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November 24, 2014

Being Dick Cheney Means Never Saying You’re Sorry

Dick Cheney loves spaghetti. Oh, and he’s still unapologetic about pretty much every public policy decision he’s taken part in, including the march to war with Iraq 10 years ago, waterboarding suspected terrorists and the “Halloween Massacre,” a consolidation of power in the Ford White House that led him to become the youngest White House chief of staff in history at age 34.

R.J. Cutler’s documentary “The World According to Dick Cheney” opens with a shot of the former vice president at home in Wyoming, staring into the camera and answering a series of Rorschach-like questions from Cutler.

“What’s your favorite virtue?” Cutler asks.

“Integrity,” Cheney replies.

“What’s your favorite food?” Cutler asks.

“Spaghetti,” Cheney replies, laughing.

“What do you consider your main fault?” Cutler asks.

Cheney looks down. “My main fault,” he says, and the trademark sneer starts to appear. “Umm. Well, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my faults I guess would be the answer,” Cheney replies.

This exchange leads to the title credits and sets the tone for the movie, which debuts Friday at 9 p.m. on Showtime. There is not a ton new in it for those already familiar with Cheney. His drunken-driving arrests as a young man, the heart attacks, the work with Donald Rumsfeld in the Nixon and Ford White Houses, his time as vice president and his unrelenting public view that everything he did in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks was justified are all covered.

Critics such as The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever have criticized the movie for not offering a more penetrating narrative, saying anyone paying attention in the past 12 years won’t learn anything.

But there is value in getting Cheney, an architect of the way we live now, on the record about what he did and why. Cutler, granted access to a post-heart-transplant Cheney, gives one of the most powerful men in U.S. history the opportunity to reflect, to question, to consider things differently. He doesn’t. But there’s value in knowing that, and for reviewing recent history as it’s presented ably and strikingly.

Think not? Consider what Cheney says about incoming presidents holding “on to relationships that are no longer relevant” when choosing their senior staffs. Cutler’s next scene is of Cheney saying, “I was convinced Rumsfeld was the right guy” to be secretary of Defense.

It’s just one of many ironies Cutler liberally places throughout the documentary.

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