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Contrast Cheney and Bush

Posted on 24 May 2009 | 12:05pm

‘Washington trembles at the return of Darth Vadar’, as one headline has it, might be overstating things, but Dick Cheney’s ‘don’t go quietly’ approach to former Vice Presidency-dom is certainly attracting interest.

It is also drawing a parallel with George Bush who appears to be taking a different tack, making a speech to schoolkids about pooper-scooping while Cheney was effectively going head to head with Barack Obama over plans to shut down Guantanamo Bay. 

‘Is George Bush as stupid as he seems?’, or variations on the theme, is one of the questions I am asked most often when out and about doing speeches and Qs and As. It is up there with what did you think of your portrayal in The Queen, who coined ‘People’s Princess?’, what was the best moment? (Good Friday Agreement), what was the worst? (David Kelly’s death) and is it true that rugby players Paul O’Connell and Steve Thompson debagged you on the Lions tour, and stole your blackberry which had a draft TB speech on it? (yes)

In answering the question about Bush I always find myself being kinder to him, and his intelligence, than most audiences expect. His politics are very different to mine, and God was never far away when he was speaking, but he was much cleverer and much more rounded than the caricature. He was also self-deprecating, which many leaders are not, and always interested in the lives and opinions of others down the food chain, like the drivers and the waiters and the security men and women, which many leaders are not.

I also find myself saying that Bush at least understood the difficulties in the politics of other countries like ours, and genuinely wanted to know why we felt America was seen as it was in so many parts of the world. I’d be hard pressed to say the same about Cheney.

Bush’s inquiries on that, at a meeting at Camp David, led to one of my most vivid memories of Cheney. Bush asked why we felt anti-Americanism was so strong, and amid a discussion on communications to the Arab world, I made the point that when he and his American colleagues spoke of democracy, the Arab world heard ‘Americanisation.’

It led to a Cheney growl followed by him asking whether I was saying they should stop talking about democracy, which of course I wasn’t.

No doubt he has lots of personal friends and family who love him dearly, but I remember thinking he was not the kind of bloke you’d fancy bumping into on holiday, wheras Bush could at least engage a bit beyond politics.

On the day of Obama’s inauguration too, wheelchair-bound Cheney could hardly have looked less enamoured of what was happening around him.

So I don’t think we should be too surprised he has started to lay into Obama. As the Thatcherites have shown in Britain, defending your record when out of power and never tiring of engaging in the arguments you pursued in power, is very much part of the Right’s mentality. 

I also wonder if his recent onslaught might have been in part provoked by Obama’s hilarious speech to the White House correspondents’ dinner, on which I blogged a while back, when he said Cheney was busy writing his memoirs which ought to be called ‘How to shoot friends and interrogate people.’ The audience roared its approval. But I suspect Cheney will have had a sense of humour bypass on it. 

After Obama took office, the senate in Cheney’s home state of Wyoming passed a ‘happy retirement’ resolution which said he could now lay down the burdens of office, fish and write to his heart’s content.

It looks like Cheney will be doing no such thing.  Bush is looking positively statesmanlike by comparison.

  • Brian Semmens

    Having had the questionable pleasure of meeting both Bush & Cheney (before they came to office) I think you are being just a tad too kind to Bush. Ideologically, materially & egoistically, they are hewn from the same block.

    That Bush is in virtual hiding, which at least gives us the suggestion he might have a conscience about what he has done? In truth I don’t think he gives a fig about what anyone thinks about him or his Presidency. He is from an elite in American life that cares little for what the vast majority of Americans feel, think, or want.

  • Jackie Frears

    Bush was a terrible president, Cheney a terrible VP and we are lucky Obama and Biden have replaced them. I also think Obama is lucky that Cheney is back on the scene. It reminds people why we got rid …

  • Alan Hills

    I was at an event you spoke at recently where you also said that whilst the US was the only superpower, it would be an act of recklessness to cut ourselves adrift from them. I agree with that basic approach, and whilst your old boss certainly paid a price for his relationship with Bush I think it was in the UK’s interest into the future. I do think Blair and Obama would in many ways have been made for each other, even more than Clinton and Blair.

  • Em

    As widely reported, when Bush was asked why he wasn’t following the Cheney example and chattering away to the press, Bush replied that Obama deserved his silence. This is much to Bush’s credit.

    Dick Cheney’s approach is mostly attracting derision. He’s been tirelessly giving historians multiple choice answers about torture under the Bush administration. In some instances saying that what the government did was not torture, or saying it was torture but only on a few people (Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it threats them: Jean-Paul Sartre), or that torture was justified because it got results (as Wanda Sykes joked at the White House correspondents’ dinner “yes, your Honor, I robbed a bank but look at all the bills that got paid).

    During the 2000 campaign, Laura Bush said that her husband wanted to become president so one day he’d be commissioner of baseball. One would hope Cheney
    went fishing instead of controlling how history is going to remember him. If he must keep talking, one can only hope he will talk himself into a war crimes trial.

  • Rita

    Cheyney puts me in mind of Ann Widdecombe’s famous comment- ‘creature of the night’! Or of a human rottweiller without the compassion! The worrying thing is that so much of the US media seems to take him seriously and treat his rants with a gravitas they do not deserve. The comedian Jon Stewart is the only one who treats him as he deserves.Rita 🙂

  • Alina Palimaru

    Cheney was the most powerful vice president in the history of the United States. Journalists who covered the White House for decades, including the Bush years, have said repeatedly that, unlike with past presidents, the center of gravity was the vice president’s office and that of his lawyer, David Addington. Scholars, journalists and politicians alike are profoundly disturbed by the dangerous precedent that Cheney created, and shudder to think of what other information will emerge down the road regarding the extent of his power. Cheney is fortunate that Obama and his staff are very patient and elegant in their communication regarding Bush administration officials. Some of the journalists are already beginning to see Cheney as the black fly in the presidential Chardonnay. Yet, Obama dismissed claims that Cheney was irritating, saying that this was an on-going public debate. Had it been the other way around, I doubt that Bush/Cheney would have said the same thing.

    Cheney should do everyone a favour and slink away in the vast expanse of wasteland that is Wyoming, and never bother us again.

  • Charlie

    AC: “……As the Thatcherites have shown in Britain, defending your record when out of power and never tiring of engaging in the arguments you pursued in power, is very much part of the Right’s mentality……”

    AC…with all due respect, you havent even waited for Labour to be thrown out before “….defending your record when out of power and never tiring of engaging in the arguments you pursued in power…….”!

  • Alina Palimaru

    Rita, I think the U.S. media pay attention to him not because he is Dick Cheney, but by virtue of the office he held. It seems to me that institutional power here exceeds personal power, in some cases. This is one of them, in my view.

    But I thoroughly agree with you on Jon Stewart. He did a superb work on Dick Cheney in his series “You don’t dick!” 🙂

  • gary Enefer

    Both Cheney and Bush thought they were protecting America and they governed in very scary times for US citizens.

    It took their actions,and image though, to produce an Obama so every cloud…..

  • Michael

    Nice to see you giving a bit of nuance to Dubya. I understand Obama just confused Defense Secretary Robert Gates with Bill Gstes. There have been many others – but Obama the ‘orator’ gets a kinder press than Bush II, who I understand got better grades at Yale than John Kery or al Gore did at Harvard. By the way, had a very pleasant trip to the re-opened Clitheroe Castle today, driving through Whalley and over Sabden. Burnley flags were abundant on a beautiful day in this loveliest of locations.

  • Em

    A few clarifications: a slew of journalists are anti-Cheney, Stewart, Colbert, Olbermann, Maddow. The last two criticise him on a daily basis and there are many more journos in the anti-Cheney camp. Cheney doesn’t have fans at The Nation or the Huffington Post et cetera… many Americans are NOT crazy.

    And, the old recurring Stewart segment “You don’t know Dick!” has been replaced with “Your Dick Is Out” is reference to his myriad of recent interviews. Not very dignified a title, but sometimes you do have to get down with the snakes….

  • BarBar of Oz

    Alistair. Cheney (and Bush) used to give far funnier and more biting speeches against themselves than Obama did the other day.
    Darth Vader Cheney has to be a far more rounded human being than you have painted given his wife is a feminist and his daughter is gay.

    Cheney’s growl at you about “democracy” is interesting in light of Obama and Clinton’s disinclination to use the word.It’s another example of how the Left has got into bed with the Paleo isolationist Right, to the shame of the Left imo. That phenonomon was seen in Britain in the alliance against TB’s stand on Iraq.

  • www.chiclondres.com

    Alastair on his career change, his old demons and his fear of dentists…

    Read my exclusive interview with Alastair Campbell on http://www.chiclondres.com/article.php?eid=3944&lang=en