Straight Shooter

08.31.11

8 Juicy Bits From Dick Cheney’s Memoir

He got his internship director drunk to avoid interning for Ted Kennedy. He’s the best cook in his family. David Sessions picks eight surprising revelations from the former vice president’s new memoir, ‘In My Time.’

He tricked his way out of interning for Ted Kennedy.

Cheney’s experience getting around the rules started with his first job in Washington: an internship with the American Political Science Association that required him to work for members of Congress from both parties. Cheney worked for Rep. Bill Stieger, a Republican from Wisconsin. He fit in so well—“Stieger had kept me working closely for him since my first day on the job”—that he wasn’t ready to change houses and parties. So he met up with the APSA intern with whom he was switching places. “We had lunch and hatched a plot to make the switch on paper and show up for a day at our ‘new’ jobs before returning to the old ones.” After plying the internship director with martinis, they persuaded him to agree. “I never really worked for Senator Kennedy, although for the rest of my political career, I expected that any day someone was going to turn up paperwork saying that for four months I did.”

He didn’t approve of Ronald Reagan’s controversial scheme to improve relations with Iran.

Cheney was no admirer of Jimmy Carter, who he says had trouble “projecting American power.” But he had reservations about the way Reagan dealt with Iran as well. The Iran-contra scandal, in which it was revealed that the Reagan administration had been selling arms to moderate Iranian groups in exchange for hostages, broke just as Cheney was about to leave on an elk-hunting trip. “The freeing of hostages was undeniably a good thing, but it was clear to me that the initiative was ill-conceived. It violated the arms embargo that was imposed and … undermined our strict policy against negotiating with terrorists.” Cheney also criticized Reagan for supposedly not knowing that his administration was using money from the arms sales to support the contras, an anticommunist militia in Nicaragua. “He emphasized that he had not known about the diversion of funds to the Contras, which was better than if he had known, but troubling nonetheless.” Cheney ended up defending the administration in the congressional hearings on the scandal, but admitted that the scandal “represented serious errors” and showed Reagan’s “inattention and absentmindedness.”

He fired a general for talking to the press.

During Operation Desert Shield, which led up to the 1991 Gulf War, Air Force Gen. Mike Dugan said a little too much to reporters on a long flight to Saudi Arabia. According to Cheney, who was then defense secretary, Dugan had “ignored” instructions not to do so, and when the next day’s Washington Post arrived, Cheney immediately knew he had to make an example of Dugan. “I worried that if I tolerated what he had done, other generals would step out of bounds, and as the nation prepared for the prospect of war, I couldn’t tolerate loose cannons in senior ranks.” He told Dugan he needed his resignation by the end of the day, and Dugan “took it like a man.” He had been on the job only 79 days, and the firing marked the end of his military career.

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He was enraged when John Kerry and John Edwards brought up his gay daughter in the 2004 campaign.

Kerry and Edwards were widely criticized for mentioning Cheney’s gay daughter, Mary, during debates and campaign appearances in 2004. Cheney said at the time he had responded as an “angry father,” and writes in his memoir that he was “furious.” Even though the Kerry campaign was trying to use Mary to point out the absurdity of Cheney’s tacit support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which the Bush campaign was using as a wedge issue, Cheney saw it as an attempt to scare off conservative voters. “It was obvious that there was a concerted effort by the Kerry-Edwards campaign to remind viewers that my daughter Mary was gay, to bring her into the debate and into the campaign,” he writes.

He was traumatized by shooting his friend during a hunting escapade.

Cheney’s accidental shooting of his friend Harry Whittington in 2006 quickly became the punchline of Beltway jokes about Cheney’s coldhearted ruthlessness. But he describes the event as an agonizing episode for which he felt great remorse. “The sun was just starting to set on the horizon, and I did not know Harry had come up on my right. I didn’t see him until it was too late. I will never, as long as I live, forget the sight of Harry falling to the ground after I fired.” Cheney writes that the accident, which left birdshot deeply embedded in Whittington’s body, was “one of the saddest days of my life.”

He’s the master chef in the family.

Cheney suffered a mild heart attack right after the 2000 election, before the Florida recount controversy had been settled by the Supreme Court. He was in the hospital for an operation before Thanksgiving, “which wouldn’t have been such a big deal had I not been the one who always cooked the family’s Thanksgiving dinner. No one was in the mood to eat hospital cafeteria food, so we started trying to figure out how to have a traditional feast. Mary, my usual backup cook, was in Colorado, so Liz volunteered. Knowing she was short on experience when it came to turkeys, I wrote out instructions for preparing a Thanksgiving dinner on the back of some recount talking points.” His instructions were detailed and precise, he says, but ultimately unnecessary: Colin Powell’s wife, Alma, offered to make the family’s dinner. “She had probably been up most of the night to get it done. It was one of the kindest gestures we could imagine.”

He’ll give you the secret to picking a vice president.

When then–Texas governor George W. Bush asked Cheney to lead the search for a running mate, Cheney was happy to oblige. He reveals a few pro tips about making the “lists” that often become objects of intense speculation in the media. “Sometimes the media refers to the ‘long’ list and the ‘short’ list, but it’s really more like the list for public consumption and the real list of possible choices. Perhaps you’re trying to placate a certain wing of the party, or maybe you want to attract those who supported your opponent in the primaries. And so you mention certain people, although there’s no chance they will be chosen.” Cheney’s team had candidates “submit ten years of tax returns; copies of speeches, books, and articles; and videotape of recent TV appearances.” They struggled for a place to work without raising media attention, and they finally settled on the basement of his daughter Liz’s house in Virginia. When Bush made it clear he wanted Cheney on his ticket, Cheney and Karl Rove systematically presented him with all the reasons it would be a bad idea.

Bush was chastened by the intelligence failures of Iraq, but Cheney had no regrets.

In 2007, the Bush administration had the location of a suspected nuclear reactor in Syria. Cheney urged Bush to bomb it—twice. But Bush was doubtful, Cheney writes, on account of “the bad intelligence we had received about Iraq’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” Other members of the administration were also uneasy, but Cheney “found that regrettable.” He kept pressing for bombs. “I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor … But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”