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Exit Stage Right: Cheney Wheels Off to Thunderous Applause

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In all the hoopla surrounding President Obama's much-anticipated inauguration and ex-President Bush's long-awaited departure, former Vice President Dick Cheney seems to have quietly wheeled off into the sunset. Is that really the most fitting denouement for possibly the most important character of the reactionary soap opera that was the last eight years? I guess with liberty dead, it's hard to hear the thunderous applause anymore.

At least Cheney's little wheelchair escapade at the inauguration did receive some clever input from policy wags and wonks, comparing him to Mr. Potter of It's a Wonderful Life fame, the evil chair-bound banker who drives the kindly George Bush - er, George Bailey, that is -- to financial ruin. This analogy actually sets up well for the Bushies themselves, who no doubt are penning vituperative musings about Ol' Dick right now, laying the blame at his feet for everything from Iraq and the economy to hurricanes and the Dallas Cowboys missing the playoffs. Good move, Dick: Exit stage right. And fast.

Dick Cheney as Mr. Potter? Close, but not quite.

Some have also speculated that Cheney's inaugural moment was actually more reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove, including (really!) Tom Brokaw:

"It's unfortunate for Vice President Cheney to have had this accident obviously, because there will be those who don't like him, who will be writing tomorrow that he had a Dr. Strangelove appearance as he appeared today in his wheelchair. It's not something he'll be happy about going out in a wheelchair because he prides himself on his robustness."

Surely you remember the Peter Sellers portrayal of the evil chair-ridden genius who found a silver lining in nuclear apocalypse -- namely that male powerholders would have to spend decades in a deep underground mine shaft with women selected primarily for their physical attributes, riding out the toxic radiation while they "breed prodigiously." Underground undisclosed location? Maniacal secret plot to survive nuclear winter? This seems like Ol' Dick, but the thought of him getting busy with beauty queens is just too sickening to seriously consider. Plus there's that heart thing, after all, or the lack thereof.

Dick Cheney as Dr. Strangelove? Promising, but too nauseating.

The other leading Cheney-in-wheelchair comparison floating around out there is to James Bond arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the commander of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. who murdered Bond's wife. In the novels that gave rise to the Bond films, Blofeld was described "as drastically changing his personality and appearance in order to hide from Bond," which is consistent with the film portrayals in which "Blofeld's physical appearance and personality varies wildly due to the change of actors." This is where the comparison derails for me -- our Dick was remarkably consistent in appearance and personality (unfortunately), and seemingly the role was played by only the one arch-villain himself.

Dick Cheney as Blofeld? Compelling, but ultimately flawed.

The last major Cheney-in-chair analogy is to The Penguin from the Batman series, amazingly described in Wikipedia as "a short, obese man" and "a mobster-type criminal" who sees himself as a "gentleman of crime." By the time of the 1992 film Batman Returns, however, the character takes an even darker turn from its earlier incarnation, becoming "a physically deformed, psychopathic mass murderer." This characterization of Cheney-as-Penguin was mostly forwarded by comment-posters to various blogs, who indeed have a knack for clarity and wit. Still, I always liked the old Burgess Meredith portrayal of The Penguin and would hate for Ol' Dick to tarnish that image.

Dick Cheney as The Penguin? Perhaps, but too real.

So here's my personal favorite, one that hasn't gotten a lot of buzz so far: Bob Roberts. This was Tim Robbins's hilarious, devastating, and spot-on depiction of a right-wing, arch-conservative politician who makes his name through various forms of hypocrisy, deceit, deal-making, scandal-mongering, and outright lies. All of this becomes crystal clear in the film's final reel, during the closing moments of a neck-and-neck election, when Roberts is confined to a wheelchair following a purported assassination attempt. Despite claims that he's paralyzed from the waist down, film viewers are shown a chair-bound Roberts tapping his feet at an election celebration, having swept to victory on a tide of public sympathy.

Dick Cheney as Bob Roberts? Yep, you betcha!

This one fits the bill for me, and might do so for many of the clever Huffington Posters out there wondering what Cheney had up his sleeve with all of this. A hypocritical right-winger undergoing a character assassination who plays for sympathy in the final act? Ol' Dick is pretty smart at that, leaving an indelible image of helplessness and enfeeblement in the minds of viewers, preemptively casting a pall on attempts to lay the blame for Bush's failures (and crimes, perhaps) at his feet. From Potter to Roberts, right out of central casting, here's a man who connects the dots from the Nixon era up to the present in an award-worthy manner. And this time around, he actually had an exit strategy!

The only remaining question is where has he gone, since we've heard precious little as to his whereabouts lately. Wonkette notes that "all we need is extended raw footage of Dick Cheney being pushed around in his wheelchair, clutching his panda-fur-coated cane, and eventually being thrown into a car destined for a steep ditch in Wyoming." Ron Reagan opined that "Cheney hurt his back while moving waterboards into his new house," which ironically (or not) is right across the street from CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia, presumably so that Ol' Dick can keep his watchful eye on things while he follows through with "a few scores to settle." More pointedly, Comedy Central's Insider asks viewers to help Cheney "get back home ... to hell," but didn't provide specific directions.

I guess in the end it doesn't really matter where Cheney winds up. Hats off to you, sir, for creating an unforgettable character, for inspiring our ire and steeling our resolve, and for reminding us that even someone in a wheelchair can be an equally cynical SOB just like the rest of us. Yes folks, that was Dick Cheney, born-again ADA activist and differently-abled former dictator, heading off to an (un)disclosed location for the final time. We'll miss all the tender moments, and we'll pray that you recover at least as quickly as Iraq, the economy, New Orleans, the Constitution, and the rest of your wonderful legacy.