This morning I had the great honor to speak with former Vice President Dick Cheney about his life in politics, which also happens to be the subject of his new book, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir.” To hear more from Vice President Cheney, including his reflections on Ronald Reagan, his experience in the minutes and days following the 9/11 attacks and his views on tax and entitlement reform, download the podcast here.
First off, I want to ask you about your book, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” which I have to say was such a quick read because it was so fascinating. Did you enjoy writing it? Did it bring back a lot of memories?
Yes, I did. I started out a little skeptical about it. I’m not an author by profession—my wife is, I’m not. One of the great things was that my daughter [Liz Cheney] helped—she was my co-author. It’s a lot of fun to have your eldest child sit and listen for hours about old war stories. We had a lot of fun.
As secretary of defense under George H.W. Bush, you saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union and, of course, Operation Desert Storm. Tell us about that. Did you know what you’d bitten off when you stepped into that position?
No. I wasn’t trying to get into the cabinet. At that point I was the #2 house republican, and when the [John] Tower nomination went down in defeat, the president asked me to take the job and I did. I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity. It was a fundamental shift in history, if you will. All of a sudden the Cold War started to wind down, Desert Storm was a real challenge—we sent half a million men and women to the Gulf to liberate Kuwait and put Saddam Hussein back into Iraq. It was an extraordinarily successful military venture. There was a tremendous feeling of support all across the country for the troops—it was really something to see.
You were, of course, vice president under George W. Bush. You changed that office forever. Today I’m looking at an administration that, for lack of a better term, needs an adult in the room. You were that adult in the room when we needed one. How did that happen?
The president, when he started the search, sent one of his guys to talk to me about putting my name on the ballot. I said no. Then he asked if I would help with the search, and I agreed to do that. As we finished the search he said, Look, you’re the solution to my problem. He never had taken no for an answer. I became impressed, as I worked with him trying to help him find somebody, with the enormous amount of thought he’d given to the job. He really wanted somebody who was going to be part of the team. You weren’t going to be parked in a dark closet someplace and forgotten once you became vice president, which has happened to some of our vice presidents. He was true to his word. I was able to participate in just about any policy debate I wanted to get into. He made the decisions—there was never any question about who was running the show—but I got my say. Sometimes he agreed, sometimes he didn’t. But I was privileged to be able to participate in a significant way, and it worked.
Let me switch gears to your days with Halliburton. You ran a Fortune 500 company. If you could give this president—whom I find to be the most anti-business president ever—some advice, what would it be?
I think it’s important for whoever is in office to understand how our economy works. I sometimes worry that President Obama believes the only job-creation mechanism is the federal government—if you’re not on the government payroll, you don’t have the capacity to get a job. But that’s not the way it works. It’s important to understand that the genius of our society is our economy. Millions of people out there every day make millions of decisions that can lead to the creation of wealth, the expansion of businesses, the creation of new jobs. Government can help in terms of shaping the environment in which that happens by providing some certainty about what tax rates are going to be in the future and so forth. What I worry about is that there is not adequate understanding or very many people around this president who have spent that time in the private sector and understand how it really works. The uncertainty, for example, in the tax area can have a devastating consequence if you’re a small businessman. They create most of the jobs in this country. If you don’t know what your tax rate is going to be next year, you’re going to be very reluctant to gamble everything on creating a couple of jobs and hiring additional people that you may not be able to support when the going gets tough. So everybody hesitates and pulls back. There’s a decided lack of confidence right now in terms of the investment climate in this country.