When 51-year-old Oscar-nominated filmmaker R.J. Cutler premieres his documentary of 72-year-old former Vice President Dick Cheney at Park City, Utah’s Sundance Film Festival, Friday, March 15, the largely liberal crowd won’t like the whitewashed version. Cutler let Cheney do his favorite thing, tell his story, his way, his style, carving up reality like a Thanksgiving turkey. “I interviewed [Dick Cheney] for four days, five hours a day, and he was incredibly generous with his time. Then on the fifth day, he invited us to join him fly-fishing. This is a man who is arguably the single most significant, non-presidential figure this country has ever known. Obviously a polarizing figure, and given his extraordinary place in history, I thought it was a great opportunity to tell his story, whether you agree with him or not,” Cutler told FOX-411’s Pop Tarts Column.
Cheney’s long and winding road started Jan. 30, 1941 in Lincoln, Neb., moving with his family to Casper, Wyoming, eventually leading to Yale University, where the record gets murky with him dropping out twice, eventually going to the University of Wyoming where he completed his bachelors and masters degrees in political science but not before collecting two consecutive DUI’s around 1962 and 1963. Two years later, he married his Natrona County High School sweetheart Lynne Vincent in 1964, getting his act together, completing his degrees, dodging the Vietnam draft with several deferments during the 1960s, until he got his political break in 1969 during the Nixon administration, interning with Rep. William A. Steiger (R-Wis.), who died tragically at age 40 in 1978 of a heart attack. Steiger death inspired Cheney to run for Congress in 1978, eventually becoming Minority Whip in 1989.
Cheney’s unique government history started when he joined Donald M. Rumsfeld’s staff at White House Office of Equal Opportunity in 1969. When Nixon resigned in 1973, Cheney rose quickly up the ranks of the Gerald R. Ford White House, getting several appointments, including Special Assistant to the President, until eventually getting named Ford’s Chief of Staff in 1975, replacing Rumsfeld after he was nominated for Defense Secretary. Cheney’s stock rose so fast that he was named Ford’s campaign manager in 1976, running a losing bid to former President Jimmy Carter, largely because of Ford’s 1973 pardon of Nixon. Cheney’s meteoric rise from Steiger’s intern in 1969 to Ford’s Chief of Staff, to Wyoming Congressman in 1979, to House Minority Whip in 1989, to former President George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary in 1992 was breathtaking.
When Cheney was nominated by former President George H.W. Bush in 1988 as Defense Secretary you knew Cheney was headed to the top. Cheney became legendary as Defense Secretary successfully driving out Panamanian strongman Manuel Noreiega and winning the first Gulf War—evicting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. Cheney made household names of H.W. Bush’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin L. Powell and the late U.S. Gulf War Commander “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf. When the war ended Feb. 28, 1991, Cheney had become legendary for accomplishing U.S. military objectives yet leaving Saddam Hussein in power for until former President George H.W. Bush took him out in 2003 at a cost of 4,886 U.S. lives and over $ 1 trillion price to the U.S. treasury. When Clinton took over in 1992, Cheney receded into the private sector.
Serving as Chairman and CEO of oil-servicing giant Halliburton, Cheney remained in the private sector until tapped by former President George W. Bush to head his VP search committee. After combing the GOP inventory, Cheney was tapped as Bush’s running mate in 2000. Despite his less than dapper appearance, Cheney dismantled former Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) in a one-on-one debate, showcasing Cheney’s vast reservoir of government experience, but, more importantly, his powerful personality, rarely seen in public but vividly displaying one of the most lopsided debate blowouts in U.S. history. It’s not that Cheney eclipsed Lieberman’s well-respected legal and political mind, it was Cheney’s wit and deep resonant voice that turned the otherwise garrulous Connecticut senator into milk-toast. When the debate ended Oct. 6, 2000 at Center College in Danville, Kt, the public witnessed Cheney’s charisma.
When viewers see Cutler’s documentary, they should look beyond the self-serving presentation and focus on what transformed a wayward Wyoming boy into one of the nation’s most successful and powerful leaders. “One of the things that will strike viewers, whether they agree with him or not, is that they will find many qualities that they want in their leaders: Loyalty, patriotism, a fierce intellect and a great conviction and passion,” said Cutler, pointing a little closer to those special qualities that launched one of the most extraordinary public careers in U.S. history. Cheney—a propaganda master—learned how to create a story, repeat it, stick to it and never waver. Whether the controversies involved his convicted felon Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby outing covert CIA operative Valerie Plame or “torture” at Guantanamo Bay, Cheney had his story and answer for everything.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.