The Corner

In Cheney’s Time: 20 Random Memoir Moments

Dick Cheney has had an all-American career. Public service and private. Yale dropout and vice president of the United States. Union work and Halliburton. Congressman and Cabinet secretary. Dad and son, husband and grandfather. All important aspects of his life. Except the father, grandfather, husband, son part would come first. But all the rest seen as a privilege, too.

He’s a man at peace with his record and grateful for doctors’ care — technology! — and family support. His book is less a legacy marker than a letter to his grandchildren about what he did and why. Advice and a roadmap to politicians (sleep before a debate) and historians, as they care to consult it.

And he’s cautiously optimistic about the future. “There have been nearly ten generations since the country’s founding, and each succeeding in overcoming great challenges. All that I have seen in my time tells me that we will as well – but it is not inevitable. We hear warning after well-founded warning that we are living beyond our means, but we have not shown the political will to change that. Therein lies a danger not only for us but for generations to come whom we are burdening in ways our forebears would never have thought to burden us.”

A little wake-up call? For voters hesitant to touch entitlements as much as candidates?

Early excerpts have appeared before today’s release of the former vice president’s new memoir, In My Time, with his daughter, Liz. But if you’re looking for a taste, here is a peek into the book, beyond some of the juicier bits a head has already exploded over.

That Richard was a Bit of a Bargain (11)

My mother, who had a penchant for keeping scrapbooks, saved the bill for my delivery – exactly $37.50.

Fly Me to the White House (17)

At the end of January 1945, my father was given a week’s leave, and he arrived in Sumner just in time for my fourth birthday. I had never seen him in his uniform, and when I asked him why he had been gone, he pointed to the patch on his arm—an embroidered white eagle above a red chevron—and said that now he was a yeoman. I still remember trying to process the startling information that my father had apparently spent the last several months as a bird.

This Too Will Pass (18)

I don’t remember much of my early schooling, but a kindergarten report card my mother saved notes that I seemed “a little self-conscious when speaking before the group.”

Why Run? (130)

I was often asked by people why in the world I wanted to be a freshman member of the House, serving in the minority party, after I’d already been White House chief of staff. I used to explain that there was something very special about having your name on the ballot and convincing thousands of voters to support you. That running and winning the right to cast your state’s vote in the U.S. House of Representatives was politics at its best. That being elected in accordance with our Constitution meant you had earned the right to cast that vote and no one could take it away except by defeating you at the polls. Your political fate didn’t depend upon someone else’s success in an election.

Newt (132)

After describing him as the most memorable member of his congressional class (1976), Cheney writes:

Our relationship was useful in maintaining some degree of peace among the Republicans in the House. For the leadership I served as a bridge to the younger, more aggressive members. For Newt I provided knowledge of which lines he shouldn’t step over if he didn’t want to get in a pile of trouble. And for me, my role allowed me to be identified on the one hand as part of the Republican establishment and on the other as someone who had close ties to the younger generation, eager to overthrow the establishment.

Hand Delivered (241)

After his tenure as secretary of defense, Cheney drove back to Wyoming with his son-in-law of three weeks, Phil Perry. Cheney writes, “Luckily he is a man of few words, just as I am, so neither of us worried much about having to make small talk along the way.”

“When we got to Wyoming, we stopped at the university in Laramie so I could drop off my papers and the battle streamers for safekeeping at the American Heritage Center. The staff seemed surprised when we pulled up in the U-Haul to deliver the materials personally, but it never occurred to me to get them there any other way. Lynne met me that night in Jackson, where we began unpacking and planning for our new life in the private sector.”

Head’s Up for the Next Republican Nominee (256)

It’s harder to find a good vice presidential candidate than you might think. You might start off with the idea that it is a very prominent job that thousands of politicians would be dying to have and that a lot would be well qualified for. But when you start looking, you find that everyone has negatives. Everyone has some kind of baggage — whether it’s a voting record, a financial problem, or something in his or her personal life.

The Secret Campaign Warehouse (257)

In the end, the governor and I figured that no one would guess that all the supersensitive vice presidential selection materials were being kept in locked cabinet in the basement of Liz’s house in the D.C. suburbs, so that’s where we had everything sent and stored.

The Dream Doesn’t Die: Four Decades in, And Still Expecting Better  (261)

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but after all the steps I had taken to guard against any possible assertion that I had an ongoing stake in the fortunes of the company, it angered me that my critics continued to make false claims about my ties to Halliburton. During the 2004 campaign, the charges were especially outrageous. Early in that campaign summer, Senator Pat Leahy conducted a conference call as a campaign surrogate in which he suggested I was being dishonest and dishonorable and was profiting from Halliburton business while I was vice president.

Cheney would soon see him on the Senate floor for the annual “class photo” and when Leahy acted as if nothing had happened.

I used a colorful epithet to suggest what he could do to himself and stepped away. It was probably not language I should have used on the Senate floor, but it was completely deserved.

Perspective, Even in the Heat of Political Battle (280)

On the final Sunday before my debate, we attended church at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson. As I slid into the pew next to my family, I saw quite a few members of my debate prep team scattered throughout the congregation. I am sure they, like me, figured a prayer or two couldn’t hurt.

Suzanne Harris was in the pulpit that morning. Her granddaughter was battling leukemia, and we were all moved as Reverend Harris talked about three-year-old Hannah’s strength and courage, beyond what any child should ever have to demonstrate. She talked about what Hannah’s life taught about faith – “Our faith is not that bad things won’t happen,” she said. “Our faith is that when bad things do happen, God can still use that material to make something holy.” She reminded us that life is short. “We do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us,” she said. “so be swift to love and make haste to be kind.” In the midst of a hard-fought political campaign, her sermon made all of us pause and reflect. Hannah died a few days later, and Suzanne’s words that autumn morning in Jackson as still as fresh in my mind as I write this a decade later.

Kids Draw the Darnedest Things (281)

Two of my granddaughters, Kate and Elizabeth, joined us, and having them around certainly helped cut through some of the high anxiety of that day. Elizabeth, three at the time, climbed up into Joe Lieberman’s seat at the debate table. While I was listening to a staff briefing about the lights that would time our answers, Elizabeth acquired a pen and set about diligently drawing a dinosaur on Joe’s place card. True, dinosaurs were one of the few items in her repertoire at the time, but we all laughed at how well it fit into our campaign theme that the Democratic ticket represented the policies of the past.

No Hiding that Light (303)

The family Bible we had chosen for the occasion belonged to my grandfather, Thomas Herbert Cheney, who had signed the first page in pencil, “T. H. Cheney, Sumner, Nebraska 1895.” It was a very large Victorian Bible, the kind you could imagine a mother or father reading from as the whole family gathered around a fireplace together. It was so large, in fact, that when Barbara Bush saw Liz holding it on her lap before the ceremony, she said, “Boy, you guys are serious about this, aren’t you?”

Just Call Me ‘Congressman Cheney’ (308)

Much has been written about my advocacy of a strong executive and it is true that I am a firm believer in protecting the president’s prerogatives, especially when it comes to the conduct of national security policy. But I loved my time in Congress, and I will always consider myself a man of the House. My respect for that institution and my understanding of how Congress works, including the pressures that individual members feel, was important as I worked to get George Bush’s legislative agenda enacted.

Our Energy & Stewardship Challenges  (316)

The report is one I am very proud of. I commend it to anyone looking to understand America’s energy challenges still today. The report had its critics, but I’ve long suspected them of not reading it. They certainly seem to have missed chapters 3 and 4 on the importance of protecting the environment and improving conservation.

Understatement of Eight Years? (325)

“You probably aren’t going to agree with this, Dick,” he said, “but I’ve decided to go with Harriet.” “Well, Mr. President,” I said, “that’s going to be a tough sell.” But it is his decision to make, and I set about trying to sell it.

A Reflective Sunday Moment (335)

Tim closed the interview with a remembrance of Father Mychal Judge, the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. Father Mike was killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 by falling debris as he administered last rites to a first responder. Tim told of the firefighters who carried Father Mike’s body to their firehouse and who together with Father Mike’s fellow Franciscans sang the prayer of St. Francis. “May the Lord bless and keep you and show his face to you and have mercy on you.” “That,” Tim said, “is the way of New York. That is the spirit of America.” The Meet the Press crew members stood and applauded at the interview’s end.

Not a Republican Thing (413)

There were no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. That was the big news, and it came at the beginning of a presidential election year. The Democrats did not, apparently, want to admit that they too had accepted and relied on faulty intelligence. Instead they decided to blame us for “misleading” the country, for “lying” the nation into war. This was the most blatant hypocrisy, since they had seen the intelligence—and reached the same conclusions we had. When John Kerry accused the president of trafficking in “untruth,” he was guilty of exactly what he accused the president of doing.

This One’s for Chris (424)

I enjoyed listening to the after-debate commentary. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who usually turns red in the face and starts shouting at the mere mention of my name, paid me a compliment, describing the debate between Cheney and Edwards as the howitzer versus the water pistol.

While You Were Freakin’ Out …  (425)

The exit polls were bad; so bad, in fact, that I knew they were wrong. I was sure we were going to win.

Diplomacy 101 (490)

The role of the federal government, if nothing else, is to protect our country and its interests here and abroad. In laying out his policy differences, especially toward the end of the administration, with Condi Rice, among others, the former vice president launches into a philosophy of diplomacy, rooted in history. He sums it up: “Policies that ignore or reward dangerous behavior by our adversaries do not work. Concessions delivered out of desperation in the naïve hope that despots will respond in kind tend not to enhance the security of the United States.” But it’s worth reading in full, pages 490-493 of his “Setbacks” chapter.

Bonus Fact: He Will Do Anything for His Grandkids (512)

Even call the Jonas Brothers. 

But there is much more …  

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