If I were entering a contest to win a dream date with Dick Cheney, here is what I would say: We would definitely go fishing. Not bait fishing, which is for amateurs, a category that does not include Cheney, but fly-fishing. Way up in the Wind River Range of Wyoming, someplace beautiful and remote like that. We'd make camp, and then we'd get up before dawn and go out on the river. You have to be cool and patient and quiet to be a good fly fisherman—that's Cheney. We'd spend the whole day out there, just working the pools, not talking. With Cheney you do a lot of not talking. Maybe every hour or so, I'd ask him a question, and he'd answer with a "yep" or a "nope" or a "little bit," nothing more. Any fish we caught, we'd throw them back. Then at the end of the day we'd build a fire and Cheney would make dinner—he's a really good cook, just basic American stuff, though, spaghetti and chili and stew. But I would tease him about how bad his cooking is. That's one of the rules with Cheney: he won't tease you, but you can tease him—under that masculine proviso by which you can express affection only through patently unmeant insults—and he kind of likes it.
One thing that would be sure not to happen would be Cheney starting in with the big-shot, puffed-up Washington talk. He's still real. But maybe, around the fire, relaxed, I'd work up the nerve to ask him what he really thought about the important matters he deals with, and maybe, if the date was going well, he'd answer, laconically, but I'd know I could take it to the bank. Gorbachev? He'd tug the corner of his mouth down, the way he does. Unrealistic, ambitious, fancy-pants: no need to spell it out, the meaning's clear. Alan Greenspan? "Good man." With Cheney you learn not to interrupt; sometimes there's one sentence and then quite a long time passes before the next sentence. "Patriot."
And then after we'd packed up and gone home my wife would say, "So, what did you talk about all that time?" And I'd say, "Well, we didn't really talk. We just fished."
I doubt that my entry would win—there's too much competition. Vice-President Cheney is a man with a powerful anti-charisma. The way he got to be chairman of the Halliburton Company, supposedly, is that he was on a fishing trip (fly-fishing, of course) on the remote Miramichi River, in New Brunswick, with a bunch of big corporate names—their dream date. After a long, silent day, he decided to turn in early. The businessmen were sitting around talking and the conversation turned to how Halliburton needed a new C.E.O. After a while, somebody said, "What about ol' Cheney?" Since he was asleep in the lodge, he couldn't gruffly protest that he'd never worked in business, but his mysterious silent magic was permeating the place—so that was it, he got the job.
It is not obvious from a distance why Cheney has such a powerful effect on powerful people. Last summer, when George W. Bush launched his dream date by announcing Cheney's selection as the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, after a flurry of sudden activity involving Cheney's changing his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming, those who were unfamiliar with him saw, standing next to Bush, a gray, bald, thickset man with glasses and a blank face, who spoke in bland, opaque phrases. Cheney's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention came across as a thudding, familiar attack by a Party functionary. On the campaign trail, he was almost hilariously awkward and brusque, the corporate executive miscast as political stumper. One of Cheney's friends told me that he went so far as to send an E-mail to the campaign saying, "Get Dick out of those goddam classrooms!"
To the unanointed, Cheney's debate with Joseph Lieberman, in October, made it clear for the first time what Bush saw in him. He has a way of answering questions about government policy which communicates the feeling that he has really mastered it, that he isn't just spouting prepared talking points. One should think of the debate, though, as the merest peek at what underlies the cult of Cheney. It is part of the basis of the cult that Cheney has none of the easy extroversion of the typical politician. Instead, there are those long—to the uninitiated, uncomfortably long, and forbidding—silences. "He's the coldest fish there is," one person who has dealt with him says. He typically does not thank subordinates for their work, signalling his approval simply by assigning more work; he does not react when being briefed; and he does not make light conversation. A former aide of Cheney's told me this story: "When I went to work for him and we were alone in a car for the first time, I tried to chat with him. It was like trying to talk to Gary Cooper. Then I switched to legislation, and he came on. The parts of his brain reserved for small talk and popular culture have been emptied out and refilled with public policy. When he was in the House"—in the nineteen-eighties—"we had to tell him who Madonna was."
The lack of panache enhances Cheney's mystique, because it confers on his more forthcoming private moments the feeling of "Why, Miss Jones, when you take off your glasses and let your hair out of that bun, you're really quite lovely!" Also, in the rarefied subculture Cheney inhabits—that of Washington's very few most expert and inside players—there is a periodic table of virtues and flaws, understood but not written down, and Cheney has almost all the virtues and almost none of the flaws. The way he plays the game is so impressive that it obscures, to a remarkable extent, the ideological end to which he is playing it.
People who have been prominent in politics and government for some time begin, alarmingly, to speak to their friends as if they were speaking on television, too heartily and in orotund clichés. Cheney doesn't. He doesn't drop people (except maybe for cause); he is close to half a dozen friends from his high-school days, in Casper, Wyoming. They're all still with their first wives, whom they married while they were in their twenties. There are lots of stories involving Cheney going far out of his way to attend a funeral or a hearing or a ceremony involving an old friend, just to sit quietly in the back, rather than asking to be the featured attraction.
Cheney doesn't engage in histrionics. His friend Kenneth Adelman, the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Reagan Administration, says, "His personality never gets in the way of solving the problem. You don't have to deal with Dick and the problem, just the problem. It's the opposite of Kissinger." Often, aides to a Washington big shot will conduct a private traffic in negative anecdotes; this is not the case with Cheney. He may not talk to the people who work for him, but he trusts them and gives them authority, he takes the time to master the substance of their work, and, most unusual, he protects them. Once, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, then an under-secretary and now Deputy Secretary, asked his permission to brief a Times reporter on a change in the Administration's arms-control policy. Cheney said O.K. The briefing took place on a Friday, and the story came out on Saturday—but the plan had been for President George H. W. Bush himself to announce the change on Monday. Cheney called in Wolfowitz on Monday morning and, according to somebody else who was there, said, "The President is seriously pissed."
"So what did you tell him?" Wolf-owitz said.
"I said, 'Mr. President, that was my idea,' " Cheney said. Nobody ever does that in Washington.
There is also in Cheney a quality that is invisible from a distance but that helps account for why he is where he is. Not long ago, I interviewed him in his office at the White House and got some feeling for the way he comes across in person.
Mary Matalin, the Republican political operative turned conservative cable-television host, who has joined the White House staff as Cheney's counsellor, led me through a door, down a corridor, around a corner into an antechamber crammed with three people and their desks, and finally into Cheney's office, which is unusual for being one of the few relatively spacious places in the West Wing. The Vice-President was sitting behind a desk, and when we came in he stood up, came around to shake hands, and had us all sit in an arrangement of armchairs and sofas at the other end of the room. Cheney's appearance was as Washington-anodyne as it's possible to get: he was wearing a navy-blue suit, black tasselled loafers, a white shirt, a dark tie with an almost invisible pattern, and a gold Rolex watch.
"So, I understand you've been doing a lot of diggin' around," he said, amiably, as we settled in. "I keep coming across people you've talked to."
Enough pleasantries. I asked Cheney whether he thinks there is a main organizing event in the world today, the equivalent of the end of the Cold War when he was Secretary of Defense. He gave me a notably dour answer. "Well," he said, "that's—I think it's much more difficult to say. Back at the time when I was at the Pentagon, ten years ago, the world had been arranged in a certain way throughout the postwar period, into the eighties. And because the Soviets represented a strategic threat to the United States—they could potentially threaten our very existence—we were organized from a military standpoint, and to some extent from an economic standpoint, to deal with that. When the Soviet threat went away, it was clearly a world-shaking event. The reunification of Europe, the end of the Cold War—it was fairly easily identified.
"It's much more difficult now. Whatever the arrangement is going to be in the twenty-first century is most assuredly being shaped right now. I don't think there's any question but that the United States will continue to be the dominant political, economic, and military power in the world. There are big questions about how the rest of the world will arrange itself." Cheney seemed to be relaxing into the answer, and as he did his language began to shade from officialese to a John Wayne patois. "Big question about what happens in Russia. Hundred and fifty million people. Nuclear-armed residue of the old Soviet Union. And some of the political institutions continuing from the Cold War period. Not clear yet how much of a nuclear structure they really have. Have so far made an incomplete transition to a market economy. How that sorts out over the next ten or twenty years is going to be very important, and the rest of the world has to care, because they're still sittin' on top of a large inventory of nuclear weapons. Big question about China. Although I think the prospects for China, in terms of its economic progress, are probably brighter than they are for Russia. . . . Much safer to invest in China than it is to invest in Russia these days."
Cheney went on to discuss the situation in Europe, in a low, plainspoken, almost growling tone of easy authority. Sometimes he would tilt his head to the side or make a slight gesture—nothing outside the range of theatricality you'd get from a small-town banker. He was alert and attentive, but always underplaying it. If he had been talking about an interest rate, he would have been dull, but the momentousness of the topic and his air of calm made him seem commanding.
I asked Cheney whether it still makes sense to talk about "the threat," as we used to do during the Cold War.
"No, the threat's much different today, I think," he said.
What is it?
"Well, in terms of the United States, the fact is that there are still regions of the world that are strategically vital to the U.S., where we care very much about whether or not they're dominated by a power hostile to our interests. . . . And anything that would threaten their independence or their relationships with the United States would be a threat to us. Also, you've still got to worry a bit about North Korea. You've got to worry about the Iraqis, what ultimately develops in Iran. But beyond that, in terms of a threat to the U.S., and our security, I think we have to be more concerned than we ever have about so-called homeland defense, the vulnerability of our system to different kinds of attacks. Some of it homegrown, like Oklahoma City. Some inspired by terrorists external to the United States—the World Trade towers bombing, in New York. The threat of terrorist attack against the U.S., eventually, potentially, with weapons of mass destruction—bugs or gas, biological, or chemical agents, potentially even, someday, nuclear weapons. The threat of so-called cyberterrorism attacks on our infrastructure, obviously very sophisticated in terms of being based on our intelligence infrastructure."
What can we do to reduce those threats?
"In terms of the threats to the United States, the terrorism of various kinds, probably intelligence is your first line of defense," Cheney said. "You need to have very robust intelligence capability if you're going to uncover threats to the U.S., and hopefully thwart them before they can be launched."
The talk of threats led naturally to missile defense, the idea of developing the capability to intercept nuclear strikes in midair, which is a long-standing conservative cause being revived by the Bush Administration. For decades, America's chief defense against nuclear war has been making sure that the main nuclear powers, including us, knew they would be subject to deadly retaliation if they launched a strike; the dream behind a national missile-defense program is one of the United States protecting itself by itself. I reminded Cheney that the military and our allies are skeptical about missile defense: it's expensive, early field tests have been unsuccessful, and we already have a peacekeeping system in place. Why do we need it?
Cheney looked at me a little sharply. "What's the peacekeeping system?" he asked, as if it were self-evident that we don't have one.
"What is it?" I was flustered.
"Our normal arms-control process and our existing diplomatic relations with other nations."
"Yeah, but let's look at that for a minute," Cheney said. He seemed to have decided to let up on me—to switch from challenging to persuading. "What we had—we have now, what's in place today, is the arms-control arrangement with the Russians. Part of that is the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was negotiated with the old Soviet Union, thirty years ago. But it's now pretty well out of date. That old structure, mutual assured destruction, didn't make a lot of sense once the Soviet Union went out of business. Today," he went on, "that old bipolar world has been replaced by one in which there is a significant proliferation problem. And for us to ignore that emerging threat—it's clearly there. That threat is growing. Today, because we have been constrained by the ABM treaty, we have not been able until now to aggressively pursue the development of defenses against ballistic missiles. And we think it's time to do so."
Cheney contrasted the Clinton Administration's missile-defense policy, which involved developing the means of defending only against attacks on the United States, with the Bush Administration's much more hawkish approach, in which we would place missile-defense equipment all over the world. "I think it's important not just to be able to defend the United States against a missile launch from a rogue state," he said. "I think it's important for us to be able to deal with that threat that would be directed at our allies, as well as us. Just ask yourself how successful we would have been in 1990 and '91, putting together a coalition of thirty nations to roll back Iraqi aggression in the Gulf, if Iraq had been in possession of a handful of ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons on board, and been willing to threaten to use those against any nation that sent troops to liberate Kuwait. I think you're going to have a very different response than we had. You're going to have to deal with that kind of threat in the future."
Cheney was facing me, an even look on his face. His legs were crossed in the Western-male manner, with the ankle of one leg resting on the knee of the other. His voice was deep, low, and clear—strong but not loud. The way the lower-right corner of his mouth pulls downward when he speaks connotes an ordinary man's matter-of-fact pessimism—or, in rare flashes, when it pulls upward, an urge to mirth so deeply suppressed that it could never make it all the way to the surface, only near. Afterward, when I listened to our conversation on tape, I was struck by how strong the theme of peril to the United States had been—struck because, as Cheney was talking, my main sensation had been one of immense reassurance. His presence had an effect like that of being hooked up to an intravenous line that delivers a powerful timed dosage of serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Everything felt kind of evened out, no highs, no lows. He wasn't going to be flaky or half-baked, he wasn't going to let his emotions distort his views, and he certainly wasn't going to be soft or naïve. But whenever he suggested something that, coming from somebody with a more animated manner, might be taken to indicate a swashbuckling inclination, like that "very robust intelligence capability," his rocklike manner made it sound like the very least we could do, unless we wanted to be foolhardy.
All the time Cheney was talking, I was imagining what it must be like for President Bush to get hooked up to the I.V. several times each day, the first dose coming at eight in the morning. The power of that reassurance fix surely outweighs the political disadvantage of having had a running mate who brought with him only three electoral votes, which would have gone Republican anyway. "Not many people go into this business without having a sizable ego of their own," says Vin Weber, who served in Congress with Cheney in the eighties. "And then they have to make investments in other people. Cheney has an almost unique ability to make powerful people feel comfortable investing in him." It is hard to say where this ability of Cheney's comes from, but what is clear from the story of his life is that it became evident at a remarkably young age.
Richard Bruce Cheney was born in 1941 in Nebraska, the descendant of high-plains homesteaders out of a Willa Cather novel. One grandfather was a cook on the Union Pacific railroad, the other a cashier in a bank that went under during the Depression. His father, who supposedly made Cheney look like Kathie Lee Gifford in the volubility department, was a federal bureaucrat—decades with the Soil Conservation Service, winding up as a GS-13—and both parents were loyal Democrats, proud to say that their son Dick had been born on Franklin Roosevelt's birthday. When Cheney was thirteen years old, his father was transferred from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Casper, Wyoming.
Casper back then, at least as described by Cheney and his high-school friends, was an exact version of the idea we have of America in the fifties. It was a rural town where everybody knew everybody else, where doors were never locked, where people liked Ike and loved cars. People weren't especially concerned with politics, and, if they were, they weren't especially ideological—it wasn't the hard-conservative West of today. The Natrona County High School yearbook from Cheney's senior year lists the winners of the Homemaker of Tomorrow Award, sponsored by Betty Crocker, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen award. All the boys had to serve in R.O.T.C., and all the girls wore uniforms. Lynne Vincent, soon to become Lynne Cheney, was the obvious star of the school (and perhaps the first powerful person with whom Dick Cheney formed a bond): she was a state-champion baton twirler, specializing in flaming equipment, and won the high school's most glorious position, Mustang Queen; Dick promoted her campaign. She, too, was the daughter of a Democratic civil servant (GS-13, Bureau of Reclamation). Cheney's younger brother, Bob, is a civil servant, too, now retired from the Bureau of Land Management.
One atypical point about Casper was that it was an oil town. It attracted people who wanted to make a lot of money; some were scions of respectable Eastern families who had an adventurous streak. In that sense, Casper was like Midland, Texas, where George W. Bush grew up in a small colony of preppie expats. The Casper version of George H. W. Bush was a man named Thomas Stroock, whose great-great-uncle helped found the venerable New York law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan and who operated an independent oil company called Alpha Exploration. In fact, Tom Stroock was (and still is) a friend of George Bush's—they were both Yale '48—and, like Bush, spent his spare time on Republican politics.
Lynne Vincent, as a high-school student, got a part-time secretarial job in Stroock's office. She introduced him to her boyfriend, Dick Cheney, who played halfback and outside linebacker and was senior-class president at Natrona County High, and Stroock liked the cut of Cheney's jib. "In those days, you could do things you can't do now," Stroock told me, "so I called Yale and told 'em to take this guy," along with Natrona County High's all-state quarterback from the class of '59, Tom Fake. Yale offered Cheney and Fake full scholarships; in the yearbook there is a picture of the two Stroock-anointed boys, crewcut and grinning, with a caption that says, "Ivy League bound Tom Fake and Dick Cheney show their happiness upon receiving notice of their acceptance by Yale University."
This personnel system, halfway between modern meritocracy and a Horatio Alger novel in which plucky lads get started by caddying for the wealthy, was also responsible for sending that year's student-body president, Dave Nicholas, to Harvard, through the patronage of another émigré alumnus. Both Cheney and Fake flunked out. (Nicholas finally graduated from Harvard in 1967.) In Cheney's case, he decided after three semesters that he should take some time off. He spent a year and a half working as a power lineman and saving up money, returned to Yale, and left again because of poor grades, this time for good, after another semester. What happened? I asked Dave Nicholas, now a lawyer in Laramie, Wyoming, and he said, "I can only extrapolate. They were smart enough, but they hadn't been prepped like the guys from the academies. Going from where we were, that solid, pragmatic background, to the less concrete, more abstract, more theoretical—we needed the bread and butter first. And the social milieu, which I liked, was like 'Animal House,' and when I went to Yale to visit those guys it was like that. It wasn't what you'd expect. It wasn't the most rigorous learning environment." The Casper boys, all of whom had grown up without want, suddenly found themselves in an unfamiliar world of ease, wealth, and connections, in which your mistakes might be forgiven if you had been born into it but not if you hadn't. That's a lesson that sticks with you.
During my interview with Cheney, I asked him how he had gone from flunking out of Yale to becoming, as he did within a few years, the epitome of a super-responsible young man. "Hmm. Well, I'm sure for my family it didn't seem like it happened all that fast," he said, cracking his crooked smile. "No, I got out of high school. I hadn't really given that much thought to what I was going to do. I was recruited to go to Yale." He mentioned the Thomas Stroock connection. "I did it primarily because he invited me to do it. I was admitted, and given a full-ride financial package, 'cause my family couldn't afford to send me to Yale. I spent a total of four semesters there, but I was not a diligent student. Really wasn't. Hadn't given it any thought. Wasn't gonna go to college and buckle down. Big transition going from small-town Wyoming to New Haven, Connecticut."
As Cheney got into the story, his language drifted into that terse John Wayne rhythm. "And by the summer of 1963 I was working in Rock Springs, Wyoming, building a power line from there down to Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Wyoming-Utah border. For six years, from the summer I got out of high school, 1959, to the year after Lynne and I got married, when I wasn't in school, I was working on the power lines. Carried a ticket in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers." He continued, "When I should have been graduating from Yale, one of the world's finer universities, with a first-rate education, all paid for by the university, I found myself in Rock Springs"—Wyoming's blue-collar, union, Democratic town—"working, building power lines, having been in a couple of scrapes with the law. Arrested twice within a year for driving under the influence, once in Cheyenne, once in Rock Springs. And it was a sobering"—Cheney chuckled. "I'm not sure that's the right word. Sobering moment. Sit down and think about where I was and where I was headed. I was headed down a bad road, if I continued on that course.
"I made a decision to move out of Rock Springs. Moved in with an old journeyman lineman who'd been badly wounded in World War Two. He was drawing disability. He wasn't able to climb anymore, but he ran a big D9 Cat. He was a powder monkey. Didn't like people. Had a mean, nasty dog that didn't like people. But we got along. We'd literally camp out down on the job, a week at a time. So I moved in with him for the summer.
"And then decided to reënroll in college that fall, down at the University of Wyoming. And Wyoming had to take me because I was a graduate of a Wyoming high school. I could afford it because the tuition was about ninety-six bucks a semester. I had an apartment that I shared with Joe Meyer. Joe's now the Secretary of State of Wyoming, getting ready to run for governor. We shared an apartment that cost us twenty-two fifty a month apiece. One-bedroom apartment. Applied myself, worked hard, and shortly thereafter was making straight A's. Turned out I was a pretty good student when I worked at it. And a year later Lynne and I got married. I must say I've got to give her a good deal of the credit for being a positive influence in my life. Stuck by me all those years. We'd gone to high school together and dated throughout this whole period of time. And she made it clear she wasn't interested in marrying a lineman for the county. That was really when I went back to school in Laramie. I buckled down and applied myself. Decided it was time to make something of myself."
It was just after this juncture, when he was deciding to put his wild streak away, that Cheney entered politics. He got a part-time job as an intern at the legislature in Laramie. At the time, the Wyoming legislature had only two internships, one in the House and one in the Senate. The other intern hired for the 1965 term was an active member of Young Democrats, and since the House was Democratic Cheney was sent to the Senate, which was Republican. From 1965 on, both Cheneys were, professionally, Republicans. "Dick Cheney. Curious, lookin'-around guy," says Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, who was in the legislature then, and is ten years older than Cheney. "All the interns were bright, but this one kid from Casper was especially curious and diligent. Especially curious." Cheney began acquiring patrons, who saw him as an unusually quiet, hardworking, and forthright young man, a technician whose only evident concern was with efficiently carrying out whatever task was assigned to him.
Tom Stroock was a state senator at the time. Dick Tobin, the chairman of the Wyoming Senate Judiciary Committee, also took a particular interest in Cheney. So did John Thompson, the chairman of the political-science department at the University of Wyoming. Cheney wrote a paper that won a national contest for student political scientists and that came to the attention of Maureen Drummy, chief aide to an up-and-coming Republican congressman from Wisconsin, Bill Steiger. In 1966, through that new connection, Cheney got a job as an aide to Wisconsin's Republican governor, Warren Knowles. Both Cheneys enrolled in graduate school, on scholarship, at the University of Wisconsin, Dick in political science, Lynne in English.
Dick Cheney picked an especially unglamorous subspecialty, computerized regression analyses of congressional voting records. He so impressed the elders of the Wisconsin political-science department that, as soon as he was finished with his graduate coursework and had only his Ph.D. dissertation left to do, he was made an American Political Science Association fellow, which meant going to Washington for a year to work in a government office. In 1968, Cheney went to work for Bill Steiger.
Around this point in the story, Cheney coughed. " 'Scuse me," he said. "Need a glass of water here. Talkin' too much." He walked across the room, poured a glass from a pitcher, drank, returned to his chair, and described what had tipped the balance, in his mind, from political science to politics: He had been working on the Hill, with a group of congressmen—among them Steiger and George H. W. Bush—who were considering legislation to cut off federal funding to campuses where there had been violent antiwar protests. "We picked campuses all across the country and went quietly on the campus to find out what was really going on. We went back to Wisconsin, and I took them to a rally that the S.D.S., Students for a Democratic Society—you probably remember all those groups, you're not that much younger than I am—held. . . . We were the only guys in the hall wearing suits that night. The campus of the University of Wisconsin then was just wild.
"I found out there was a meeting of senior faculty members on the campus every Thursday afternoon. These were the people who gave the university its intellectual greatness. And we were invited to attend this meeting. Not to participate—we couldn't speak—but, if we wanted to sit and listen, that would be O.K. I was always struck, because what happened in this meeting was a lot of complaints about the administration, the management of the university, oftentimes about the students—sort of critical of everybody out there, because the place was chaotic at that time. There were days when the National Guard was out with its tear gas trying to control the protesters. These folks were unhappy with what was happening, but in all the time I'd been in Wisconsin not one of these folks had ever stood up and been counted on either side of the debate. They were totally disengaged. . . . When I was given a choice between returning to academia or staying in the political arena, it really wasn't a close call."
Soon Cheney got—or, to be more accurate, made for himself—the most important break of his career. President Nixon had appointed Donald Rumsfeld, then a young congressman from a district not far from Steiger's, to the position of director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the agency charged with carrying out Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. Cheney took it upon himself to write a long memo on how Rumsfeld should handle his confirmation hearings and then the job itself. He showed the memo to Steiger, Steiger passed it on to Rumsfeld, and, as had happened with Cheney's Wyoming paper, his writing got him a job. Rumsfeld hired Cheney as an aide, which effectively meant the end of Cheney's career as a political scientist. Of all Cheney's patrons, Rumsfeld is probably the one who has helped him the most.
The O.E.O., from the Republican point of view, was a hardship post. Nixon hated the agency, which had become the point of interaction between the federal government and the sixties—the agency most likely to attract demonstrations and occupations. Rumsfeld was supposed to calm things down—in particular, to put an end to political protesting, on the government's nickel, by recipients of O.E.O. grants. Working at the O.E.O., however, was not bad for one's career in the Republican Party. It was a way of being involved in one of the great controversies of the day—America's most famous promising young person at that moment, Bill Bradley, worked there—and, for Republicans, it offered a chance to demonstrate the ability to perform a distasteful assignment. You could win battle stars. The small Nixon O.E.O. staff employed four future Republican Cabinet officers: Rumsfeld, Cheney, Frank Carlucci, and Christine Todd Whitman.
Rumsfeld was swaggering and super-ambitious, an ex-fighter pilot who would greet subordinates visiting his office with lines like "You've got thirty seconds!" and would relentlessly needle the people working for him. ("Speak up, Dick! Don't talk into your sleeve!" he'd say to the very green Cheney, when he'd go into his Western mumble in staff meetings.) Cheney was just as intense as Rumsfeld, though much more concealed—the process guy who hardly ever said anything and had, as far as the people working with him could tell, no opinions of his own. The word "bland" came up in descriptions of him. He was a political scientist, he knew how government worked. He smoked heavily, drove an ancient Volkswagen Beetle, and lived in a small suburban town house with Lynne and their two young daughters.
Rumsfeld kept getting promoted, and kept bringing Cheney along as his No. 2 man. Their next assignment was running the Cost of Living Council, the wage-price-control operation Nixon had put into place in 1971 to try to combat an alarming wave of inflation. From the Rumsfeld-Cheney point of view, this was the O.E.O. story all over again: a chance to carry out an impossible task creditably, without creating problems for the Administration. Rumsfeld was rewarded with the United States ambassadorship to NATO. Cheney spent this period briefly outside government, working for a firm that provided strategic advice to businesses. Then Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford asked Rumsfeld to come back temporarily and organize his transition, and very quickly Rumsfeld's temporary assignment became a permanent appointment, as White House chief of staff. Cheney reprised his role as Rumsfeld's deputy.
Ford was surrounded by a diverse group: a few comfortable-old-shoe aides from his long years as a Michigan congressman; a rich, powerful bull of a Vice-President, Nelson Rockefeller; formidable executives like William Colby, at the C.I.A., James Schlesinger, at the Pentagon, and Henry Kissinger, at the State Department; and the youngsters, Rumsfeld and Cheney, who turned out to be brutally effective office politicians. Before long, the veteran aides had mostly been relegated to secondary positions. Rockefeller had been stripped of his position as head of the White House Domestic Council and dropped from the 1976 ticket, becoming a bitter figurehead Vice-President. (A funny and mean caricature of Rockefeller in this period can be found in the 1988 novel "The Body Politic," by Lynne Cheney and Victor Gold.) Kissinger, who had managed to acquire the positions of Secretary of State and national-security adviser simultaneously, had the N.S.C. taken away from him. Schlesinger and Colby were fired. Rumsfeld, on the other hand, was promoted to Secretary of Defense, the youngest ever, at age forty-three, and Cheney was promoted to chief of staff on his recommendation.
Rumsfeld's rise had earned him a reputation as a schemer. There was speculation that he wanted to be Ford's running mate in 1976, and later to run for President—hence the relentless undermining of Rockefeller. Rumsfeld also, as the speculation had it, had cleverly arranged for one of his potential rivals, George Bush, to succeed Colby as head of the C.I.A., a job that required its occupant to stand apart from politics. Cheney had a quite different reputation—the Secret Service's code name for him was Backseat. In his memoirs, Ford writes, "Cheney was very low-key, Rumsfeld rather intense. . . . Both were pragmatic 'problem-solvers'; both worked eighteen-hour days and were absolutely loyal to me."
In Cheney's papers at the Gerald Ford library, you can pick up little clues that Cheney was more than just an innocent academic, but, because of the silken skill with which he operates, they're subtle. Rumsfeld, who prides himself on his management ability, had a rule that everybody in the White House had to have a deputy who was fully capable of doing his job. His deputy was Cheney. When Cheney got the chief of staff's job, he did not appoint a deputy, and he added to the power of the chief of staff's office. After a series of demotions, the leader of the old Ford aides, a former newspaperman named Bob Hartmann, was left only with his job as chief White House speechwriter. Cheney made Hartmann irrelevant by hiring someone else, David Gergen, to do his job. (Hartmann got even in his memoirs by writing, "Cheney was a presentable young man who could easily be lost in a gaggle of Jaycee executives. His most distinguishing features were snake-cold eyes, like a Cheyenne gambler's. . . . He was tough, tireless, book-smart, with a touch of sarcasm occasionally overcoming studied subordination.") In Cheney's papers, there is a draft of a letter from Ford to Rockefeller thanking him for giving up the chairmanship of the domestic council (translation: you're fired, and now I'm putting it in writing), with a cover note from Cheney to his secretary saying, "Hang onto it right here in the Office. I may need it at some future point." President Ford's idea of Cheney as "low-key" says more about the way Cheney presented himself than about what he was really like.
Press coverage of Cheney usually made two points about him: he had no political ambition, and his views were indistinguishable from President Ford's. It surely was fine with Cheney to be perceived that way, but it is also true that one of his qualities is an absolute loyalty to authority generally and to his patron in particular. Still, after Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, Cheney moved back to Wyoming and demonstrated that he actually did have political ambition by winning its only congressional seat. He could have parlayed the chief-of-staff job into a profitable career as a lobbyist in Washington, perhaps returning to government jobs periodically. Instead, he chose the stressful life of a junior congressman with a distant, spread-out constituency. He had his first heart attack, at age thirty-seven, during his campaign.
Cheney took office in 1979, beginning what turned out to be a ten-year career in the House. He quickly acquired a new patron in Bob Michel, the genial congressman from Peoria, Illinois, who led the House Republicans during the period when it seemed they were consigned to perpetual minority status. Most of the leading young Republicans in the House, like Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp, and Trent Lott, were flashily conservative, and pushed Michel to make more use of the new techniques of politics, focus groups, polls, and dramatic ideas hatched in think tanks. But Cheney, in his relations with Michel, just hooked up his reassurance I.V. "With Cheney you never had a sense that he was taking you over the cliff," Michel told me recently. "Going so far you couldn't come back. He's got a nice way of presenting conservatism to the people, without sarcastic, demeaning words." By the late eighties, Dick Cheney was the Republican whip, No. 2 in the leadership, and Bob Michel's anointed successor.
One of Cheney's high-school friends told me that he had a conversation during these years with him, in which he said, " 'Dick, what would possess someone to spend his life on airplanes? What is it?' Dick said, 'I can't explain it. It's just being there where things happen, and making things happen. I enjoy it.' " That, for Cheney, even with a lifelong friend, is about as self-revelatory as he ever gets.
In Republican Washington these days, one calls George H. W. Bush Forty-one and George W. Bush Forty-three. In 1989, when Forty-one took office, he was unable to win confirmation for his nominee as Secretary of Defense, the tiny and imperious Senator John Tower, of Texas. By the time Bush finally gave up, his overriding concern was with finding a replacement who was certain to be confirmed quickly. Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national-security adviser and an old Ford Administration guy, suggested Cheney.
Cheney was absolutely, always, the President's man in the Pentagon. Just as he was taking office, the Air Force chief of staff, General Larry Welch, was, after having consulted with the Administration's top defense officials, talking to members of Congress about possible changes in the intercontinental-ballistic-missile program. At his first press conference, Cheney announced that Welch "was not speaking for the department." This was humiliating to Welch, and also unfair, but it demonstrated that Cheney was in charge and protecting the President's total authority on missile policy.
Cheney used to joke that as a congressman he never met a weapons system he didn't like. As Secretary of Defense, though, his mission was to get the President a peace dividend, and he ordered the cancellation of two big weapons systems, to the displeasure of the services sponsoring them. As the Gulf War was approaching, he was out in front of Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, in pushing for the commitment of American forces to the Gulf, which was Bush's position. In "The Commanders," Bob Woodward quotes Cheney observing, in a rare unguarded moment, that Bush "has got a long history of vindictive political actions" and that one had "to be careful" around him. Cheney heeded his own advice very well.
He was also unusually thorough. Sometimes, on Saturday mornings, he would hold meetings at which academic experts on a subject related to his job—nuclear strategy, say, or the future of the Soviet Union—would come to the Pentagon and brief him for hours. It's rare for Cabinet secretaries to take as serious an interest as Cheney did in mastering the substance of the work of their departments or to think past the immediate term; Colin Powell was invited to some of these meetings and would wander in and out. Cheney had his policy staff set up a secret unit that worked up a report for him on what the potential collapse of the Soviet Union would mean to the national defense. And during the Gulf War he seemed to people who visited him to know the exact location and mission of practically every platoon in the force. Cheney's attention to detail won him a measure of respect from the services, despite his having avoided military service as a young man (even as an unmarried power lineman, he got a draft deferral by enrolling at a community college in Casper and saying he was a student), and despite his having twice fired high-ranking generals without going through the established channels.
During Cheney's career, the Republican Party became more rhetorically opposed to the idea of government. Cheney, the civil servant's son, never espoused that notion—he did not make scornful references to "bureaucrats"—and his party's hostility to government, rather than marginalizing him, only made him more valuable. When Republicans win, no matter how negative their attitude toward the government, they still have to run it; Cheney, who has worked at the highest level in the White House, in Congress, and in federal agencies, and knows how to get just about anything in Washington done, is a valuable resource for a party whose talent pool is thin on people who have mastered Washington operations. "He loves—loves—government," Alan Simpson says. "Policy. Administration. Big-time administrator. Big-time make-things-work guy." Just as important as his efficiency is his discretion: over and over I heard from his friends, fiercely, proudly, "Dick Cheney will never write a book!" meaning one of those books where you reveal, in a way that makes your own heroism clear, what really went on in the inner councils of government. His older daughter, Liz Cheney Perry, a thirty-four-year-old Washington lawyer who is informally a close adviser to her father, told me, "If you're working for him, he makes it clear what he wants. If you screw up, he makes it clear. If you don't fix it, he fires you. He's not afraid to fire people. That also makes him useful to people for whom he's working." To the extent that the Republican Party is like a big corporation, Cheney had worked his way up steadily over thirty years from a clerk's job to the top of the executive suite.
One can easily imagine the realization dawning upon George W. Bush last spring and summer that Cheney was the guy he needed by his side in the White House. Cheney had Texas credentials—he was living in Dallas at the time as head of the Halliburton Company—he had Forty-one's strong endorsement, he knew the federal government backward and forward as Bush did not, he would never upstage his President. The relatively brief successful portion of Forty-three's career—the Texas Rangers baseball team, the Texas governorship—had been marked by his finding phlegmatic veterans to run things for him while he worked his charm on the public. The brief portion of Cheney's career outside government, when he was head of Halliburton, was marked by his talent at working government contacts and his mastery of the art of strategic deferentiality. His No. 1 achievement at Halliburton was engineering a merger with its rival, Dresser Industries (a company where Prescott Bush was a board member for decades, and where George H.W. Bush had his first job), which he did partly by offering the boss at Dresser, William E. Bradford, the title of chairman of the board, while arranging matters so that the company would be firmly under his own control. Cheney and Bush were meant for each other.
THE FIRE WITHIN
Over the first weekend in February, stories came out in the national press—the Times and the Washington Post on Saturday, Time on Monday—about Dick Cheney's emerging role as Vice-President. All of them made the point that Cheney has no ambition to become President. All he wants is to serve George W. Bush.
While professed lack of political ambition may be a standard item in Cheney's repertoire, the real message of these stories seemed to be that Forty-three is a President who particularly needs to be assured that the people who work for him are unwaveringly loyal and selfless. It certainly isn't as if the thought of being President had never crossed Cheney's mind. He spent most of 1993 and 1994 engaging, with his usual thoroughness, in a kind of pre-campaign for President, aimed at making him the Republican nominee in 1996. He did all the things you do: he set up a political-action committee, he raised money, he made speeches for Republican politicians, he visited forty-seven states. Then, in January of 1995, he announced he wouldn't be running. Halliburton was the highly remunerative consolation prize.
People who decide not to run for President usually say they didn't want to put their family through the hell of a national campaign. Cheney had a specific twist on this argument, which was that it was not yet known that his younger daughter, Mary, is a lesbian. But I also heard other theories. One was that Cheney, with his reverence for authority, couldn't bear the thought of openly challenging Bob Dole, his party's war-hero elder statesman, for the nomination. Another was that he couldn't raise enough money, because he comes from too small a state. The theory I found most persuasive was that Cheney is not a performer, and could not go before the public with a dramatic account of himself, a story that would appeal to ordinary people. (Bush, who has much less in common with ordinary people than Cheney does, could do that.) "When have we elected the best?" Cheney bitterly remarked to Bob Woodward, after dropping out.
Does that thought still rattle around in Cheney's mind? Even if it does, his recompense is that he is about as close to being President as it is possible to get without actually holding the office. He has gone far past the boundary of influence of any previous Vice-President in American history. It used to be that the sine qua non of Vice-Presidential power was a weekly private lunch with the President. Cheney has that, but for him it's almost an afterthought. He meets with the President early every morning and then several more times during a typical day. Cheney and Bush together, sitting in that pair of world-leaders-chatting wing chairs in the Oval Office, jointly preside over meetings with the White House domestic-policy and economic-policy staffs. If there is a meeting on any sensitive international matter in the Situation Room, Cheney attends. Cheney meets once a week with his old Pentagon colleague Colin Powell, now Secretary of State, and once a week with his old mentor Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense; has a weekly lunch with Powell, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice, the national-security adviser; and sits on what is known as the Principals' Committee, a group of top foreign-policy and defense officials in the government.
Cheney holds the deciding vote in the half-Democratic, half-Republican United States Senate. In addition to two offices in the White House complex, he maintains the traditional Vice-President's office in the Senate. He usually attends the weekly Republican Senate policy lunch. He is also the first Vice-President in history to have an office in the House of Representatives—just off the floor, for lobbying—and he meets with the House Republican Conference, too. One Republican senator I interviewed told me that President Bush had told him repeatedly, "When you're talking to Dick Cheney, you're talking to me. When Dick Cheney's talking, it's me talking."
Vice-Presidents are known for attending the funerals of foreign dignitaries. Cheney meets with foreign dignitaries when they come to the White House. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair, for example, met with Cheney for an hour before meeting with President Bush. Vice-Presidents are often given special assignments, which have usually been second-order-of-magnitude projects like Al Gore's "Reinventing Government." Cheney's special assignments are the central missions of the Administration. He first ran the transition, then the task force on energy policy. When John McCain came to the White House in January to talk with Bush on campaign finance, he found himself meeting instead with Bush and Cheney. When Bush decided to renege on his campaign pledge to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in order to fight global warming, "Administration officials" told the Times that Cheney had encouraged it. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that four governors of Western states, who were visiting the White House and concerned about energy policy, had attended a public event hosted by the President, then gone to see Cheney to talk business.
Cheney has put a strong imprint on the staffing of the Bush Administration. Rumsfeld, obviously, is a Cheney guy. So is the Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O'Neill, who worked in the Office of Management and Budget during the Ford Administration. Alan Greenspan is a friend of Cheney's—he, too, worked in the Ford Administration, as head of the Council of Economic Advisors. Deputies, as Cheney surely knows, can be the most important people in government. The deputy head of the Office of Management and Budget, Sean O'Keefe; the deputy head of the National Security Council, Stephen Hadley; and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, are all veterans of Cheney's team at the Pentagon. Hadley chairs the Deputies' Committee, another dull-sounding but important regularly meeting group of defense and foreign-policy officials.
What's interesting about Cheney's career is that you can play it through from the beginning and see the rise of a steady, efficient, neutral government executive; or you can rewind, play it again with a little less willingness to accept everything at face value, and see him as having been a much more ideologically conservative figure all along, only quiet about it. If Cheney is in fact a man who has strong views about the direction in which government should move, then his unusual current role (Prime minister? Chief operating officer? Head of government to Bush's head of state?) would offer him, finally, a chance to put them into effect.
Last summer, after Bush had selected Cheney and the scrutiny began, there was a lot of surprise over how conservative his voting record in Congress had been. He had voted against funding the Head Start program, against sanctions targeting apartheid in South Africa, against gun control, against the Equal Rights Amendment. His voting record over the years got higher ratings from the American Conservative Union than Newt Gingrich's.
Even so, even people who know Cheney well insist that a man with his manner can't possibly be a red-meat conservative. "It was just the line that a congressman from Wyoming would follow," Bob Michel said. Alan Simpson said, "He really is a moderate, but his voting record is conservative, so he could go both ways. He's not a 'get mad, get even' guy. Those people have B.O. and gas and heartburn and smell bad—that's not Dick." Brent Scowcroft said, "He's not a far-out idea man, as Paul Wolfowitz can be, for example. He's conventional and cautious." These attitudes are testament to how well contained Cheney is. "You're never gonna get in Dick Cheney's head," Alan Simpson said. "Give it up! He's not gonna talk about his philosophy of life. Forget it!"
Lynne Cheney has a much more developed conservative reputation than her husband, because she has published and opined on television much more than he has and because, in the eighties, she turned in a combative performance as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. When I interviewed her not long ago, though, in her office in the White House complex, she showed that she can also come across as a charming, polished, not especially ideological political wife. A strikingly small woman, she sat in an enormous-looking chair, her hands neatly folded in her lap, her legs crossed at the ankles, her knees swivelled to the side—a tea-party pose. Both Cheneys have had a lot of practice over the years at making appearances in which the object is simply to generate confidence and good will, not to prosecute the battle. Career Republicans, and career Democrats, too, spend most of their time among their own kind. At one point in our conversation, I asked Mrs. Cheney how she thought President Clinton would be remembered. She looked a little surprised. "I don't have a clue!" she said, pleasantly and forthrightly. "I think I'm too close to it."
Like so many others, Lynne Cheney said she was not fully versed on Dick Cheney's political views, but she did say, as his friends did, too, that he is a big reader of history, especially military history. His heroes, she said, were Churchill—"Before I even knew Winston Churchill was a writer, Dick had read his way through most of Churchill"—and, especially, George C. Marshall, the wise, silent commanding general in the Second World War and, later, Secretary of State. She fished out of her purse a list she had scribbled on a piece of paper of the books that were stacked on the Vice-President's bedside table that morning: two on the Civil War, one on the Revolutionary War, one on the Founders, one on Grant, one edited by Churchill.
You can imagine how one of the popular historians Cheney likes to read would treat his situation now. He has had a long ride from obscurity to the top of American politics and government. He is consummately expert and experienced, and, because of a peculiar, unexpected set of circumstances involving a father-son Presidential team, he has a great deal of power at a moment when the United States might have more influence than any nation has ever had. At the same time, he is seriously ill: three heart attacks before getting the Vice-Presidential nomination, two hospitalizations involving chest pain just in the last few months—one a fourth heart attack, the other trouble stemming from a prosthetic device which, according to his own rather optimistic doctor, has a forty-per-cent chance of recurrence. Surely the true dramatic lesson arising from Cheney's poor health would be not that he has mellowly set aside ambition but that he has a special sense of urgency and shortness of time about accomplishing the things he is finally in a position to get done. The question is what those would be.
Liz Cheney Perry told me that her father has said to her that a formative experience for him was taking a survey course on post-Second World War American diplomacy, during his time at Yale, from a professor named Bradford Westerfield. At about the time Cheney would have taken the course, Westerfield published a book called "The Instruments of America's Foreign Policy." It begins this way: "BETTER RED THAN DEAD." And it continues, "Ominously, the infectious defeatism drifts across the Atlantic and begins to insinuate itself into the mind of America." Westerfield goes on to worry about the possibility of a Communist takeover of the United States, because of our innocent, overconfident optimism. After having awakened, too late, to the dangers of the Cold War, "more and more Americans might conclude in panic that resistance was hopeless, and that it would be better to submit and be swept along with the new wave of the future."
Westerfield most likely struck a chord in Cheney, rather than having implanted a new thought; the idea of the United States's being in peril and of very tough measures being required to protect it runs deeply and consistently in Cheney's thinking, when you piece together the available evidence about what his thinking is. Cheney was always particularly suspicious of the Soviet Union. During the Ford Administration, one of the rare times when Cheney put a position on an issue in writing was in arguing that Ford should invite the recently expatriated Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to the White House, something Henry Kissinger strongly opposed because he thought it would disrupt the policy of détente that he was promoting (and of which Cheney was deeply skeptical). In the first Bush Administration, Cheney was known for his skepticism on whether Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of perestroika could succeed. Brent Scowcroft's National Security Council was known as the home of the Gorbachevites in the Administration, and Cheney's Pentagon as the home of the Yeltsinites. After Boris Yeltsin was elected President of Russia but while Gorbachev was still head of the Soviet Union, Cheney invited Yeltsin to the Pentagon and arranged to have him greeted with a full-dress military welcome. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Cheney advocated remaining suspicious of it.
Forceful covert action taken to forestall the Soviet threat, or any threat to the United States, has traditionally got Cheney's strong support. In the House, he served on the intelligence committee and strongly supported aiding the Contras in Nicaragua. When the Iran-Contra scandal broke, he became the leading defender of the Reagan Administration's funding of the Contras in violation of a congressional vote. He served on the special Iran-Contra investigating committee and supervised the vigorous defense of Presidential authority that the committee's Republicans issued; his instinct seems to lead him first to the tough, legal-niceties-be-damned alternative. "That's what intelligence is," says Porter Goss, a Republican congressman from Florida who is a former C.I.A. officer and a congressional colleague of Cheney's. "It's finding out what the people in the gutter and the sewer are doing. You need to take risks. We need leadership. Cheney is certainly the man who can provide it. He understands risk. He understands bold leadership. He understands purpose."
The administrative idea that embodies these views is a strong belief in Presidential power. Cheney thought Reagan, as a matter of right, should have been able to support the Contras without having to clear it with Congress. During the run-up to the Gulf War, he urged George Bush not to wait for a congressional resolution of approval. One of his few published works is an essay called "Congressional Overreaching in Foreign Policy," and perhaps his only public display of emotion came after Jim Wright, the Democratic House Speaker in the mid-eighties, had used legislative trickery to try to thwart a resolution of support for the Contras. Cheney, in an interview with a reporter for The National Journal, called Wright "a heavy-handed son of a bitch." Now that he is in the White House, if his record is any indication, Cheney would be an advocate of a strong, free Presidential hand in military and intelligence matters.
Although foreign policy is Cheney's passion, he is generally interested, much more than most people at his level in government, in the idea side of politics, and he is consistently attracted to conservative ideas. (At times, Cheney makes an exception for wilderness protection; as a congressman, he helped write a wilderness bill for Wyoming, and one of his rare defeats thus far in the new Administration appears to have been failing to get a high position in the Interior Department for an old friend from Wyoming, John Turner, who is the head of the Conservation Fund, because the anti-environmentalist right considered Turner too green and lobbied against him.) Cheney's papers in the Ford library show him to have been a friend and fan of such prominent conservatives as Greenspan, Irving Kristol, and the supply-side-economics promoter Jude Wanniski. Remember the Laffer curve, the graph sketched on a napkin by the economist Arthur Laffer, which purported to show that cutting taxes would increase government revenues? It was Cheney's napkin. Practically every attempt by Cheney to move policy in a direction (subtly and unobtrusively, of course) was an attempt to move it in a conservative direction. I often heard stories of Cheney attending policy meetings over the years, and, if he spoke at all, suggesting the most conservative possible option that could emerge from the discussion: lower taxes, less regulation, more tilt to the private sector, and, always, most of all, getting tougher on the Russians. This year, for example, after several weeks of work on the energy task force, he suggested that America could resume building nuclear power plants.
In the mid-eighties, Cheney was one of the leading opponents of Reagan's tax-reform bill, which simplified the tax code and had strong support from both parties, because he thought it contained too many concessions to the Democrats. In our interview, Cheney offered an unusually forthright version of the argument that Republicans are often reluctant to make in public, that we should cut taxes for no other reason than to prevent government from growing. "If we collect those taxes, government'll spend 'em," Cheney said. "And we'll grow—at probably a faster rate than the economy does, and become an ever-larger percentage of our total economic activity in the country, and that'll be a mistake. So to some extent, by preventing government from collecting taxes that it currently has no use for, we avoid a situation in which we collect them and spend them and put them into the baseline to become a permanent part of the government."
People who consider themselves true-blue movement conservatives and know Cheney well have no hesitation about claiming him as one of their own. Ken Adelman told me, "He's not laid-back. A fire burns within him." Senator Larry Craig, of Idaho, another conservative friend of Cheney's, said, "He taught me a very valuable lesson: not all conservatives have to appear to be Neanderthal. Dick's a conservative, but he does it with a style that catches most of you media people off guard, if I can say it that directly." Neoconservatives—mostly ex-liberal, mostly Jewish, very hawkish—regard Cheney as a blue-eyed soul brother. He did not make a journey from the left to the right, as Irving Kristol and many of the others did—it was more like from the moderately nonpolitical to the firmly conservative, in the context of a career as a Republican official rather than as an intellectual. He did, however, evidently get pushed to the right by his interactions with the sixties; when I asked Lynne Cheney what had converted her and her husband to conservatism, she mentioned Wisconsin.
"I distinctly remember going to class," she said, "and having to walk through people in whiteface, conducting guerrilla theatre, often swinging animal entrails over their heads, as part of a protest against Dow Chemical. And then the shocking thing was that you would enter the classroom and here would be all these nice young people who honestly wanted to learn to write an essay. That, in a sense, was the real university, but this other was what was attracting so much attention."
In 1992, the Times published a leaked classified document from inside Cheney's Pentagon, a draft of something called a Defense Planning Guidance, which had been prepared that winter under the direction of Paul Wolfowitz, then the under-secretary for policy. "Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival" on the order of the Soviet Union, the document said. This idea should apply even to friendly nations: we should "discourage them from challenging our leadership." We should "be mindful that democratic change in Russia is not irreversible," and that Russia is "the only power in the world with the capability of destroying the United States." We should make it clear that, rather than international organizations like the United Nations being the guarantors of stability, "the world order is ultimately backed by the U.S."
A Presidential campaign was under way, and the leak set off criticism of the Bush Administration for being too bellicose. A few weeks later, a new, much tamer draft of the Defense Planning Guidance was leaked, one emphasizing the importance of international coöperation and expressing enthusiasm for developing democracy and peace in Russia. This new draft was said to reflect more completely the thinking of Secretary Cheney. Soon the controversy died away.
That impolitic first draft is interesting, though. It is hard to believe that a man as meticulous as Cheney would not have been familiar with the contents in advance. The shop that produced it was the home of his stars, the smartest and most thorough people working for him, the ones he has brought back for key positions in the new Bush Administration. Wolfowitz is Deputy Secretary of Defense, and one of Wolfowitz's top aides in 1992, Lewis Libby, who oversaw the draft, is now Cheney's chief of staff. Consistently so far, the new Administration has been tougher on the Russians, friendlier to the Taiwanese, less deferential to the European allies, and seems more willing to use American military force, rather than diplomacy, as our chief mechanism for dealing with the rest of the world than people expected—more in line, in other words, with the disowned memo's vision of America as the one power in the world. As many friends of Cheney's assured me, we will never know how he advises the President privately, but most of the positions Bush has taken so far are consistent with what is known about Cheney's personal views.
It would appear that Cheney, rather than being an implementer with no agenda, has pronounced ideas about how America's power should be employed. The blankness of his surface and the calmness of his demeanor should be taken as a sign not that he has no views but that he has elected not to put them on display. Isn't that the Western code? You don't talk, you just act.