Dick Cheney's Heart

By James Fallows

News about former VP Cheney's latest heart problems is not on the front page at the moment, so I figure it is a good time to make this point.

On general John Donne principles I hope every person has as full and long a life as possible. But there are specific reasons to hope that Cheney surmounts these problems and goes on for a while. It has to do with one more uncompleted cycle in his life.

We all know the cliche about people who switch from youthful idealism to mid-life flinty-mindedness. One version goes, If you're not a socialist in your twenties, you have no heart; if you're not a capitalist in your forties, you have no mind. I think there's an important addition: If you're not a humanist in your seventies, you have no soul.

It doesn't always happen, but we celebrate the examples when it does. The elderly warriors who become peacemakers. The tycoons who become philanthropists. The schemers and narcissists who become conciliators and mentors. If the twenties-to-forties shift reflects a growing awareness of life's hard realities, the later shift reflects an understanding of life's tragedies and unfairnesses and humanity's shared risks and hopes. Think of Ebeneezer Scrooge's last-minute conversion in A Christmas Carol.

Dick Cheney has been through a particularly marked version of the first shift, only. Those who knew him in his twenties and thirties, when he first came onto the public stage, remember him as a talented, understated, conciliatory, non-partisan figure who stood for "public service" in the classic, and classiest, sense. He was Gerald Ford's White House chief of staff in his mid-30s and was admired by the Republicans who served with him and the Democrats to whom he helped ease the transition to the Carter Administration.

Cheney's legacy through his fifties and sixties is, to put it mildly, different -- in the way he became the Vice Presidential nominee, in his influence on U.S. policy and values while in office, in his conduct since leaving the White House. Cheney is not yet 70 (he was born in January, 1941). For many reasons, I would like to know what kind of Cheney we'd see in this next decade. 

(For another way to approach this question, here's SF Gate. And thanks to reader BW for better Donne link than original.)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/07/dick-cheneys-heart/59955/