November 1, 2004

Review of "Dick: The Man Who Is President" by John Nichols

Review of Dick: The Man Who Is President by John Nichols
November 1, 2004

Dick: The Man Who Is President
John Nichols
The New Press
224 pages
ISBN: 1565848403

The vice-presidential debate last month between Dick Cheney and John Edwards brought some of the more sordid facts about Mr. Cheney (like his vote against Nelson Mandel) to a wide audience, perhaps for the first time. If Edwards was smart, he would have gotten (and probably did get) some or all of his debating points from a new biography of Dick Cheney called Dick: The Man Who Is President.

Dick: The Man Who is President is the very first biography published about our unelected vice-president. That this is the first biography is amazing for someone who has been White House Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, CEO of a major company, and Vice-President. But Cheney basically kept his mouth shut and left hardly any paper trail, which may well have contributed to his success in securing increasingly sensitive and increasingly powerful positions. As a result, Dick is only 224 pages, but it's amazing that Nichols found enough information to fill a book of even this size.

The book, written by Nation columnist and media activist John Nichols, contends that Dick Cheney actually runs the show. It's hard to dispute. The Bush family was grooming Jeb Bush to become president, but Jeb lost the 1994 Florida governor's race, leaving no time to be ready for the White House in 2000. The only Bush option was George W., who did win his governor's race, but had no tangible achievements to his credit, left every business he managed in shambles (including the state of Texas), and had a demeanor described by a National Review magazine writer as that of "a fairly unpleasant 53-year-old teenager".

Bush appointed Dick Cheney to evaluate vice-presidential candidates, who then curiously enough appointed Dick Cheney to be Bush's handler, er, running-mate. In one instance early in the Bush II administration when a gunman attacked the White House, Cheney was at his desk making multiple decisions, but Bush was found at the gym working out. In the days after 9/11, Bush was doing photo-ops, but Cheney was in hiding most of the time and spoke with decisive authority in the rare public interviews he did give. This summary doesn't do Nichols' case justice. Nichols expertly presents a formidable array of facts both of Cheney's power and background, and in a manner which never burdens the reader even though the story is disturbing. The book isn't just an indictment against corrupt politics, but it also indicts a corrupt media system which allows spooks like Cheney to get into office. Nichols alludes in various points throughout the book that if Americans had a functioning critical media, Dick Cheney wouldn't be in the White House today.

From a logistical standpoint, there was one small problem with the book's organization. The main chapters of the book included smaller sidebar stories which were placed inside of chapters and delimited from the main text with a gray background. From a reading standpoint, this might work if the sidebars were a page or two in length, but they were sometimes several pages long, and I found myself awkwardly having to keep my place in the main narrative while reading. I would suggest either making the sidebars short enough to flip through quickly, or put them in between chapters.

But this is a small criticism about the book's arrangement, and is overwhelmingly surpassed by the quality of the content of the book. Every American voter should read Dick to know more about who's really been in the Oval Office for the last four years.