Outlook: Five Myths about Dick Cheney

Sep 16, 2011

"He's been called Darth Vader, feared or derided as a trigger-happy, torture-loving puppet master who called the shots over the eight years of the George W. Bush White House. And now, with the publication of his memoir, "In My Time," Dick Cheney has once again grabbed the media spotlight. But what about the former vice president is real, exaggerated, or outright myth?"
- From Five myths about Dick Cheney

Stephen Hayes in separated Cheney fact from Cheney fiction.

Hello everyone. I appreciate the Post asking me to join you for this chat and I'm looking forward to questions. Let's get started.

Did Dick Cheney seek five exemptions during the Vietnam War era or was it less/more?

Cheney received five deferments during the Vietnam era. Because of his troubles at Yale (he was effectively kicked out twice) and his graduate work, Cheney had a six-year academic career rather than the typical four year-term. He filed for a deferment every time he was eligible for the draft.

Just how much influence did Dick Cheney  have in the Bush administration?

I don't think there's any question that Cheney had a huge influence in the Bush administration, particularly in the first term. He played a major role in shaping the response to 9/11, but he also had a significant role in develop the Bush cabinet and on tax/economic policy. At the same time, there's no question that his influence waned in the second term. In his memoir, he wrote an entire chapter called "Setback" in which he laid out the various foreign policy/national security arguments he lost.

What is his temperament? He is irascible man?

As with most of us, I think his temperament depends on the situation. In the time I spent interviewing him for my book, I found him to relaxed and friendly. I think he's much funnier than people generally believe; he was something of a prankster in college. But he can be gruff, obviously -- something we saw occasionally in his (rather rare) media appearances. He's more comfortable than any elected official I've ever dealt with in answering questions with one word or simply refusing to answer them. He doesn't care about awkward silences -- usually a good way for reporters to get politicians to answer questions.

Wasn't Cheney involved with the price controls in the Nixon administration? How did that affect his thinking on government economic actions later in his career?

He was. It's a pretty funny story, actually. Nixon decided on wage and price controls because he believed he needed to be seen as doing something to fight the country's economic woes. It was a completely haphazard undertaking, with the people charged with writing regulations to govern the entire US economy having no experience whatsoever in economics or regulations. (Not that such experience would have led to better results). Cheney talks about the absurdity of Washington trying to determine the price of a pound of ground beef or a gallon of milk -- and then trying to enforce it. He was nominally in charge of the IRS team that was to enforce these new regulations. It didn't work and there's little question that it had a profound impact on his thinking. Until then, he wasn't terribly ideological, believe it or not. During his internship in the Wyoming legislature, he did not care whether he worked for a Republican or a Democrat. He ended up with a Republican because the other student chose to work for the Democrats and program required one student working for each party.

Why do you feel there is such an intense dislike for Cheney? I always felt he was a straight shooter who had the country's best interest in mind and could never understand why people disliked him so much.

Lots of reasons. He speaks in a direct and forthright manner and, unlike most elected officials, he rarely sugarcoats his disagreements. He is very conservative and he's entirely unapologetic about it. 

But a major reason his reputation took a hit during the Bush administration is because he did not regularly engage the media. Cheney operated quietly, sometimes secretly. The natural skepticism of most journalists leads us to conclude that things done in secret are often nefarious. 

 

The Dick Cheney who served as U.S. Defense Secretary in the George H. W. Bush Administration seemed to be a 'kindler and gentler' leader than the 'Darth' Cheney who was 'veep' under Dubya. What caused Cheney to (apparently) go further to the right politically between 1991 and 2001?

I'm not sure I buy the premise. He was quite conservative during his time in the House of Representatives. He compiled one of the most conservative voting records of anyone who served at the same time. 

I'd put his move to the right in the mid/late 1970s, after his time at the Cost of Living Council and his work on wage and price controls. On national security issues, there is no question his thinking was shaped by front-row seat for the CIA/Congress fights of that era. 

He was a loyal "Ford man" to the end. But his loyalty was to the man, not necessarily his ideas. I think Cheney found himself drawn to arguments Ronald Reagan was making in the 1976 election even while working with Ford to defeat him.

Cheney was respected and some say "admired" by the mainstream media in the '70s and '80s. What most accounts for the change in media affection for Cheney in the past four decades: 1) His refusal to cooperate with MSM sources during his time as Vice President; 2) Cheney's ideological changes following the 9/11 attacks; or 3) Something else? I ask this as a young Cheney fan who is surprised that he was ever beloved by the media.

Along the lines of the answer I gave a little earlier, I'd say it has a lot to do with his inaccessibility. Journalists pride themselves on knowing everything (or thinking we do), and too often reporters fill gaps in their own knowledge with speculation about the actions or motives of the people they cover. 

There's another factor, too. Beginning very early in the Bush administration, several top communications officials were concerned about the perceptions that Cheney was running the White House and that the president was taking direction from his number two. It wasn't true, but in order to fight that perception some of these officials sought to diminish Cheney and leaked against him.

I have read that Cheney cannot travel to Europe due to pending indictments at the World Court for committing War Crimes? Is this true? Many thanks!

If this is true, I haven't heard it.

Historically, Vice Presidents are not seen as being influential. Do you think Dick Cheney's frontal approach to the Vice Presidency will change the degree by which future Vice Presidents may chose to more publicly exercise their influence within an administration?

Good question. In some respects, I think he probably has made the office more influential that it has been. Not because he was out doing prominent VP things, but because everyone - like him or not - understands how influential he was. So he probably raised the expectations of future VPs as to their substantive role. 

On the other hand, one of the reasons he had so much power from the outset was his pledge to President Bush that he would not be running for office after his service. This made Bush believe that the advice he was getting from Cheney was straight -- or at least untainted by concerns about what voters in New Hampshire would think. I'd wager that most prospective vice presidents don't look at the office as the goal but as the final step before the presidency. 

I found it interesting when Lynne Cheney said that all these years people had been misprouncing their last name -- she said it rhymes with "beanie." You may not know this, yet I am wondering why Dick Cheney never said anything all these years.

It's true that it's pronounced like "beanie." I'm speculating but I'm guessing VP Cheney never pushed to correct it because it the mispronunciation had become so widespread. Interestingly, one of the few people who regularly pronounces it correctly is Uber-Cheney critic Chris Matthews.

Did Dick Cheney order Scooter Libby to do what he was convicted of?

There's little evidence to suggest he did, though it is certainly the case that Cheney believes Libby was done an injustice by the legal system and by George W. Bush (for refusing to pardon him).

Has Dick Cheney's personality changed over the course of years, perhaps as a result of medication or his heart problems in general?

You have some Cheney friends have claimed that his personality changed dramatically during the Bush years -- Brent Scowcroft and Ken Adelman, have suggested as much in public. I think there's reasons to be skeptical. For one, they didn't see much of him as VP, so they were making their judgments based on what they saw/heard in media reports. And virtually all of Cheney's friends from Wyoming will tell you he's the same guy he's always been -- not just the same guy he was during his days in Congress or at the Pentagon, but the same guy he was in high school and college. I haven't known him long enough to judge, obviously, but the people in that second group strike me as more authoritative b/c they've known him longer and seen him more regularly in recent years.

It seems to me these days that critics do not want to make a few good points and leave it at that. They want home runs. So a mistake becomes "the crime of the century." If they disagree, they can not stop at "We do not agree." They must go on to great theories of either stupidity or evil. "It is all for a pipe line and..." Or "He wants oil." But how much of this excessive rhetoric has been documented and proven?

To some extent I think he has. Some of the toughest criticism was simply counterfactual. The idea that Cheney was getting rich as VP because Halliburton got Iraq War contracts was simply not true, given the way he handled his stock options, etc. The irony is that there were substantive things to criticize about Cheney's tenure at Halliburton (the company fought hard to have sanctions lifted on Iran, a leading state sponsor of terror, in the late 1990s, for example) but many critics chose to focus on something that was incorrect.

Thanks for the good questions. I enjoyed it.

In This Chat
Stephen F. Hayes
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer for the Weekly Standard and the author of “Cheney: The Untold Story of America’s Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President.”
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