The Nasty Cheney Schadenfreude

Cheney-haters are pretending to be concerned that Liz’s Senate campaign destroyed her family. But under different circumstances, they’d call her a hero for breaking with the clan.

Marc Piscotty/Getty

It’s hardly news that politics is an ugly business. But occasionally little moments reveal the depths of the mean-spirited and petty sensibilities that dominate so much of the discussion.

Liz Cheney’s Senate candidacy is one such moment.

Never have so many been so deeply fascinated by internal Republican politics in the distant state of Wyoming. And never have so many good liberals been so delighted at the thought of the fourth most conservative member of the Senate, Mike Enzi, returning to the Senate. Fantastic! Another solid vote against Harry Reid!

Let’s be clear: issues never drove the interest in this race. If Liz Cheney had replaced Mike Enzi in the Senate, their voting records would have varied very little. Indeed this was one of the fundamental problems the Cheney campaign faced.

No, this was all about a lingering anger at Dick Cheney and a desire to inflict pain on him through the circumstances of his family. Pretending there was some high-minded outbreak of concern over exactly which conservative Republican represented Wyoming is like trying to argue that rubberneckers slow down at gruesome wrecks in a desire for highway safety education. This was bloodlust, pure and simple. The media tuned in for Lord of the Flies, not C-SPAN.

Liz was accused of supporting her father and his policies and for having a falling out with her sister over gay marriage. Fair enough. But let’s imagine that other sons or daughters of vice presidents or presidents, current or future, run for office, a situation one hopes would be encouraged. Will it not be expected they will defend their father or mother and their record in office? Would we really find it appealing if a child ran attacking their parent?

Yes, Liz had a falling out with her sister over gay marriage. So what? The fact that two grown siblings don’t agree on an issue like gay marriage and have an argument is unusual? Are we really going to decide that inter-family relationships are valid criteria for selection to office?

If so, what does it say about our current president that his own uncle—okay half-uncle, as the White House so painfully delineates—is someone the president allowed his staff to deny that he had even met? Then, even worse, it turns out he lived with the man briefly when he went to Harvard but hasn’t bothered to see him since? This is a relative who cared enough about Barack Obama to invite him into his home when his nephew needed a place to stay, but the president has never invited him to the White House? Good lord, that’s cold. Or what about Obama’s brother—excuse me, half-brother—whom he rarely sees? The brother is a writer and very interesting man who says that Obama, when they saw each other years ago, scolded him for being “too white.” What’s that about?

Personally, I don’t give a damn about Barack Obama’s relationship with these family members, though his strange distancing is particularly odd from a man who wrote a book, Dreams From My Father, about his search for family connection. But I also don’t think Liz arguing with her sister is particularly interesting or relevant to the selection of a U.S. senator. Still, if the latter matters, so does the former. Which is it?

It’s fine to hate Dick Cheney just as it’s fine to hate Joe Biden. But for all you haters out there, just consider a few points.

For reasons that are probably understandable but frustrating, Dick Cheney seems to get zero credit for running the first—and only—female-led campaign for national office. His campaign manager in the VP operation in 2000 was a woman as were his top staffers.

Dick Cheney was also the first—and only—candidate for national office to include the gay partner of a child as if they were a spouse in every aspect of a campaign. The Cheneys were so far ahead of the curve that the media had difficulty catching up. Go back and look at the various ways Mary Cheney’s partner is described when she appears on stage with the Cheney’s in big moments from 2000 to 2008. And while you are at it, listen to Dick Cheney’s answer to a question on gay relationships from Bernie Shaw in the 2000 VP debate. Compare his answer to Joe Lieberman, who seems to be having a stroke.

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What’s most disturbing is the absolute giddy glee that was evidenced by so many random political types when Liz withdrew. My favorite was a tweet from Sally Quinn, “I wonder if Liz Cheney thinks that her losing campaign was worth hurting her sister, causing pain and humiliation to the rest of her family?”

Does she now? Touching. Her next tweet is about the white collar shirts her husband wears. This river runs deep.

Just how phony is all this scolding of Liz Cheney? Imagine she had a sibling who was a prominent anti-gay marriage supporter, say a pastor at a church, and Liz publicly broke with his or her position. Would she be accused of turning on her sibling? Or imagine if post-Bush accounts revealed that Dick Cheney had advised Bush privately against the Iraq invasion and Liz came out in support of her father’s position. She’d be heralded as a heroine.

Does Liz Cheney withdrawing from a race mean much in the long run? It doesn't have to. The last four presidents all lost their first races for federal office. They seemed to recover.

There’s no reason to believe that most who write about politics would ever support a conservative senator from Wyoming. But let’s at least be honest and not pretend otherwise. And let’s hope when the next child of a national office holder runs, the right or left, depending on who the candidate is, doesn’t use it as an excuse to try and settle old scores.

Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing all who have developed a new love for Wyoming’s internal Republican machinations on the upcoming Lincoln Day dinner circuit across the state. They serve a mean bison burger.