Frank Donatelli, the Reagan Ranch Board of Governors Chairman introduced Dick Cheney as someone who while in Congress, “Formed a good and coherent minority with Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, and Jack Kemp.” Donatelli gives Cheney credit for keeping America safe from terrorism, “Due to his policies and his determination, our country was not attacked again after 9-11.” Oh my God. But we were attacked on 9-11 under his watch. And we haven’t been attacked under Obama’s watch and yet they are the folks who are “strong” on defense. Okay, I need to adjust my orientation here.
Dick Cheney, who is sitting down for the entire speech after which he will take interview questions, is reading from his book like a grandfather reading to his family at Christmas. The juxtaposition with the Palin stump speech last night is striking. As much as I don’t like Cheney, I am struck by how intelligent he is compared to Sarah Palin. How composed and civil he seems. This frightens me.
Reflecting on President Reagan and what he meant to the country, Cheney talks about when he knew Reagan. Cheney discussed his presence at Ford and Reagan’s first meeting in 1974. Cheney was Chief of Staff to President Ford when Ford met Reagan on the way to a Republican fundraiser, in a prelude to 1976 nomination. Cheney saw enough of Governor Reagan to know he would give those in the White House a run.
Cheney discussed the tension among Republicans as Reagan geared up to challenge Ford, noting that he was on the other side, but he support the idea of adding Reagan to the GOP ticket in 1976, but it didn’t happen. He says it took the Carter presidency to really set the stage for a Reagan presidency – “by 1980 all of us were Reaganites.” These days at a distance of a generation pundits say things were more civil back then, but he doesn’t remember it that way.
Cheney says that the Reagan years were not a gentler time in politics. Reagan had a tough time with Congress with major policy differences re Iran Contra. (With good reason, when a presidential administration is breaking the law, with an illegal scheme to secretly fund the Contras, things should get a little rough. However, Iran Contra would end up looking tame compared to the George W. Bush years).Cheney’s rarely seen politics get any rougher than it did in that period. He says that civility the 1980’s are known for is not because Reagan’s opponents conducted themselves well but because a gentleman was in the White House.
Cheney fully engaged in the Reagan mythology that gives Reagan credit for singularly ending the Cold War. Cheney takes a shot at liberals for not supporting the Reagan military buildup. Cheney said that The Reagan military buildup achieved the victory in spite of the constant hectoring of the left – that military build up that assured our victory in the Cold War. Cheney expanded the Reagan myth by giving Ronald Reagan credit for the US victory in the Gulf War.
Cheney closes with an uplifting note, saying that thank you is a good place to start with Reagan, as he was an idealist. Reagan inspired affection that goes to only the truly good- kindness, decency marked his life. We should be thankful he came along when this nation and all the world needed him most.
Whew. That was a lot different than transcribing while live blogging Palin’s garbled speech. Cheney’s speech actually managed to discuss Reagan, which put it light years ahead of Palin’s speech in content, but his tone was also a marked difference from the screeching hate we have grown accustomed to.
Things have gotten so bad among the Right that Dick Cheney appeared civil and comforting tonight simply because he comported himself with proper decorum as the circumstances warranted and he honored the man he was supposed to honor instead of using this as an opportunity to spread more senseless hate poisoned red meat to his base.
Of course, the former vice president’s remarks were filled with full blown tributes to the Reagan mythology, but Cheney came off more as a grandpa waxing nostalgically to the kids about the good old days, and the way things used to be than a current politician angling for future political riches.
It could have been his frail health, but Dick Cheney looked and sounded like a retired politician. We all know that politicians are like boxers, in that no retirement is ever permanent, but if there was ever a politico who looked out of the game even for one night, it was Cheney.
When looked at through the context of even the brief history that Cheney discussed, it is easy to see why the right idolizes Reagan. The modern political era is littered with failed Republican presidents. Cheney himself worked for three of them, Ford, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Except for Ike, Reagan is the only popular Republican president of the last half century.
In contrast, despite having fewer presidents, Democrats have three personally popular current and former occupants of the White House, Kennedy, Clinton, and Obama. Reagan looks like an ever bigger giant because the pickings are so slim on the Republican side.
Dick Cheney could have shown us his partisan side, but unlike Palin, Cheney understood the legacy that he was honoring, so for one night, Dick “go f**k yourself” Cheney took a backseat, and what took it’s place was an old man who was reliving some of the rare glory days of Republican politics. The contrast between Palin and Cheney highlights the fact that these are indeed strange days.