Dick Cheney’s book is different and it’s because he’s the author
Dick Cheney’s new book has set off a predictable beehive of political gossip in Washington, as the eight years of the Bush administration and its actors are again being prosecuted in the court of public opinion.
The former vice president’s book, which is harshly critical of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former CIA director George Tenet and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, follows in a long line of political tell-alls from the people involved.
While the artform has certainly proliferated in recent years – think Frank Bailey’s book about Sarah Palin, Andrew Young’s gossipy tome about John Edwards and Scott McClellan’s takedown of the Bush administration – the genre is really nothing new.
But Cheney’s memoir could be quite different — if it’s actually the kind of pull-no-punches tell-all that it’s supposed to be — and it’s potential for shock-and-awe has everything to do with the author.
First, a quick recap of notable tell-alls (with a huge nod to Jacob Heilbrunn’s great 2008 New York Times essay):
* 1939 – Franklin D. Roosevelt adviser Raymond Moley’s “After Seven Years” decries Roosevelt’s move to the left and airs the president’s various shortcomings.
* 1963 – Dwight Eisenhower speechwriter Emmet John Hughes’ “The Ordeal of Power” labels his old boss as too passive and neglectful of his political party.
* 1984 – Ronald Reagan’s former secretary of state Alexander Haig publishes “Caveat,” which settles scores after he was forced out of the administration.
* 1986 – Reagan budget director David Stockman’s book, “The Triumph of Politics,” criticizes Reagan’s economic policies.
* 1988 – Reagan’s former chief of staff Donald Regan, writes “For the Record,” which goes after Nancy Reagan, including suggesting the former first lady was beguiled by astrology.
* 1997 – Bill Clinton strategist Dick Morris’s “Behind the Oval Office” tells of an instance when Clinton physically attacked him after an argument.
* 1999 – Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos — now host of ABC’s Good Morning America — writes “All Too Human,” which while largely praised Clinton, also talks candidly about the former president’s personal flaws.
Then, there are a string of tell-all books to hail from former Bush White House staffers and political appointees, including McClellan’s less-salacious-but-also-critical memoir and a book from terrorism czar Richard Clarke, Iraq adviser Paul Bremer, and one based on former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s experiences.
More recently, we’ve seen this kind of memoir penned not just about commander-in-chiefs, but also regarding would-be presidents – including the Bailey and Young books (Palin and former veep candidate Edwards, respectivel, were their subjects).
Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s (R) ex-wife Jenny also became an author after her husband infamously disappeared to visit a lover in Argentina.
The difference between all these books and Cheney’s is the author. While the books listed above were often written by staffers and sometimes by political appointees, Cheney is a former Vice President of the United States. That gives his autobiography a certain amount of heft lacking from the others.
We don’t yet know how much Cheney’s book will focus on personal battles and score-settling. The most interesting and controversial parts of a book are almost always leaked before it is released in order to drum up interest, and for all we know, the rest of Cheney’s book could be a relatively sleepy memoir about his time in public office.
(For what it’s worth, Cheney has said there will be “heads exploding all over Washington” when the book is released — not exactly a soft sell. When the book was first being formulated two years ago, though, reports indicated that it was going to be more critical of President Bush than it appears to be.)
But if the book does resort to a large-scale recounting of the tensions within the Bush White House, it will be a pretty rare look at that discord from someone who was actually at the top.
At the same time, Cheney’s lack of personal appeal will certainly influence the book’s impact – largely because Cheney was a pretty unpopular figure throughout his term as the nation’s No. 2. And anything he says will be viewed within that frame of reference.
So when Cheney is critical of Rice, for instance, her version of events — conveniently being released in her own book later this year! — may very well win the day.
“Historians will piece together the record from all of the serious accounts of the main players in the Bush administration and come, ultimately, to fairly accurate conclusions,” said Bush White House veteran Tony Fratto.
In the end, Cheney supporters will probably come down on his side, while everyone else will judge the book with a large dose of skepticism for a character who wasn’t exactly sympathetic.
And another tell-all book will be in the public domain, for people to decide for themselves who’s really telling the truth. But the book is sure to be as unique as Cheney himself.
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