7 Clues To Understanding Dick Cheney

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    Just as Cheney believes bad things happen when the U.S. acts meekly, he believes the converse as well. "The reason that the 20th century ended with the forces of communism and fascism defeated and with capitalism and democracy increasing as the political and economic models people aspire to is due in no small part to U.S. leadership, backed by U.S. military force," Cheney recently told Mary Matalin, a top aide. "Our leadership and our might shaped the events of the last century."

    When Bush needed a new national-security strategy for the post-9/11 world, he turned to Cheney, who had been carrying one around in his briefcase for a decade. As Secretary of Defense, Cheney had commissioned two top aides, Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, to draw up a plan to reorient U.S. defense policy after the cold war. When word of the strategy was leaked, its muscular call for the U.S. to prevent the rise of hostile powers and act pre-emptively against states developing weapons of mass destruction was met with an uproar in the foreign policy establishment. But what was considered right-wing fringe thinking a decade ago is currently U.S. policy. Wolfowitz is Deputy Secretary of Defense today, and Libby is Cheney's chief of staff. The strategy they drew up for Cheney then reads like a blueprint for the Bush doctrine now.

    2 Late Bloomer
    On a personal level, Cheney was not always a bull-by-the-horns guy. After Cheney graduated from high school, Tom Stroock, a local oilman who was impressed by the young man, arranged his entrance and full scholarship to Yale. After four semesters, Cheney's grades were so bad, the university asked him to leave. David Nicholas, who has known Cheney since junior high school and who went to Harvard, thinks part of the problem was that the Casper schools had not prepared the boys for Ivy League academics. "We were competing with kids who went to Andover and Exeter, and they knew what it was all about," Nicholas observes. What's more, say those who knew Cheney then, he spent more time "in the bend-your-elbow club," as a former Yalie puts it, than in the library. Cheney hung out with his cohort on the freshman football team, stayed up late playing cards and drinking beer. "Dick wasn't big on studying," remembers Jacob Plotkin, one of his roommates.

    Cheney got a union job laying power lines in the blue-collar town of Rock Springs, Wyo. He stayed in constant touch with Lynne, who was in college in Colorado; he had had to endure teasing from Plotkin for writing her almost daily from Yale. On occasion, he drank too much — a practice that led to two DUI arrests within a year. Cheney told Nicholas years later that the arrests motivated him to get his career on track. In addition, Lynne, according to Stroock, "was firm that she did not want to spend the rest of her life married to a lineman."

    Lynne persuaded Cheney to go back to school. This time, he started small, enrolling in Casper College for a semester, then transferred to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where he majored in political science. There Cheney landed his first political gig, an internship in 1965 with the state senate, which was controlled by the G.O.P. It was his first engagement with the Republican Party. His father, a career federal bureaucrat with the Soil Conservation Service, and mother, a homemaker, were staunch Democrats who were proud their son shared a birthday with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But Cheney would never leave the embrace of the G.O.P. When he was a Republican Congressman, his father would kid him that "you can't take my vote for granted."

    Dick and Lynne Cheney were just ahead of the baby boomers. They were married (in 1964) and had two daughters (in 1966 and '69) as the grand social transformations of the 1960s were heating up. The responsibilities of a new family might have dissuaded them from joining the experiment of hippie culture, but that was not their wont in any case. "It was a time of great upheaval," remembers Celeste Colgan, a friend since the mid-'60s. "We talked about it a lot — Dick particularly. He was worried about the direction of the country. It was a tremendous wake-up call, and all of us got really serious really quick."

    Cheney, who avoided military service in Vietnam with education and then marriage deferments, arrived in Washington for the first time in 1968 as a University of Wisconsin graduate student on a fellowship. His patron, Wisconsin Congressman Bill Steiger, sent Cheney on a fact-finding mission to university campuses that had experienced violent anti — Vietnam war protests. As Cheney told the New Yorker in 2001, it was while he was attending a faculty meeting at his own school that he realized he no longer wanted to finish his Ph.D. and become a professor. The faculty members, he thought, were full of hot air, critical of everyone but unwilling to act. That, Cheney decided, was not for him.

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