RICHARD BRUCE ‘DICK’ CHENEY
Serving as vice president to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2009, Dick Cheney (‘Angler’, according to his Secret Service name) had a higher profile than most previous vice presidents–he even had a movie made about him, in 2018, called Vice. Often called the most powerful vice president in American history, with supposedly near-total sway over decisions made by the President, he also rated one of the most unpopular American politicians ever; upon leaving office in 2009, his popularity was measured at just 13 percent.
Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1941, Cheney presented as an unabashed conservative, frequently classed as a hawk on matters of war and peace. Cheney held a number of visible and important positions before his vice presidency: White House chief of staff for President Gerald Ford, 1975-1977; House representative from Wyoming’s single at-large district, 1979-1989; and later that year, President George H. W. Bush’s secretary of defense, serving until 1993. (He oversaw Operation Desert Storm in Iraq in 1991.) Out of office during the Clinton administration, Cheney was the Chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company from 1995 to 2000; the company had been involved in numerous controversies, including its involvement with Cheney during the Iraq war.
Cheney’s highest governmental position came in 2001, as vice president to President George W. Bush. (He oversaw Bush’s VP selection team, finally recommending his own name as the best choice for the second in command. Nice work if you can get it!) The Bush-Cheney GOP ticket in 2000 is the one that ultimately prevailed in the drawn-out dispute over who won the election. Democratic candidate Al Gore received more popular votes and several recounts ensued in Florida; the US Supreme Court ultimately stopped the counting, and Bush was declared the winner by Electoral College vote.
Once in office, Cheney played a major behind-the-scenes role in the administration’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks and coordination of the global war on terrorism. An early proponent of invading Iraq, where it was the US position that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (none were ever found), Cheney prodded the US intelligence community to come up with information that would align with this position. He also became the administration’s lightning rod, taking criticism for wiretapping by the National Security Agency and the position permitting torture of captured combatants, including waterboarding. Cheney relished his reputation as a covert influencer, once admitting that he rather liked the moniker given to him by some liberals: Darth Vader.
Cheney’s wife, Lynne, is a former chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Keeping politics in the family, daughter Liz Cheney was sworn in representing Wyoming in the House of Representatives in January 2017, where she has become a powerful Republican voice.
Cheney’s health problems have been well documented. He had his first of five heart attacks in 1978, at age 37. In 2012 he received a heart transplant, and has been otherwise healthy since then.
One of the strangest situations involving Cheney was a 2006 hunting accident in which his partner in a quail hunt at a Texas ranch was peppered with birdshot by Cheney in the cheek, neck, and chest. The victim was an acquaintance, 78-year-old Harry Whittington. Secret Service agents and medical aides traveling with Cheney provided assistance to Whittington, who was ultimately transferred to the hospital. Whittington did suffer a nonfatal heart attack three days later, along with atrial fibrillation due to at least one lead-shot pellet being lodged in or near his heart. A sheriff’s report later noted that Whittington had been shot from about 30 feet away, while Cheney was looking for a downed bird. No charges were brought. The incident became fodder for a good deal of satire.
Cheney has not been shy about sharing his opinions since leaving office. He applauded the operation that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, but in 2014 called President Obama weak for pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Cheney hosted a fundraiser in 2012 for Mitt Romney, and in 2016 endorsed Donald Trump.
Perhaps surprisingly out of character, Cheney has been an outspoken advocate for gay rights. In May 2009, he voiced his support for same-sex marriage, one of the most prominent Republican politicians to do so. Speaking to the National Press Club in Washington, Cheney stated: “People ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish.” His other daughter Mary is married to a woman, something that her sister Liz has had difficulty accepting.
Cheney has co-written a journal article and five books, among them In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir (with daughter Liz Cheney; New York: Threshold, 2011). In 2015, also with Liz, he wrote Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America (New York: Simon & Schuster).
At least until Donald Trump, Dick Cheney was the larger-than-life character whom conservatives loved and liberals loved to hate as the ultimate bogeyman. One of Cheney’s famous quotes: Everyone knows that you’re not really a real man unless you own a gun. John Wayne and Charlton Heston in a single entity.