Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue

There is no power on earth that can convince me to read a 816 page book about the relationship of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But Eleanor Clift’s review of Peter Baker’s tome on the U.S. Supreme Court’s most famous beneficiaries, published in our November-December issue, is entirely digestible and perfectly timed for Halloween.

I somehow did not know until now that Cheney’s estrangement from W. began with a wild collision between Mary Matlin and the White House press office over how to spin the Veep’s famous shot-in-the-face incident. Some events, of course, are unspinnable, unless one is willing to embrace the popular image of one’s boss as, well, evil (“I’m always a bit shy around evil people,” said comedian Craig Ferguson of an encounter with Cheney).

While Clift provides a good sample of the book’s tone, depth and sourcing, I remain a bit unclear about the exact pace of the downward trajectory that reduced Cheney from the all-powerful brooding presence behind every decision to the time-server whining endlessly about a pardon for his loyal retainer Scooter. Maybe there was a quick descent after the shot-in-the-face incident; becoming a self-parody can take a lot out of a public figure. But the general sense I get from Clift’s review is that Bush, like Richard Nixon, benefitted from having a running-mate who made millions of people pray for his good health each day.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.