The Cartoon Fall of the House of Cheney
Maybe this is a man who long lost touch as he represented a “heartland” that year after year lost a little more heart.
WEST HOLLYWOOD—In the anime Gundam Wing, Treize Khushrenada worships the battle and valorizes death—ultimately, or even especially, his own.
Looking west to the problems of Asia (or considering even the sorry state of enough young Americans, perhaps most of all here in Hollywoodland) it is plain that most men shouldn’t contemplate cartoons. Psychic spies from China try to steal your mind's elation; or perhaps it was Japan after all. But there’s nothing against the law about a columnist drawing on the well of childhood memory.
The Gundam universe is a parallel and future one. There is an open, revanchist aristocracy, replete with nineteenth-century shoulder pads; on tap is a de-Christianized worship of strength and black-tar power. At the center of the world is the security state, where mastery of the mobile battle suits, especially the “Gundams,” is the holy grail. It is the late 100s in the “After Colony” timeline; Elon Musk has gotten his wish, and we are no marooned terrestrial species.
Treize Khushrenada and his death-drive would seem an animated version of neoconservative magnetism, the idée fixe of William Kristol, if Kristol wasn’t a blunderer. But Khushrenada’s zeal for personal imperilment—skin in the game—is, of course, very un-neocon.
The anti-villain of Gundam Wing is a bit like what smart people who knew nothing about Washington, D.C., thought they were voting for with the George W. Bush–Dick Cheney ticket. And this writer's sense of not-so-random nostalgia for the series and its authoritative bogeyman is apparently not entirely uncommonplace: “Why Gundam Wing's Treize Khushrenada Is So Important,” “Gundam Wing and the Duality of Human Nature in War,” and “Let’s Talk About Gundam Wing for Toonami’s 25th Anniversary” are all contemporary headlines.
Which is why it was so surprising, in the run-up to his daughter’s Wyoming defenestration from the Republican Party, to hear Richard Bruce Cheney set forth, like a 1 a.m. emcee on MSNBC: “In our nation’s 236-year history, there has never been an individual who is a greater threat to our republic than Donald Trump.” I guess the Cowboy State wasn’t coronated until after Jefferson Davis.
Pass Christlike non-judgment on the actions of any parent on behalf of a child. I have no real idea how I would behave, after a long and turbulent life, amidst the death glare of the spotlight, acting not on my own behalf but in what I thought was the best interest of a daughter. But lost in another volley of never-Trump, skin-deep piety is the fact that Cheney’s message was actually off-brand.
Even for those who hold that his eventual legacy was ruinous for the nation, Cheney retained a charisma and legitimacy that the much dafter President Bush and his band of armchair Wałęsaists forfeited with the Iraq tragedy. After all, Cheney himself had—more persuasively, succinctly and authoritatively than anyone else—laid down the case against the march to Baghdad, in 1994.
Cheney changed his mind on Mesopotamia, sure, but surely that man is still there: “Darth Vader” (as the columnist-documentarian Matt Labash called the fly fisher) who got it wrong. The verdict on Dick Cheney was unanimous from anyone I conversed with who knew him: he could read people; he would say nothing; and then, at the end, he'd take over a meeting like Caesar Octavius.
That Cheney had backed Trump in the 2016 general election (after decrying him, emptily, in the primary as a “liberal Democrat“) showed a flash for survival that was vintage. It had been the stuff of legend for him and longtime sponsor and best friend Donald Rumsfeld. Here was one wildcatter from the badlands and one German who comprehended the party and the country more precisely than their doofus WASP betters. Such men were not featurettes on Ari Melber, lobster sliders for the “lawfare” set.
Until Dick Cheney last month became just that, all that, in the run-up to the unmerciful routing of his daughter. Rep. Liz Cheney ran a campaign for the hearts and minds of Washington green rooms over the denizens of her state’s jade pastures, and it was invincibly lame.
Meanwhile, George P. Bush was grounded, mean and hard, earlier this year in his fiasco-defined bid to parlay his Texas Land Commissioner post to state Attorney General. As an old flame once noted to me, we’ll have to wait until George X. Bush for Kennebunkport’s 21st century shot at the title.
Get daily emails in your inbox
This chronicler is told reliably that the deputy and principal of the winning 2000 and 2004 presidential tickets have hardly spoken, if at all, since departing office, beyond the perfunctory public niceties at joint appearances. But maybe any rubicund gloss of Cheney as a simple but significant hard man of capability—that he was, the highest compliment, a true pro—was lacking all along.
Perhaps this was the man who had not only voted for but ingested the worldview of “free” trade. Perhaps ideological filtering is dross and he had suffered the democratists’ naivete quite willingly, in his zeal to provide state failure to Iraq. Maybe this is a man who long lost touch, along with a whole cadre of leadership, as he represented a “heartland” that year after year lost a little more heart.
The Dick Cheney of 2022, twenty years after the true heat of his Bismarckian performance as vice president, is a dark and diminished man in an odd twilight.