On the Fourth of July, Dick Cheney surprised his friends and neighbors in Jackson, Wyo., by coming downtown for the parade, an annual procession featuring a rollerblading moose and a wagon of farmers tossing raw corn—the Wyoming equivalent of Mardi Gras beads—into the crowd. Cheney didn’t stay long and he didn’t say much. Mostly he chatted with folks about fishing (the water’s too damn high this year) and posed for a few pictures. But it was enough to reassure people that the former vice president, who had been rarely spotted during a year that combined recuperation from radical heart surgery with the burden of producing a lengthy memoir, was still on the scene.
This week, his book, In My Time, is scheduled to arrive in bookstores. Simon & Schuster paid Cheney a multimillion-dollar advance, and recouping it means mounting the kind of intensive marketing effort that would tax the energy of a much younger, healthier author. But much more than money is involved. After 40 years in the contentious center ring of American politics, this is Cheney’s last rodeo.
When he signed the deal in 2009, he was in bunker mentality—an embattled ideologue gearing up to defend a deeply unpopular terrorism policy under constant attack from the left. As his tome arrives in bookstores at summer’s end, the battlefield has changed dramatically. His defense brief lands after the court of public opinion has ruled—in his favor. President Obama has largely adopted the Cheney playbook on combating terrorism, from keeping Gitmo open to trying suspected enemies of the state in military tribunals. Obama’s drone war, which has quadrupled the number of attacks in the past two years, reflects Cheney’s whatever-it-takes approach. The leftist wrath once trained on Bush’s veep is aimed at the Democratic incumbent these days. Even the Bush-Cheney pro-democracy doctrine, born as a substitute rationale for the Iraq War after the failure to find WMD, is bearing fruit, toppling dictators from Cairo to Tripoli. The dirty little secret of the last few years is that the man George Bush called “Big Time” won. We’re all Cheneyites now.
But he’s still fighting the good fight—taking shots in the book at members of the national-security team who didn’t share his Manichaean view. George Tenet let the president down by bailing under fire, in Cheney’s telling; Condi Rice was wobbly on Iraq and suspect in her dealings with North Korea (Rice can return fire this fall, when her own book comes out). He’s rough on Colin Powell: “It was as though he thought the proper way to express his views was by criticizing administration policy to people outside the government.”
But then it’s no real surprise that he’s drifted far from Powell politically. Two years ago, he said on Face the Nation that he was closer to Rush Limbaugh than the general. He won the lasting admiration of conservatives for speaking out against Obama at the height of his popularity, while 43 maintained a studious silence.
On May 2, as the final version of In My Time was coming together, American SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Cheney praised President Obama, but the hit meant going back to the book for “updating” as his editor, Mary Matalin, put it. Whatever edits Cheney made, they didn’t require a change of mind about how to deal with America’s enemies. As the anniversary of 9/11 draws near, and In My Time hits the bookstores, Dick Cheney will have one more moment on the national stage to remind people that the policies of today were shaped by his strategic vision. And then, if his HeartMate II keeps pumping and the water recedes, he can go back home and fish in peace.