WASHINGTON -- Political dramas in the nation's capital usually partake more of "Scandal" or "Saturday Night Live" than of Shakespeare, but we may need the Bard's unrivaled eye for profound family discord to tell the full story of the Cheneys right now.
There are more than a few similarities between former Vice President Dick Cheney and King Lear: old men obsessed with the loss of power, attempting to pass their kingdoms on to ambitious daughters, each served by a loyal Fool for whom he cared to a pitiable degree. Cheney's even had the (White House) court jester's name of "Scooter."
Dick and Lear both are known for erratic behavior as they weather the storms of life. Lear rashly calls the French nobles to his court and ends up wandering in rags on a blasted heath. Cheney shot a friend in the face while hunting and later wreaked havoc on political decorum, calling the current president a "liar."
Each man is surrounded by a raging sea of three women. Lear's wife is gone, but he has his daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. Dick has wife Lynne and daughters Liz and Mary -- each with her own politics, motives and agenda.
Lear offers to divide his kingdom into three parts if each of his three daughters will testify to her love for him. The false-hearted Regan and Goneril -- spin doctors of their time -- clench their teeth and agree in syrupy, phony language. Honest Cordelia stubbornly refuses to exchange love for money and is banished, and eventually dies in his arms.
So who is who now? It's complicated. I know the Cheneys some, and it is clear to me that Dick Cheney wants to support the careers and lives of both his daughters and dares not judge one over the other. His desire to help both has set them on paths at odds with each other -- just as the daughters of Lear ended up at each other's throats.
Cheney, otherwise a straight-line conservative, has been notably benign in his comments on gay marriage, for the obvious reason that his second daughter, Mary, is a longtime out-of-the-closet lesbian who is married to a woman with whom she has a family. Mary has a consulting company and works on political outreach to gay and lesbian voters.
At the same time, Dick has plunged neck-deep into next year's Wyoming Republican Senate primary, riding ideological and rhetorical shotgun for his older daughter, Liz. She has spent most of her life in the Washington, D.C., area, but is now running as a tea party outsider. The more harshly conservative his tone is the better for winning Wyoming voters -- at least they both seem to think that is the case.
Lynne, the mother and wife, is as tough and remorseless as her daughters. She recently confronted and castigated former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) for his failure to support Liz in his home state. Then she denied the incident ever happened, which Simpson called a "bald-faced lie."
Like Lear, Dick Cheney seems destined to watch his family torn apart by his daughters' ambitions and beliefs -- and his own hubris. He claimed recently that he was too old for more politics -- that it was time for a new generation to take over -- but this one last foray could end badly, even if he doesn't end up on a heath in rags.
Follow Howard Fineman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/howardfineman