There's something about former Vice President Dick Cheney that's been struggling to get out like a rare bald eagle chick ready to hatch. After listening to his remarks this weekend about Rush Limbaugh (loves him) and Colin Powell (doesn't), and his jut-jawed "I don't regret anything" moment on CBS, I know what it is:
Mr. Cheney is now replacing Richard Nixon in the national political and cultural consciousness as the Gorgeous George of our era, the guy whose very existence makes some people furious and who brings to the surface all those intense and complex emotions about power and the people who wield it. And, like Mr. Nixon, the former Bush Veep can't help himself and won't ever stop reopening the wounds.
Forget Rush Limbaugh, dissed by Barack Obama at the one-big-happy-family White House Correspondents' Dinner. Mr. Limbaugh is just a voice, albeit successfully shrill and hugely popular. He's irritating or entertaining, depending on your politics. But he's no Nixon, whose image alone could trigger spasms in the national psyche.
Rush is often called bad but rarely evil.
This Cheney role comes just in time for those of us who were reminded by "Frost/Nixon" just how much we missed the original. As knotty as the man was himself, he could somehow make everything else seem clearer. Life without him appeared colorless, less darkly symphonic. While he was around, kicked after a defeat or voted in by a landslide, he provided psychological hand-holds in a post-1950s world where there was always mysterious and dangerous trouble lurking somewhere. He gave a face to your fears, whether you feared him or worried about the things he feared.
Mr. Nixon's Shakespearean behavior was always a giant societal Rorschach, and continued to be well after he left the White House amid charges that he shredded the Constitution. Other than George W. Bush, apparently renditioned into the Texas brush, who else can complainers say that about these days other than Dick Cheney?
But Mr. Cheney is like the Nixon Terminator 2, T-1000, the improved version. Torture, OK, but no self-torture with him.
Mr. Cheney does not have the jowly, 3 a.m., talking to portraits and praying with Henry Kissinger (pick a more trustworthy prayer partner!) madness of Richard Nixon, or his visionary command of foreign policy and political detail. There's still a Nixon hole where the philharmonic complexity of the character can never be filled by anyone else.
But Richard Cheney's self-assured manner makes up for Nixon's gnawing self-consciousness. Mr. Cheney isn't seeking revenge for past perceived slights. He's just still hunting down the guilty with the sure-footedness of an official Inquisitor. Even out of power he perseveres, fearlessly defenestrating those he thinks are weakening the country, including Barack Obama, who he essentially accused of giving comfort to the enemy by getting squishy on terrorists.
And on Face the Nation Sunday, he even used the word "enemies." OK, he was quoting the oath of office, but it still had that old familiar ring.
Most interesting, though, is that there's a whole separate standard for Mr. Cheney, as there came to be for Richard Nixon. Wanda Sykes can get by calling Rush Limbaugh a traitor at the Correspondents' dinner -- and wishing for his death. But when Mr. Cheney suggests Colin Powell is a Democrat, watch out!
By the way: if Ann Coulter started calling herself a comedienne (only she wouldn't use the Frenchy version), would she be invited to emcee the White House/press gang bang so she could be shocking and accusatory, because she's so good at that? Or have we done away with any pretext of unbiased/fair-and-balanced press events? Just asking.
This is why Mr. Cheney is such a refreshing pail of water on the face of feel-good hypocrisy loose on the land these days. He is what he is, like it or not. The only question left is: who will be the present day David Frost? Maybe someone from The View.
Welcome back, Dick.