BOOKCASE : Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency

• Lou Dubose & Jake Bernstein • Pimlico (Random House) • $44.99

I was halfway through Imperium, the new novel by Robert Harris, when Vice arrived with instructions to have 400-word review of it in the editor’s inbox within four days.
“Sorry about the short notice. Probably have to be skim read.” Nice. I don’t do skim. I am slow reader; always have been. Fortunately, it takes just few pages of Vice to form an opinion: this book will be an indispensable resource for students of American politics and essential background for readers who live within the Beltway, Washington DC’s ring road.
They may even agree with the back cover blurb that Vice is “utterly gripping”. But they will do so with head start on general readers who find themselves plunged straight into the middle of fiendishly complicated plot with cast of hundreds employed by rival institutions flying under unfamiliar acronyms.
Journalist authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein devote their first chapter to detailed description of one episode in Dick Cheney’s rise to become “the most powerful yet most unpopular vice president in American history”. Only after establishing the extent of the man’s arrogant and devious nature do they go back and put him into the context of time and place. Republican Watergate survivor, he got his first job in the White House in 1974 at the age of 33 when Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, Donald Rumsfeld, hired him as his deputy. Starting as he did close to the top, his 30-year cruise through the political stratosphere, from White House to Congress to Halliburton and back to White House, is well chronicled in this book.
Dubose and Bernstein conclude with an assessment of the damage they believe the Bush/Cheney administration has done to the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government.
The best hope for the future, they say, is Congress controlled by Democrats with “the vision and political courage to confront the current constitutional crisis”. The 2006 mid-term elections delivered the Democrats; it remains to be seen if they have the vision and the courage.
In the meantime, the fine investigative journalism of Dubose and Bernstein will prove invaluable to Robert Harris should he ever move on from the Roman imperium to writing novels about its American successor. – Tom Frewen

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