wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

The Leaderboard

Most Read: National

From the Blogosphere

Jena McGregor

Jena McGregor

Staff writer Jena McGregor teases out the leadership issues in the day’s news.

Tom Fox

Tom Fox

Guest contributor Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, writes weekly about issues in the federal workplace.

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham

Lillian Cunningham is the editor of On Leadership and writes features for the section.

Post Leadership
Posted at 01:58 PM ET, 08/31/2011

Dick Cheney and the ploy of the political memoir


Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s new book, In My Time, is stirring up controversy. (Ron Edmonds - AP)
The fact that Dick Cheney has made his way out of one of his undisclosed locations and landed among the most searched terms on Google—right there amid news about soccer star Joe Cole and “The Walking Dead, Season 2”—demonstrates how powerful a political memoir can be. The former vice president who once held a “staggeringly low” approval rating of 13 percent (though it’s increased since then) now finds himself the talk of the town.

It’s not surprising, really. For one, the former vice president seems to have been bent on creating controversy with his recently released book, In My Time . He told NBC that the book was “gonna have heads exploding all over Washington.” His daughter and collaborator, Liz Cheney, told USA Today “it’s stirred things up a bit.” Anyone who thought that Cheney—surely the most pugnacious member of the most pugnacious administration in recent times—would use his memoir for reconciliation or introspective reflection must have been on a different planet for the last 11 years.

But it’s not surprising for another reason: With rare exceptions, the political memoir genre has become little more than an opportunity for leaders to burnish their own image and settle old scores. With hefty advances from publishers and a politically divided reading public that tends to buy books that reaffirm their beliefs rather than challenges them, we should expect little else.

Cheney’s may be ruffling the most feathers, but consider other recent political memoirs. Donald Rumsfeld’s account of his years in the Bush administration, Known and Unknown , blames others and hints at no regrets, even if he does admit to some mistakes. George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points , may have been well written and filled with telling anecdotes, but it does little in the way of introspectively re-examining the rights and wrongs of what Time Magazine called “the carelessness of this presidency.” Even former FEMA head Michael “heckuva job” Brown recently released his memoir, Deadly Indifference: The Perfect (Political) Storm , offering up a few admissions of guilt but taking plenty of shots at our “fratboy” president who was too removed from reality.

Just like the memoirs of presidential candidates, which so frequently cherry-pick the facts and paint an airbrushed image of a candidate’s past, the memoirs of political leaders do much the same. Somehow, though, we expect more. Because they are looking back over the time they served, because they are adding a volume to history’s shelves, we seem to believe they hold more responsibility for analysis, for introspection, for the whole and ugly truth.

Of course, they do. But that matters little when it comes to writing these tomes, which inevitably become image rehabilitation projects instead. The human impulse behind them is the same: To tell one’s own story, to write history from an individual point of view, to try to shape the conversation about one’s record. Combine that instinct with Cheney’s particularly hawkish and quarrelsome worldview, and it is little surprise In My Time is the book that it is.

More from On Leadership:

Paul O’Neill: Only the president can restart America’s engine

Michael Useem: Revising investor capitalism’s mantra

Be in the know on everything we’re covering here at The Post’s On Leadership section. “Like” our page on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

On Leadership at The Washington Post: @post_lead

Post Leadership Blogger Jena McGregor: @jenamcgregor

On Leadership Editor Lillian Cunningham: @lily_cunningham

By  |  01:58 PM ET, 08/31/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company