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Dick Cheney: Love Him or Hate Him?

October 2, 2011

I don’t remember much of my early schooling, but a kindergarten report card my mother saved notes that I seemed “a little self-conscious when speaking before the group.” As the year progressed, I was “speaking more confidently,” asking “worthwhile questions,” and, apparently, showing persistence. “Richard does not give up easily,” Miss Korbel wrote….My third grade teacher, Miss Duffield, gave me top-notch grades in English, arithmetic, reading, and social studies, and although she noted that my work in art and music wasn’t all it could be, she still concluded, “I have enjoyed working with Dicky this year. He has the qualifications to be a good leader.”
– Dick Cheney (In My Time)

I’m going to try to not sound like a hypocrite in this post, but instead someone who’s making a very strong effort to be objective, or at least not completely imbalanced.

I took a whack at Cheney recently (The Darth Vader of Leadership: Dick Cheney’s Misguided Memoir). He’s not my favorite politician or public servant. And until I read his new book In My Time I was an off-the-wall Cheney hater. Indeed, I recall looking at Cheney’s book in early September at my local Costco, thinking “Do I want to read this shit? What could I learn from the Darth Vader of America?” (Check out this MSNBC video interview with Cheney on his book).

Well, I learned a lot. I overcame my immediate instant reptilian response and bought the book. As a long-time student of leadership, I realized that to continuously stretch your learning you have to sometimes engage in activities you may consider repulsive.

So what did I get from Dick Cheney’s memoir?

First, I would strongly argue that Dick Cheney served his country – the United States of America – admirably for several decades. His memoir of growing up in Wyoming, his admitted failure at Yale, his two DUI convictions, his construction work and binge drinking, his 180 degree turn-around to clean himself up, his courting and subsequent marrying of the amazing Lynne Cheney, his entry into U.S. politics as an aide and later chief-of-staff to President Gerald Ford, his work as a Congressman from Wyoming, defense secretary under George H.W. Bush, his invitation to head Halliburton, and finally his running for Vice President on the G.W. Bush ticket in 2000 provides a stunning story of a very complicated man.

I like real people.

Dick Cheney – love him or hate him – is real. No, unfortunately he’s not Darth Vader reincarnated.

Sidebar: while midway through “In My Time” Sue and I had our four adult kids and grandkids over for supper at the end of September. My son, Michael, saw Cheney’s book on the end table and looked at me in disbelief. “Dad, how can you read this crap?” Well, this post is, in part, for Michael. Stretch your learning, baby!

Where I eventually parted company with Cheney was towards the end of his book where he explains (one could argue justifies) the Bush Administration’s actions on post-911. Cheney fervently defends the repressive Patriot Act, the Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba and, perhaps most reprehensibly, the use of waterboarding as an alleged interrogation method.

I’ve read and listened to too many experts, whether privately employed or former CIA and FBI agents, who disagree totally with Cheney’s stand on interrogation. I would personally like to think that some son-of-a bitch terrorist could be interrogated by waterboarding and spill the beans. Unfortunately, it appears that’s not how it works.

Gathering valuable and relevant intel is done through the route of patience, building rapport and persistent questioning and validating of the information provided.

I’m at a loss to explain what happened to Dick Cheney when he was recruited by G.W. Bush from Halliburton to be his 2000 running mate. A once highly respected public servant and politician transformed into one of the most recently despised people in America. I admire that Dick Cheney is not a waffler, like so many other senior government people and politicians. He stands by what he says and believes. He’s no bullshit, gets the job done, keeps his mouth shut and has little ego (one of the more notable things in his book, along with numerous self-deprecating jokes).

Yet, his sustained actions as they pertained to undermining the freedoms of Americans–in my opinion, playing into the hands of Osama bin Laden and his misguided followers-have dominated his past well-deserved accomplishments.

My opinion is that Dick Cheney’s revisionist history on the post-911 events, in particular the invasion of Iraq and the disastrous consequences, undermine what should be an enlightening book on political leadership.

If there’s one lesson for us to learn it’s that integrity matters, the moral compass that guides each of us during our lifetimes. I believe that Dick Cheney lost his moral compass at some point. The sad thing is that at age 71 he’s unaware that this has happened. He’s quick to blame others.

With all of this said, I still recommend his book. You may not find Dick Cheney huggable in the end, but you may have a better appreciation of U.S. politics over the past 40 years.

I am aware of no greater example of selfless service than America’s special operations forces. Someday when the full history of this period can be written, all Americans will know the contributions they made to defend freedom and our way of life.

– Dick Cheney (In My Time)

Click here to download my new e-book: A Resource Guide to Learning & Leadership.

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