Cheney: The Fatal Touch

Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life

by Mary Cheney
Threshold, 239 pp., $25.00

Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney; drawing by David Levine

It was in some ways predictable that the central player in the system of willed errors and reversals that is the Bush administration would turn out to be its vice-president, Richard B. Cheney. Here was a man with considerable practice in the reversal of his own errors. He was never a star. No one ever called him a natural. He reached public life with every reason to believe that he would continue to both court failure and overcome it, take the lemons he seemed determined to pick for himself and make the lemonade, then spill it, let someone else clean up. The son of two New Deal Democrats, his father a federal civil servant with the Soil Conservation Service in Casper, Wyoming, he more or less happened into a full scholarship to Yale: his high school girlfriend and later wife, Lynne Vincent, introduced him to her part-time employer, a Yale donor named Thomas Stroock who, he later told Nicholas Lemann, “called Yale and told ’em to take this guy.” The beneficiary of the future Lynne Cheney’s networking lasted three semesters, took a year off before risking a fourth, and was asked to leave.

“He was in with the freshman football players, whose major activity was playing cards and horsing around and talking a lot,” his freshman roommate told the Yale Daily News, not exactly addressing the enigma. “Wasn’t gonna go to college and buckle down” and “I didn’t like the East” are two versions of how Cheney himself failed to address it. As an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming he interned with the Wyoming State Senate, which was, in a state dominated by cattle ranchers and oil producers and Union Pacific management, heavily Republican. This internship appears to have been when Cheney began identifying himself as a Republican. (“You can’t take my vote for granted,” his father would advise him when he first ran for Congress as a Republican.) He graduated from Wyoming in 1965 and, in the custom of the Vietnam years, went on to receive a master’s degree. He never wrote a dissertation (“did all the work for my doctorate except the dissertation,” as if the dissertation were not the point) and so never got the doctorate in political science for which he then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin.

Still, he persevered, or Lynne Cheney did. When, in 1968, at age twenty-seven, a no-longer-draft-eligible “academic” with a wife and a child and no Ph.D. and no clear clamor for his presence, he left Wisconsin for Washington, he managed to meet the already powerful Donald Rumsfeld about a fellowship in his House office. Cheney, by his own description and again failing to address the enigma, “flunked the interview.” He retreated back to the only place at the table, the office of a freshman Republican Wisconsin congressman, Bill Steiger, for whom Cheney was said to be not a first choice…


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