I didn’t imagine it possible, but I think he was considerably more statesmanlike when he was telling Senator Leahy to go fuck himself.
For a man who spent the previous eight years lurking in the shadows, the former Vice President has spent the last nine-plus months desperate for attention. He could have had all his current face-time and more when he was running the country in absentia. Now he’s treating the bully pulpit like a train that he forgot to catch.
There may be something greater at work here, though.
It would be ungentlemanly to speculate on the former Vice President’s mortality, but I think it’s a safe assumption that when that much-depleted heart finally does approach its living end–when the Heritage Foundation will prepare to store it in a jar, with his brain, until medical science discovers how to reanimate them–Mr. Cheney has no intention of going gently into that goodnight.
Maturity’s apex should be a happy time. If you’re fortunate, you’ve successfully navigated the stormy seas of life and now get to watch the sunset in still waters–proud of your accomplishments, surrounded by people who love you, whom you’ve maybe borne and nurtured into warm, decent human beings who work every day to make the world a better place, and credit your tutelage and example. Hopefully, you’re blessed to share life’s final act with someone who has been at your side through your long voyage. It should be a time when you’ve earned the opportunity to put your feet up and ruminate on your contribution to this earth, at peace with whatever the future holds.
But the twilight is clearly not golden for all of us. It isn’t surprising when some of our most senior citizens get churlish, even hostile in their advancing years. The end of days is in sight, but maybe not close enough to alleviate your general distress at your diminished capacity and a once-formidable body that every year seems to require another application of bungee cords and duct tape. You resent your spouse, if you still have one, of being indifferent to your needs or simply still being around, constantly, with all of their habits and idiosyncrasies that started annoying you lifetimes ago. Your children may have betrayed or, worse, disappointed you, and every day you simmer about what that investment cost you in money, time, and dreams. You ruminate on power lost, opportunities missed, enemies not destroyed, and wonder what, in the end, is the true measure of your time on Earth, if you aren’t departing with the biggest treasure chest of skulls and doubloons.
That’s not an easy account to settle.
The elderly surrender a good measure of their dignity when they attempt to eat spaghetti after too many glasses of wine, and when they attempt to pick fistfights on national television.
Former Vice President Cheney has devoted much of the last year to Super Sizing the “get off my lawn” stereotype. He’ll sit with nearly anyone who will clip a microphone on him and not call him a war criminal, and with his trademark scowl and occasionally twitching crazy eye, unload both barrels on everything from Obama’s sissified dithering in Afghanistan to the inevitability of another terror attack to the mollycoddles who have the temerity to question anything we’ve done in Iraq (at least up to January 21st of this year).
At least George W. Bush had the good sense to, for the most part, go away quietly. He surfaces now and again defending his Presidency, but he accomplished a rare feat not once, but twice, and while he’s no student of history, he most certainly knows that even Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover have had landmarks and schools named after them.
We don’t expect much dignity from our sitting Vice Presidents, though, so I suppose it’s unfair to impose any such standards after they leave.
That said, and even factoring in Mr. Cheney’s notoriously sour disposition, the constant fusillades bursting from the former Vice President have been curious. Last January, while Lynne was presumably doing most of the packing, he spent the waning days of his tenure and the first weeks of his retirement assailing W. for refusing to pardon Scooter Libby.
By March, he started on the talk show circuit, claiming that Obama’s policies were putting America at risk of another 9/11-style attack, which he continued into spring, to the chagrin of a number of his party, who were hoping not to have their heads handed to them again in 2010. In May, he publicly peppered Gulf War 1 superstar and his Administration’s Secretary of State for having betrayed the party.
By June, he was so relentlessly lambasting the Obama Administration’s anti-terrorism policies that CIA Director Leon Panetta snapped and suggested that perhaps the x-Vice President was hoping for a terrorist attack on Obama’s watch.
And on through the summer, until the autumn attacks shifted to Obama’s “dithering” policies in Afghanistan.
It’s just institutional courtesy to temper the attacks on your successor, at least until an appropriate amount of time has passed. If I recall correctly, it was at Leonid Brezhnev’s funeral where Walter Mondale finally lost it and punched George H.W. Bush into the reflecting pool outside the House Of Trade Unions in Moscow. That was over two years after Mondale and Jimmy Carter lost the White House to Bush and Reagan. (I’ll have to look that up to be sure, though.)
But it’s getting interesting now, at least, that Cheney’s successor and the current Curmudgeon General is letting his tongue slip and firing back at his predecessor’s relentless sideline taunts. After Cheney said in a speech at the Center for Security Policy that the Obama Administration was “absolutely wrong” on Afghanistan, Biden snapped to reporters accompanying him on a three-day trip through Eastern Europe, “Who cares what…?” He stopped and laughed, catching himself (“I can see the headline now…I’m getting better, guys.”). Yes, but he’s still Joe Biden. He was immediately back on all cylinders. “Is (Cheney’s) review relevant…today in light of the changes that have taken place in the region, in Afghanistan itself? So I think that is sort of irrelevant. Not sort of–I think it’s irrelevant.”
I said when Obama selected Joe Biden as his running mate that the man from Delaware was going to be “a one-man Rapid Response team.” After nearly a year of listening to the former Vice President lob turd after steaming turd at his successors, I certainly don’t see it below the Vice President’s pay grade to leave the field and go duke it out with the loudmouth in the stands. It wouldn’t be Lincoln-Douglas, and probably not even Dole-Mondale, but in an age where “You lie!” and “Go fuck yourself” pass for political discourse, it would practically be Khrushchev and Nixon in the Kitchen Debate.