A Vice President With Few Virtues

A tough new Dick Cheney biopic is triggering some conservatives. Have they learned nothing?

So instead, I am summoned to a more urgent, if distasteful, task: to try and explain why anyone in the conservative movement (or anywhere else) would want to normalize Dick Cheneylet alone flat-out cheer for him. After all, this was a man who left office with an approval rating as low as 13 percent.

.. That’s lower than Richard Nixon when he resigned, lower than Jimmy Carter when he was replaced by Ronald Reagan. It’s as low as Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression and as low as Barack Obama among Republicans and conservatives.

Even today, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have triple the approval ratings that Cheney left office with.

.. To plagiarize what Andrew Sullivan famously said about Hillary, anyone with Cheney’s destructive track record towards his own movement should have been drummed out “under a welter of derision.”

.. We don’t have to be “ordered” to remember and revere historical figures like Reagan, MLK, and JFK, or be shamed into doing so. But who the heck did Dick Cheney ever benefit outside of the corporate-crony one percent?

  • What small, non-monopoly business did he ever give a chance to grow?
  • What did he do to improve our schools and police?
  • What did he do for balanced-budget conservatism, as he overruled Alan Greenspan and his own treasury secretary, gloating that “deficits don’t matter”?
  • How did Cheney make us more secure, with Iraq and Afghanistan all but ruined, Iran and Syria feeling stronger every day,
  • and ISIS having wrought its destruction—and with Osama bin Laden still livin’ large for two-and-a-half years after Cheney retired?
  • How do you defend someone who literally went to the Supreme Court to keep the minutes of his infamous 2001 energy task force meetings secret (they were co-chaired by Kenny-Boy Lay during the height of Enron’s rape of California’s power grid),
  • while at the same time suggesting the outing of a truly top secret CIA agent (Valerie Plame) just to get revenge on her journalist husband?
  • How did Cheney uphold Ronald Reagan’s mantra of curbing big government excesses when he justified warrantless surveillance and straight-up torture?
  • And what lasting benefit did Dick Cheney bestow on the conservative or Republican brand, with Barack Obama winning the biggest landslides since Reagan and Bush Senior?

It was my respected colleague Kelley Vlahos who solved the mystery of why some members of the Beltway press just can’t quit Cheney: “because they still won’t admit that the war was wrong.” Bingo. Expecting the U.S. to export insta-democracy to decidedly non-Western cultures? Putting overwhelmingly Christian and Jewish “viceroys” in charge of historically Muslim nations? Gee, what could possibly go wrong…

.. As chilling and thrilling as Christian Bale is as Dick Cheney, perhaps no scene in Vice is as squirmy as Richard Dreyfus’s impersonation of Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W., when he stands in front of a CGI map in the War Room and smirkingly announces, “There is no exit strategy. We STAY!” (If that scene didn’t actually take place, it might just as well have.)

.. Still, there are scenes in Vice that come close. For a biopic about a man who defined the adage “personnel is policy,” it’s fitting that director Adam McKay, who has a strong comedy background, chose actors who are known for being funny just as much as for their work in dramas. Those include Sam Rockwell as George W., Tyler Perry as Colin Powell, and Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld. (Reuniting Bale and Carell also indicates that McKay rightly sees Vice as an unofficial prequel to his financial meltdown dark farce The Big Short.) Like the aforementioned W., McKay’s Vice is a sometimes frenetic, sometimes eerily calm black comedy satire. And like Josh Brolin in W., Sam Rockwell plays George Jr. as an easily played and comical doofus. There’s no doubt in this film as to who the real president was from December 2000 to the end of 2008

.. Watching Bale as a terse, leering, manipulative young reactionary as he grindstones and plays people against each other from the late ‘60s to his Bush-Cheney heyday, one is struck by his shameless entitlement. Cheney uses movement conservatism and old boy connections as his own Uber. If Christian Bale is a slim and athletic man trapped in a fat and ugly body, Cheney sees himself as the Richelieu or Machiavelli of his own real-life movie, trapped just one step behind the real decision-makers—until he finally gets that chance to ride his horse from Aqueduct to Santa Anita.

.. The other key role among these garbage men is Amy Adams’ take-no-prisoners performance as Lynne Cheney. Mrs. Cheney had the straight-A brains and Ph.D.-level drive to be a powerful judge or executive in her own right, and was, according to Adams, a better “natural politician” than her husband. But as a card-carrying member of the Phyllis Schlafly/Anita Bryant/Beverly LaHaye-era Right from rural Wyoming, Lynne had less than zero plans to transform herself into another bra-burning icon. Instead, “she lived her [considerable] ambitions through her husband,” as Adams said. Adams even added that compared to the iron-fisted Lynne, her husband Dick might have been the “velvet glove”!

.. And as these Cheney-rehabilitating articles prove, Lynne wasn’t the only one who got off on Dick’s raw exercise of power and privilege. Watching Dick Cheney at work must have been intoxicating for a Dwight Schrute or Montgomery Burns in his small pond, for someone who coveted the kind of vulgar bullying power that Cheney wielded. It was no accident that Stephen Bannon famously and semi-humorously put Dick Cheney in his own hall of heroes, behind only Darth Vader and Satan, citing Cheney’s peerless talent at “disrupting” established orders.

.. Sorry, I’m just not there for conservative writers infantilizing Cheney and going all triggered snowflake at what big meanies the Hollywood libr’als are being to him. Christian Bale said it himself: “[Cheney’s] a big boy…he says himself he has no remorse, no regrets, he’d do everything again in a minute.” Exactly.

New York Life Insurance Sold Slave Insurance

Banks like JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo accepted Slaves as Collateral

Rachel Swarns of the New York Times joins us to discuss what she discovered when she followed the money trail of one of the nation’s top financial institutions all the back to the 19th century.
.. RACHEL: In 1847, Godfrey died in the Midlothian Coal Mines. We still don’t know exactly how he died, but in New York Life’s accounting of the deaths that happened, they simply described, “burned to death.


New York Life was good for its policy. And Nicholas Mills put in a claim and within months of Nicholas Mills’ claims— three months, actually— they paid up: $337. The folks at New York Life collected a lot of information, but not information that his family, today, might wanna know, or people looking at the institution of slavery might wanna know. They did not record his last name. They did not record where he was, or if he was, buried. Simply “burned to death” and “$337 payment.”

CHENJERAI: This payment to a Southern slave owner wasn’t coming from Charleston, or Richmond, it was coming from New York.
.. And slaves were often used by people who went to a bank, wanted to get a loan, and had to, as we often do today, show some property for collateral, and would say, “okay, I got these 20 guys here. This is my collateral.”

That was a very pernicious system because, if you think it through, what happens when that guy defaults? Well, we know what happens if you default on your car loan today. The bank will come take it. The same thing happened back then.

JACK: Wait a minute. There were slave repo men?

RACHEL: There were slave repo men.

It’s very simple. You default on your loan, you have given up some collateral, the banks then become the owners of that property. And so the banks became owners of human beings, of these enslaved people. They took them, repossessed them, and tried to sell them, because it’s just like in foreclosures, you know, they don’t wanna hold on to these distressed properties. You know, they’re not in the real estate business. Banks are not really in the slave owning business.

RACHEL: We are talking about, you know, there, there are contemporary banks that have this history, you know.

CHENJERAI: Could you, could you name them?

RACHEL: So some of the banks that were involved in this business, banks who accepted slaves as collateral were J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo.
.. CHENJERAI: So this how the descendants are responding? How are the insurance companies responding to this?

RACHEL: You know, no one really wants a call from a reporter saying, talking about…. their ties to slavery. It’s, it’s just not … A lot of people are looking-

JACK: Mm.

RACHEL: … for coverage from the New York Times. This is not an issue where anyone is happy about a connection.

This information about slave insurance and these records came out in the 2000s, when states and municipalities required companies to disclose their ties to this period of time. So, you know, there was some trying to say, “well this is old news, there’s no reason to delve into this.” In some ways, it’s no surprise that-
.. There was a lawsuit that was filed particularly against New York Life and other companies that was dismissed in 2004, after a judge ruled that the black plaintiffs had been unable to establish a direct link to the companies that they had sued, and that the statute of limitations had run out.

With the advance of genealogy and the digitization of records, it’s now possible, difficult, but possible, to trace these people, and their descendants to the present day.
.. JACK: And in terms of just Americans coming to grips with this history, how should we- how do we tell that story?


RACHEL: You know, I think, with a lot of these issues, you know, there is the moral question, right? And what do we do with that, as, as Americans? It is simply true that African Americans were not paid for labor, right? For a long time. (laughing).
.. Ta-Nehisi Coates obviously did that really provocative piece about reparations and arguing for reparations. And he actually was at a conference and he was talking about that debate in American society and saying… You know people were saying, “Well, what would it look like?” and he said, “You know, we can’t really talk about what reparations looks like if there is no consensus that there was a debt.”

And I think that’s where America is right now is trying to figure out is there a debt? And part of the work that I do, and the work that a lot of people are doing in this area and looking at these kinds of connections between slavery and today, is just illuminating those kinds of connections.

How Mary Bowser Spied on the Confederacy from within Jefferson Davis’s Confederate White House

Two brilliant women—one black, one white—assemble a spy ring in the rebel capital of Richmond, Virginia that eventually attempts a ‘mission impossible’ inside the military planning rooms of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

 

Related:

  • Mary Bowser was a Union spy during the Civil War. She was an American former slave and worked in connection with Elizabeth Van Lew
  • Elizabeth Van Lew: a Richmond, Virginia abolitionist and philanthropist who built and operated an extensive spy ring for the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Black Confederate Soldiers

Toxic Myths of the Confederacy (UnCivil Podcast)

A listener voicemail sends us deep down the rabbit hole into one of the most toxic myths of the Confederacy.

John Sims: Hi, my name is John Sims. um – I – I have a really conflicted past with this thing. When I was a teenager I was a part of an organization called the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And you know and over the course of like 2 to 3 years as I was a teenager I slowly came to realize how terrible the Civil War really was and how messed up the Confederacy was … And, so I, I don’t know, this subject is really like close to my heart and uh if you want to talk to me some more give me a call. My number is beep. Thank you.

.. From an early age he read a lot of history… and he remembers the first moment he fell in love with the Confederacy…

[MUSIC OUT]

JS: So when I was probably uh, eight or nine my uncle gave us our first computer, right. It was an old Dell Computer, right. And there was a game that was loaded onto it that was a Civil War themed game. You could move the little soldiers around on a map, plan the strategies out for how they were going to attack each other and things like that. The thing that appealed to me about the video game was that it painted this picture of the South fighting a-against a vastly superior army. They were outmanned, they were outgunned. They were the underdogs. And that really appealed to me. And you know as an 8 or 9 year old, I walked into the kitchen where my mom was and I went, “Mom! I, I think the wrong side won.” CK: As time went on, John became sure the wrong side won… Before he knew it he was deep inside the world of Confederate revisionism…

And he connected to other people who felt the same way. And it was there, that he got caught up in spreading of the one of the most toxic modern Civil War myths… Black… Confederate… Soldiers

.. CK: Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans talk about black Confederate soldiers a lot… and here’s what they’re saying… free black men enlisted in the Confederate army alongside the very men who were fighting… to keep them enslaved…. Let that sink in…

JS:  I thought, “well hey, this, this explains it. This shows that the institution of slavery was not as atrocious as, as many historians portray it.  “It shows that it must not have been you know as terrible as many people see it today if people were willing to go out and fight and die for it who were on the slave side of that institution.” 

[MUSIC OUT]

CK: Aiight…  let’s just stop right there… This idea that there whole regiments of free black men that were fighting for the Confederacy.  That’s that bullshit.

Enslaved people were on the front lines with their masters, but they were enslaved..None of them were enlisted as soldiers…

KEVIN LEVIN: in all of the years that I have been, you know, researching Black Confederate Soldiers, I have yet to find, uh, a single wartime account of a Confederate soldier, or a politician, uh, or even, you know a civilian on the homefront who claimed, that these men were serving in the army as soldiers.

CK: That’s Kevin Levin… he’s a historian who has researched this myth for almost a decade

KL: You don’t find that at all and I think that tells us something really important about this, about this myth.

[MUSIC IN]

KL: It tells us that whatever slaves were doing, in camp, on the march, on the battlefield even, that Confederates themselves did not consider what slaves were doing as constituting the work, uh, or the responsibility of soldiers.

CK: Towards the end of the war when the Confederacy got really desperate… they told slave owners that they could enlist their slaves as soldiers.…
But this happened just two weeks before the end of the war… so it’s unlikely that even these forcibly enlisted black men ever saw battle.
JH: But the story of black Confederates willingly going into battle throughout the war to defend slavery… it’s all over the internet…. On message boards and in blogs and in articles … including one written by John Sims…

JS: I wrote an article for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Put it in their newsletter, and it was on Black Confederate Soldiers. 

JH: The idea of black Confederates proved to John that the war wasn’t about slavery. Slavery was just a pretense the North used to violate the rights of Southern states.

After John put that article about black Confederates in the newsletter… he expected praise and admiration from his new friends. He thought they would love it.

JS: The response I actually got was either crickets, just nothing, no response at all, or, or grumbling. Like a, a response of almost like, “why would you lump them in with our people.” Like, “why would you lump in these- these, um, African-Americans with the- the valiant soldiers of the South?”

The thing is it solidified to me was there were segments of this organization that certainly were, you know, racist.

CK: John started feeling like the Sons of Confederate Veterans weren’t interested in history… they were interested in what they thought the past should have been
But John’s view of the Confederate history really started to fall apart after he dug a little more deeply into his own family’s past.
John Sims: The moment where things really started to break up for me was- I was under this notion that none of my family had owned slaves, right? And this is an argument the Sons of Confederate Veterans makes, is that most of the people who were in the South, the white Southerners, did not own slaves. So I was under this impression that, “Maybe, um, my ancestors didn’t participate in that dark, but small, part of the South,” And I couldn’t find any documentation that said that they were slaveholders, or that they were racist, and so I just, you know, I brushed it off, right?
CK: But all that changed when he found an old article about his ancestor Charles Burkham.
.. CK: I mean this myth is such blatant bullshit that it made us wonder… how did it ever take off? And when we dug into black Confederate myth… what we found… is that this revision history is actually pretty recent.
According to historian Kevin Levin, we can trace it back to its beginnings about 40 years ago….

KEVIN LEVIN: The first accounts of, of black Confederate soldiers really doesn’t appear until the end of the 1970s… And in large part in response to the success of the television series Roots.

[ROOTS TV SHOW AUDIO CLIP]

AMES: Get up Toby. Dammit, boy! If you don’t understand my meaning, I got a dictionary in the butt end of this whip that’ll make my meaning clear!”


FIDDLER: You do what Mr. Ames says now, Toby!

[END CLIP]

[MUSIC IN]

CK: For eight consecutive nights in the fall of 1977… families gathered in their living rooms to watch the story of nine generations of an African-American family. The story starts in Africa but spends most of its time exploring their lives under the brutality of American slavery…

Since the end of the Civil War, kids like John had grown up on the Confederate narrative …. that slavery was a benevolent system with kind masters. That slaves were happy

Now, American families were watching stories that changed all that. Roots showed in graphic detail, African-Americans being forced to change their names… being beaten and killed… but also that they had resisted slavery all along.

JH: Confederates, who had tried to control the narrative for so long… felt it slipping away

KL: You begin to pick up chatter among Sons of Confederate Veterans who are very worried that this very popular account of slavery, painted the Confederacy in a negative light. They’re worried, uh, that their own preferred narrative is, is jeopardized.

JH: Confederate enthusiasts had to respond… so they poured over Civil War accounts…looking for any black men near the front lines that they could portray as soldiers…. And they found them…  enslaved men in the camps…

KL: One way they can do that is by, starting to talk about camp slaves as soldiers, right? As full soldiers in the Confederate army that served in integrated units from the very beginning of the war.

JH: So they rewrote these men’s stories to fit their narrative… and they circulated these revised histories among themselves…  in Sons of Confederate Veterans meetings and other rallies… and eventually they got the story out of their private clubs… and into the media….

In the 1990s… there were two Washington Times features that suggested… there wereBlack Confederate Soldiers…

CK: And the story started to gain traction in other places… with even bigger audiences….

After the break, the story of Black Confederate Soldiers finds its way onto popular television….

.. In a 2009 episode of the show… the black Confederate myth took center stage..  a man brought in an old photograph of a white Confederate soldier seated next to a black man in a Confederate uniform….

.. JH: The appraiser tried to give context here… mentioning that it wasn’t unusual for a Confederate officer to go to the frontlines attended by what he called a “manservant.”

And while the descendant on the air makes it clear that his ancestor owned Silas…he also describes the two men in weirdly modern terms… like they were friends.

ANTIQUES ROADSHOW: They’re about the same age, joined the Confederate Army when Andrew was 16, Silas was 17 and they fought in four battles together

The men grew up together, they worked the fields together, and continued to live closely throughout the rest of their lives.

CK: But there was one family watching the segment who knew that Silas didn’t enlist willingly… and wasn’t Andrew’s friend…

MYRA CHANDLER SAMPSON: I was on the phone talking with my sister and her daughter was flipping through the channels and she started screaming, “The slave, the slave, our great grandfather.” And my sister said, “Oh, turn on Antique Roadshow. they’re talking about Silas.”

CK: That’s Myra Chandler Sampson… the great-grand-daughter of Silas Chandler, the enslaved man in the photo…

MCS: Oh, I was furious. I thought, “How could he? This is is ridiculous.”

[MUSIC IN]

CK: Myra had seen this photo growing up…. Many times. …but where Andrew’s descendant saw two Confederate army buddies… Myra saw something else …MCS: Ok when I see this picture I see Andrew sitting straight, and tall, and proud. And he’s thin. And he’s- He just looks like an ordinary Mississippi white man.

I see Silas scrunched down. Almost scooted forward. To make him look shorter. And I don’t know if he’d been told to- that’s the way he had to appear when he’s with Andrew.

JH: And, and when I look at that picture… to me, you can’t help but look at Silas and think, “the man is just miserable…”

CK: Yeah, I mean to me, it looks like he’s just looking at the camera going, “Do y’all see this bullshit?”

JH: (laughs)

CK: But Myra says no matter what you see when you look at this photo… there are basic facts about Silas and his life that make his relationship to Andrew and to the Confederate war effort… abundantly clear.

For one — the pension application that Silas filed…..describes Silas as a servant of a Confederate soldier…

Myra also found a letter from the Chandler family that lays out Silas’s real day-to-day responsibilities… and they didn’t include battle

MCS: Transporting packages, transporting messages from the plantation to the battlefield. That’s what his, his job was
CK: Eventually by researching Silas’ life, Myra was able to put together the story of Silas the person and what she found was a very different Silas than the manservant she saw presented on Antiques Roadshow

Myra told us Silas’ family was likely taken from Ghana… he was born in Virginia and taken to Mississippi, when he was 2 years old.

JH: Before the war, Myra says, Silas was already a carpenter…. He helped in the construction of many buildings on the plantation…. And he was loaned out to help build the courthouse in West Point, Mississippi.

MCS: When he went away to the war he had just married and his wife was pregnant. and so his son, his first son, was born while he was away with Andrew. And I’m sure that if Silas didn’t have a family, if he didn’t have a wife back home, and he had a chance to escape, I’m sure he would have. He obeyed his oppressor, and followed directions because he wanted to survive, and he wanted his wife and his unborn son to survive.

JH: When Silas died, his family had a mason symbol engraved on his headstone — to acknowledge his work as a carpenter.

But almost a century later, the Confederate supporters came up with a different idea about how to memorialize Silas Chandler

MCS: I believe it was 2003 the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederate Veteran uh, they, they put an Iron Cross on his grave and a Confederate flag. And they declared Silas a Confederate hero.
It was on all the TV stations and throughout the state of Mississippi. I, I was invited to the ceremony but I told them there was no way in hell that I would attend a ceremony like that.

CK: But of course, that didn’t stop them… and it went far beyond just the ceremony… pro-Confederate groups turned Silas into an icon….There are posters… even t-shirts with his likeness… One t-shirt features Andrew Chandler wounded in battle…MCS: And Silas is down on his knees, uh wrapping Andrew’s leg. And Silas has on a Confederate uniform with a Confederate cap at that time. And believe it or not I ordered that T-shirt ‘cause, ‘cause I wanted to see it.

JH: These groups… had taken Myra’s ancestor away from her…… They had redefined who Silas was.

MCS: It brought out a temper in me that I didn’t know I had.

If I lived in Mississippi believe you me,  I would have taken that Iron Cross off. I would have taken it off and burned it, and made a video, and put it on, on YouTube so they could see it. 

They re-enslaved him when they put the Iron Cross and Confederate flags on his grave. And made these t-shirts, and these posters that they sold. Making profit off of a dead slave – they have no soul. They have no soul  – just like their ancestors had no soul in order to keep someone a slave and to profit off of their labor.

JH: In the years of Myra’s research and fighting to get the confederate flags and the Iron Cross off Silas’s grave… that picture from the Antiques Roadshow went up for sale. It was sold to a private collector who immediately donated it to the Library of Congress.

JH: when people come into the Library of Congress, and, and go to look at that picture, what, what would you want them to see?

MCS: They should see what a slave was forced to do in order to save his life and the life of his family. If Silas had not done what he did, I would not be here, and my family would not be here. So, they should see a love story.