The Heart’s Foundation

The Heart’s Foundation

Is Dick Cheney running for his life?

Elisabeth Bumiller’s story detailing a scenario by which Dick Cheney could make his graceful exit from the Bush ticket of 2004, reported on page one of the July 15 New York Times, marks the public debut of a rumor that has swirled in private from almost the very moment of Cheney’s ascendance to the position of Vice-President in January 2001. He is arguably the most controversial VP since Nelson Rockefeller, whose presence behind Gerald Ford — who survived multiple assassination attempts — rounded out the only ticket in history in which neither person had ever been vetted by voters. Even the current President’s father, despite the many, many conspiracy theories built around him, failed to generate the sort of wholesale heat Cheney catches from casual observers.

Cheney’s place in history has not been fully defined of yet, and that is the main reason why he is likely to remain on board with Bush. We’ve all heard the stories about his heart: four heart attacks, the first before age 40, the most recent shortly after the 2000 election (a mild one for a mild November); a pacemaker; an angioplasty to open an artery in 2001, and a stent to keep it open. CNN reported that, whereas a “normal” heart pumps 60% of its blood through the left ventricle into the blood stream, Cheney’s only pumps 40%. He’s one heartbeat away from the Presidency, but he is one heartbeat away from any number of things, which begs the question of why a man worth as much as $85 million would bother with the stress attendant to his position.

The real story, beneath the heart-hype, is that Dick Cheney has consistently put his own life at risk to do a job that many of the American people hate him for doing. This hate is encouraged by popular depictions of Cheney as a “puppetmaster” whose sinister machinations are behind the push for war in Iraq, for starters. It’s not enough for Bush’s enemies to maintain that he “stole” his job from Al Gore (who never really seemed to want it); they must also allege that he doesn’t even run his own operation. In their haste to undermine Bush, they have elevated Cheney to mythic status, and this legend only grows with each breath, each bunker reference, each Darth Vader joke.

His recent remarks to Senator Leahy of Vermont — a leading proponent of the “Cheney has an unnatural amount of influence with the President” school of thought — added a new and needed dimension to Cheney’s public persona. With John Edwards on board as John Kerry’s running-mate, Democrats are apparently stuck with an amazingly bad ticket, and they must compensate with vitriolic attacks typified by the ravings of Michael Moore, Lyndon LaRouche and the Soros left. Edwards, on the stump, dishes hokum from his pot of populist slogans, backed by his earnings from a “new economy” that was gone long before Cheney signed on with Bush in summer 2000.

The epithet Cheney slung at Leahy is a perfectly logical response to the sort of “optimistic” attacks he can expect from this year’s keynote speaker at the Bilderberg Group. Kerry, at least, has taken the time to establish himself as a player on the national scene, even if the only substantive differences between 2004 and his failed campaign of 1988 are a truncated primary process and the loss of nearly 1,000 American lives in Iraq, a country he first voted to bomb in 1991, then continued to support 12 years of sanctions, right up through his vote to bomb them again in 2003. And then he voted against it.

For the Democrats to defeat “Bush/Cheney” this year will require the airing of so much dirty bipartisan laundry that it may ruin the losers and leave the winners crippled to govern in a period of global crisis. And for the incumbents to survive in such a divisive climate, they will have to up the ante. They would begin, I’m sure, by pointing out that John Kerry was raised in Boston, has represented the state of Massachusetts for 18 years in the Senate, mined his “JFK” initials into a Kennedy connection for political copper and was handed his party’s official nomination in Boston late last month — then asking why his campaign is based in Pittsburgh.

The sacrifices he has already made for his party suggest that Cheney would not hesitate to leave the ticket if he believed it would ensure Bush’s reelection. There are a number of tantalizing possibilities in his absence, beginning with George HW Bush and running on through the standard list. But as it stands today, Cheney is the perfect man to have in that spot, because real world voters can respect someone who makes no special effort to be liked by people who are unlikely to do so under any conditions. Besides, it may well be all that stress, all that action that keeps the man going.

A few years ago, someone’s mistake at CNN resulted in their website briefly displaying some of the mock-up tributes done for people who had not yet died. This is a fairly widespread practice in the industry, but rarely are these things made public. They are made for men who, in theory, could die at any moment, but whose longevity had become part of their mystique. Two have since left us: Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope. Four survive: Pope John Paul II, Gerald Ford, Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro. Of the seven mock-ups known to have existed at the time, the only one prepared for someone under 70 was for Dick Cheney (“1941-2001”). It quotes him following his fourth heart attack: “I’ve had a fairly successful career in the public and private sectors… I am unusually blessed.” He was then 58 years old, and his physical fate is nothing for anyone outside his circle to be openly speculated about.

If Cheney chooses to leave the ticket this year, or if the choice is made for him, his loss will be cheered by people who have barely any idea what’s really happening to this country. If, however, Cheney ends up being the first VPOTUS to die in office since William King in 1853, history may remember him as having gone down fighting against an enemy that has barely revealed itself yet. It is this solid, steady zealousness in the face of overwhelming odds that is Dick Cheney’s true gift to the United States, and to the man charged with its stewardship.

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