, Cheney recounts how “it’s been such a pleasure, a real blessing for me as his daughter, to work with him on this, to sit and talk about his life.”

The chapters covering her father’s early life, Cheney says, include a host of previously untold stories that help explain how the former vice president first became attracted to politics. “One thing he told me that I didn’t know before was that he had attended a speech that John F. Kennedy gave at the University of Wyoming in the early Sixties when Kennedy was president,” says Cheney. “He talked about the first time he saw a presidential motorcade and the excitement around Kennedy.”

“When you think about the course of his life — from flunking out of Yale twice, then ending up not that many years later as White House chief-of-staff, then Secretary of Defense — it’s a fascinating story,” she says. “The book will be of interest to those who are conservatives, because clearly that is what he is, but it is also a history book and an engaging biography.”

Yet if the former vice president is not opening a “second front” against Bush 43, one wonders just where that relationship stands. Has Cheney consulted with his former boss about the chapters covering Iraq, 9/11, and Afghanistan?

“I don’t know,” says Matalin, “and I wouldn’t tell you if I did.”

– Robert Costa is the William F. Buckley Fellow at National Review.