Who Is Dick Cheney?
Dick Cheney entered politics in 1965. Beginning as an intern for the Senate, Cheney quickly rose to power by first becoming an aide to the Wisconsin governor, then working for President Richard Nixon's administration in 1969. He served as Gerald Ford's chief of staff from 1975 to 1977, then served six terms in Congress before being appointed secretary of defense by President George H.W. Bush in 1989. About 10 years later, he worked for another Bush administration, this time as vice president to President George W. Bush in 2000 for two terms. As vice president, Cheney was known for taking on a prominent role in the Bush administration, being a more active vice president than what had ever been seen in the Oval Office before.
Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney was born on January 30, 1941, in Lincoln, Nebraska, to parents Richard Herbert Cheney, a soil-conservation agent, and Marjorie Lauraine Dickey Cheney, a former softball player. Both of his parents were Democrats. Cheney grew up in Casper, Wyoming, a town he would later describe as being idyllic with a classic 1950s feel. It was there that he met his high school sweetheart and future wife, Lynne Vincent.
Upon graduating from high school, Cheney was accepted to Yale University and offered a full-ride scholarship. He enrolled, but eventually dropped out due to poor grades. While attending classes, he worked as a power lineman in a working-class town. Although Yale had not suited Cheney, he decided to pursue college once more. He enrolled at the University of Wyoming, where he received a B.A. in political science in 1965 and an M.A. in political science in 1966.
During his time as a student, Cheney applied for and received five draft deferments and thus avoided being drafted in the Vietnam War, stating that he "had other priorities in the '60s than military service."
Early Political Career
With two degrees under his belt, Cheney started his political career in 1965. He worked as a part-time legislative intern to the Wyoming Senate legislature, which had a Republican majority. Cheney and his wife, both of whom had been raised in Democratic households, began professionally associating as Republicans. After Cheney won a national writing contest for student political scientists, he was offered a position as an aide to Wisconsin governor Warren Knowles.
Cheney and Lynne both enrolled in PhD programs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Lynne received her doctorate in English, but Cheney had not yet finished his dissertation when he received a fellowship to work in Washington, D.C., for Congressman Bill Steiger, a Wisconsin Republican.
Cheney later indicated that he wanted to go into politics because of his dissatisfaction with ivory tower academia: "I was always struck, because [there were] a lot of complaints about the administration, the management of the university, oftentimes about the students — sort of critical of everybody out there, because the place was chaotic at that time. There were days when the National Guard was out with its tear gas trying to control the protesters. These folks were unhappy with what was happening, but in all the time I'd been in Wisconsin not one of these folks had ever stood up and been counted on either side of the debate. They were totally disengaged."
Cheney and Lynne married in 1964 and went on to have two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.
Donald Rumsfeld and Seat in Congress
While serving as Steiger's aide, Cheney wrote an administrative memo discussing how then-Congressman Donald Rumsfeld should handle his confirmation hearings to become the director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Steiger showed the memo to Rumsfeld, who promptly hired Cheney. This was the beginning of a powerful Washington relationship that informed every subsequent Republican administration into the 2000s. By 1976 Cheney was chief of staff of the Gerald Ford White House.
When Ford lost to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, Cheney moved back to Wyoming to run for the state's sole seat in the House of Representatives. His high-stress political life was beginning to take a toll, though: Cheney suffered his first heart attack during the campaign, at only 37 years of age. Successful nonetheless, Cheney became a powerful Republican congressman. He won re-election five times, serving as chairman of the House Republican Conference and becoming House Minority Whip in December 1988.
Secretary of Defense
Before the 101st Congress could convene, Cheney was unexpectedly selected to be the secretary of defense for incoming President George H.W. Bush. As defense secretary, Cheney dealt with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the downsizing of defense spending. He earned the respect of the military with his careful handling of Operation Desert Storm.
When Bill Clinton was elected to the presidency in 1992, Cheney left the government and joined the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Though he contemplated running for president in 1996, he instead opted in 1995 to become CEO of energy services company Halliburton, which required him to move to Dallas.
In 2000 Texas Governor George W. Bush asked Cheney to head up the search for his vice presidential nominee. Bush eventually asked Cheney himself to serve as his vice president. Cheney then resigned as CEO of Halliburton and focused on the campaign. After a long and contested process, Bush and Cheney were declared the winners of the 2000 election.
From the start, there were signs that the Bush-Cheney relationship would not be a typical president-vice president relationship. Former vice president Dan Quayle recalled attempting to brief Cheney on a vice president's typical duties, which include fundraising and public appearances. Cheney reportedly replied, "I have a different understanding with the president."
In effect, Cheney served as Bush's surrogate chief of staff throughout his administration, with access to every layer of Bush's White House and many surrogates on the Hill. Fiercely loyal to Bush, and with no ambition to serve as president himself, Cheney was not a "shadow president" implementing his own agenda, but rather the person implementing the details of Bush's outlined plans. Heavily involved in both military and national security issues at the highest levels, Cheney greatly expanded the power of both the executive branch and of the vice presidency itself, even at the risk of exerting unconstitutional powers, many of which were later explored in a Pulitzer-Prize winning series by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman.
Perhaps the largest overstepping of bounds came from Cheney's involvement with the Valerie Plame scandal. In 2003, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, was involved in leaking to the press the identity of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent who was also the wife of Bush critic and ambassador Joe Wilson. Libby was eventually found guilty of lying during the investigation and was sentenced to jail; President Bush commuted his sentence but did not pardon him. Cheney later publicly announced that he disagreed with Bush's decision, marking one of their very few public disagreements.
Another major area of disagreement between Cheney and Bush was same-sex marriage: Bush is opposed, whereas Cheney's younger daughter, Mary, is a lesbian. Neither Dick and Lynne Cheney supports a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage, as they believe that states should be able to decide; however, they allowed Bush to form his own federal policy on this issue during the administration.
Cheney declined to seek the Republican nomination during the 2008 election. He then regularly appeared in the news as a critic of President Barack Obama's administration, though he praised President Obama for his handling of Osama bin Laden's assassination. In 2010, he suffered his fifth heart attack, though this did not slow down his pace of speaking and writing.
An avid hunter and fisher, his Secret Service code name was "Angler," and he made headlines in 2006 for accidentally shooting fellow hunter Harry Whittington in the face.
Cheney is generally regarded to be a man who used his power to do what he believed was necessary, and was not deterred by the consequences. Not one to either make apologies or skirt controversy, Cheney's legacy will likely continue to be debated.
Watch "Dick Cheney: Quiet Authority" on HISTORY Vault
- Birth Year: 1941
- Birth date: January 30, 1941
- Birth State: Nebraska
- Birth City: Lincoln
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Male
- Best Known For: Dick Cheney served four Republican presidents and spent six terms in the House. The former vice president specialized in defense, energy and the Middle East.
- World Politics
- U.S. Politics
- Astrological Sign: Aquarius
- Interesting Facts
- Dick Cheney became the youngest White House Chief of Staff in history after gaining the position under the Ford administration at age 34.
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- Article Title: Dick Cheney Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
- Website Name: The Biography.com website
- Url: https://www.biography.com/political-figures/dick-cheney
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- Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
- Last Updated: April 26, 2021
- Original Published Date: April 2, 2014