The Plank

A Semi-defense Of Stephen Hayes

By and

Far be it from me to get in the way of anybody ridiculing Stephen Hayes for his worshipful treatment of Dick Cheney, as Chris does below. But I think Hayes might actually have a shred of a point when he argues that Cheney's "low poll numbers are the result of his low profile."

Okay, Cheney's low poll numbers aren't the result of his low profile. I think the unpopularity of the war in Iraq, his shooting a guy in the face, and the pivotal role he's played in pretty much every major screw-up of this administration deserve the lion's share of the blame for his sorry approval ratings. But the fact that we hardly ever see Cheney probably does compound the fallout from the myriad substantive matters that make him evil incarnate. Because, in the department of appearances, Cheney does actually come across fairly well in the forums that Hayes mentions in his WSJ op-ed: debates and one-on-one interviews like those done on "Meet the Press."

Nick Lemann got at this six years ago, in a profile of Cheney in the New Yorker, when he wrote:

Cheney was facing me, an even look on his face. His legs were crossed in the Western-male manner, with the ankle of one leg resting on the knee of the other. His voice was deep, low, and clear--strong but not loud. The way the lower-right corner of his mouth pulls downward when he speaks connotes an ordinary man's matter-of-fact pessimism--or, in rare flashes, when it pulls upward, an urge to mirth so deeply suppressed that it could never make it all the way to the surface, only near. Afterward, when I listened to our conversation on tape, I was struck by how strong the theme of peril to the United States had been--struck because, as Cheney was talking, my main sensation had been one of immense reassurance. His presence had an effect like that of being hooked up to an intravenous line that delivers a powerful timed dosage of serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Everything felt kind of evened out, no highs, no lows. He wasn't going to be flaky or half-baked, he wasn't going to let his emotions distort his views, and he certainly wasn't going to be soft or naive. But whenever he suggested something that, coming from somebody with a more animated manner, might be taken to indicate a swashbuckling inclination, like that "very robust intelligence capability," his rocklike manner made it sound like the very least we could do, unless we wanted to be foolhardy.

Now, granted, Lemann wrote all this before 9/11--which drove Cheney off the deep end. And even Cheney's "deep, low, and clear--strong but not loud" voice couldn't camouflage the lunacy of lines like the insurgency in Iraq being "in the last throes." (Actually, come to think of it, maybe Lemann is really embarrassed by the above passage and wishes it didn't live forever in Nexis.) But I do think Cheney could well benefit from a round of media appearances--because, while his views may be crazy and alarmist, his public presentation of them isn't. Who knows, a Cheney "charm" offensive might even get his approval ratings into the mid-30s. At this point, what does he have to lose?

P.S. Reading about Cheney's "rocklike manner," it occurred to me that when Hollywood turns Hayes's book into a blockbuster movie, Michael Chiklis should get the title role.

--Jason Zengerle

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