Usually, vice presidential memoirs are greeted with all the fanfare of a PBS telethon, but politicos can't wait to get their hands on Dick Cheney's “In My Time” – reflecting his position as perhaps the most powerful vice president in American history.
Cheney himself promised that the book, written with his daughter Liz, which will be released Aug. 30, “would have heads exploding all over Washington,” in an interview with NBC's “Dateline.” But if they do, says New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani, who obtained an early copy of the book, it will be out of “frustration.”
“In My Time,” Kakutani writes in her review today, wastes no time with regrets. The memoir reflects Cheney's hard-line views on national security, “hopping and skipping over awkward subjects with loudly voiced assertions” to deliver “a book that is often so lacking in detail that it feels like a blurred photograph.”
There are a few revelations, she writes, including the fact that Cheney signed a resignation letter in 2001, in case he suffered an incapacitating stroke or heart attack while vice president, and that he spent several weeks unconscious after heart surgery in 2010. Also, the famous “undisclosed locations” were often the vice president's residence or Camp David.
And there is one apology: to Harry Whittington, the man Cheney accidentally shot in the face on a hunting trip.
The memories of Americans of a more liberal persuasion are, predictably, unlikely to square with Cheney's version of recent history. He characterizes the war in Iraq as one of the most significant accomplishments of the Bush administration. He also staunchly defends the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba (which he describes as “a model facility” that was “safe” and “humane”), the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding (which he calls “safe, legal, and effective” and says he would use again), and President Bush's response to hurricane Katrina.
Score-settling is, of course, a time-honored use of political pages, and those at whom Cheney takes aim include retired Gen. Colin Powell, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (According to Kakutani, Cheney depicts Rice as "naïve and inexperienced" in her dealings with North Korea.)
But Rice, at least, won't have to wait long before getting her own say. Her own memoir, “No Higher Honor,” covering her years as both national security adviser and secretary of state, comes out Nov. 1. Early word indicates that it may find a kinder critical reception.
“I think the Condi Rice book will be really good, and could be a counterpart to the Cheney memoir,” biographer Walter Isaacson told the Associated Press. “I loved that memoir she did about her parents ["Extraordinary Ordinary People"]. Unlike a lot of memoir writers, she’s a great storyteller.”
Yvonne Zipp is a regular contributor to the Monitor's Book section.