Cheney's Book Is More Than Meets the Eye

Posted: Sep 02, 2011 11:31 PM

Days after an earthquake and a hurricane in the nation's capital, there were no locusts as some local wags nervously joked, but a forecast of "heads exploding all over Washington."

And so they did.

Former vice president Dick Cheney predicted that his memoir, "In My Time," would make Beltway craniums spontaneously combust. And if the man who has been congressman, defense secretary and corporate executive, among other roles, was looking for another career, he wouldn't make a bad psychic.

As with many a Washington memoir, most quasi-readers skipped to the hot parts (if they bothered to consider reading the book before they discussed it) -- the sections that are good for ratings.

But the conventional presentation of the book as a hotbed of controversy is misleading. It is actually not a series of "cheap shots," as has been commonly reported.

For an example: Cheney writes about transitioning from vice-presidential searcher to potential vice-presidential nominee, making sure he broke himself financially from Halliburton, where he was chairman and CEO. And although "there was no legal requirement that we do so," he writes, "Lynne and I set up an irrevocable gift trust agreement that would donate all the after-tax profits from these unvested options to three charities," including one that serves inner-city D.C. children.

That will be news to many.

So much of our public conversation tends to consist of competing spins. With his book, Cheney does a service to students of history. He tells his version of events as he remembers them, as he experienced them, pointing to documents and events that may be even more revealing later, when distance allows for a more sober consideration of the life and times of a man and his politics.

But Cheney provides perhaps an even bigger service: a reminder to read deeper. A reminder that as we hit refresh there is something more out there.

The lesson isn't entirely learned when most of the coverage of the book focuses only on a few small facets.

Cheney's book, in other words, is about much more than the career or legacy -- to use a common Beltway buzzword. Beyond what you think of him or Halliburton or his politics or his policies: it's about reminding us that there are facts, there is truth, and there is a perspective beyond the clashing views of the current news cycle.

Or, as Cheney recalls from an election-season Sunday morning, listening to Rev. Suzanne Harris speak from the pulpit: "'Our faith is not that bad things won't happen,' she said. 'Our faith is that when bad things do happen, God can still use that material to make something holy.' She reminded us that life is short. 'We do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us,' she said, 'so be swift to love and make haste to be kind.'"

He remembers, noting that he saw campaign staff scattered in the pews: "In the midst of a hard-fought political campaign, her sermon made all of us pause and reflect."

In the ups and downs of politics, as we watch polls like sports scores, it's worth remembering that all this activity and gamesmanship should always be in service to something greater and more enduring than a mere campaign or the movements of power.

We won't always agree on issues. We may interpret events and precepts differently. But we must never simply accept what the crowd says without gathering a few primary documents, the light of reason and a perspective rooted in something beyond the hubbub of the chattering class.

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