Dick Cheney Updates “The Banality of Evil”
Half a century ago, Hannah Arendt made a scholarly argument that crimes against humanity, like those of the Nazis, are carried out not by brilliant fanatics or sociopaths but ordinary people who accept twisted social premises and pursue them as normal.
A new documentary, “The World According to Dick Cheney,” updates that thesis with chilling echoes. Like Adolf Eichmann, the VP-to-be was a school dropout heading nowhere in life until he found his calling as an efficient functionary dedicated to self-advancement in a cutthroat bureaucracy.
Scenes of Cheney’s Wyoming youth recall the 1992 film “A River Runs Through It” about growing up in Montana where fly fishing was a religion, with a handsome boy playing football, wooing and winning the town beauty but failing to compete academically in college and working as a power-line lineman with drunk driving arrests before getting into politics.
The parallels here between Cheney and his benefactor George W. Bush are striking. Despite class differences, both were headed toward an alcoholic cliff until strong wives deflected them, Bush toward evangelical religion, Cheney into political in-fighting. In 2000, they were a perfect match of fake piety and ruthless ambition.
Now Cheney presents himself as the ultimate realist with disdain for such gauzy values as honor while protecting the nation from terrorists, glossing over deceit about Iraq’s nuclear weapons, Scooter Libby’s revenge outing of Valerie Plame and other criminal actions in office that ultimately led to estrangement even from Bush in the President’s second term.