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Jane Smiley Headshot

Dick Cheney is Crazy. Really.

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In 2002, my partner was driving his new van down a busy, but two lane, road near our house. He was slowly passing a major accident that crossed both lanes of the road, and it so happened that one of the tow trucks, which was going too fast, ran into the accident, was bounced off the vehicle it hit, and deflected toward my partner's van. It landed on the van. If my partner had been going any more slowly, the tow truck might have landed on him, but it didn't. The van was seriously damaged, but he drove home to tell the tale. And then there was the time, on the same road (though in a different spot), when a cop car making a U-turn in order to commence a car chase, hit him right in the front end. Nevertheless, and this is what I would tell Dick Cheney, we have managed to move on, to set aside our fears of automotive death, and go about our business.

We live in a valley. The road through our valley has been the scene of several horrific accidents since we moved here. We live north of Big Sur. Highway 1 along the Big Sur coast has seen its share of bad crashes, too. The one that sticks in my mind happened a few years ago, when an English couple forgot to pull back into the right lane after road construction and was killed at the next curve. There were accidents when I lived in Iowa, too -- four kids in the family sedan after prom, flipping over into a corn field. Every single person who survives or hears about one of these accidents could, in fact, go the Cheney route -- remain panicked and fearful about the next accident to the point of never driving (or of keeping a hazmat suit in his car, as Cheney was reported doing a few years ago), but most people recognize a couple of realities of modern life. The first of these is that life goes on. The second of these is that it doesn't.

Let's give Dick Cheney the benefit of the doubt. Let's say that he's terrified out of his wits that the US could be attacked again, like 9/11 (except there are no Trade Towers, so no attack like 9/11). What did we learn about 9/11? We learned that it happened (in large part because the Bush Administration ignored a clear warning that it could happen) and we also learned that we survived it. The other thing that most of us learned was in that in our fear and anger as a nation, we allowed our leaders (especially Cheney) to inflict on others, many others, much more death, pain, torture, horror, social disintegration, and gratuitous cruelty than was inflicted upon us. We learned that Cheney didn't know what the hell he was doing in his terrified effort to do something, anything, to respond to 9/11. And that's if we give him the benefit of the doubt.

The other thing we learn, especially once we get to Dick Cheney's age, is that death comes for everyone, even oneself. A sane person comes to grips with this and acknowledges that perfect safety is impossible, and that there are some things no decent person would do in order to save his own skin -- killing and maiming small children, for example. Those who don't learn this -- those who sacrifice others, many others, so that they might live, are also crazy.

If we don't give Cheney the benefit of the doubt, we have to say that he is pretending to be a man who is crazy with fear in order to once again achieve the sort of power that he lost when Obama was elected president. In that case, he's still crazy, he's just more coldly, viciously, sociopathically crazy than he is crazy with fear. If we don't give him the benefit of the doubt, we have to say he is crazy with evil.

Personally, I don't know which to pick -- I don't know the man. But I do know that he is neither laughable nor unimportant, and that every word out of his mouth, repeated in the press and the blogosphere, is destructive to us as a nation and to the psychological health of those who listen to him. Unfortunately, it is a trait of crazy people never to shut up. But we really really need to begin seeing him the way we see that paranoid old uncle we might have -- someone never ever to be listened to.