Vice, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, Writer and Director Adam McKay.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0011p18/vice

Described as comedy-drama, a biographical film about former US vice-president Dick Cheney. Christian Bale won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of the most powerful vice-president in modern history. There is a contemporary joke that nobody is ever called Dick, but that’s about it.

There is nothing funny about Vice. At a push, I could probably name most of the President since the first wold war since it mostly involves saying Roosevelt over and over.

Vice President can become Presidents. General Eisenhower and Harry Truman spring to mind. And if you take a circular route, Republican, Vice President Richard Nixon finally got his feet under the desk at the Oval Office. Most were in agreement Vice was no more than a token job. A bit like being the President’s wife. Good for photoshoots and opening fetes.

Kamala Harris’s power, in contrast, lies her ability to cast a tie-breaking vote in a split Senate. But really, she’s waiting for Joe Biden to die so she can step into a real job.

Robert A. Caro shows how Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) spiralled into depression when his attempts to control the Senate were rebuffed and his attempt to manipulate the new American President, and darling of the media, John F. Kennedy were swatted aside with a smile. The man that had once controlled Congress and Senate reduced to a comic figure that was left out of briefings in the new Camelot.

Vice follows the path of an American boy made good. Lynne Cheney (Amy Adams) telling him after a couple of drink driving convictions and barroom fights he was on the road to nowhere. He better ship up or ship out. He did both, while staying out of Vietnam and the armed forces on deferments.

Like LBJ, Cheney had a talent for politics. In one scene, he asks another intern what party  guest-speaker Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) belongs to. When told he’s a Republican, he says he’s a Republican too.

When working for Rumsfeld as an intern he asks him Cheney what he believes in. Here’s the joke part of the film. Rumsfeld slaps him on the back and laughs so long and hard, the viewer knows it’s a joke. The purpose of power is power.

Realpolitik. Rumsfeld points to a closed door. He tells Cheney behind it is Nixon and Defense Secretary Henry Kissinger are having an unofficial meeting. When the meeting was finished tens of thousands of Vietnamese would die. Subtext. They are plotting mass murderer.

Drawing a line in the sand, Cheney gave his support to gay marriages since one of his two daughters, Mary (Alison Pill) came out as gay.  

There were other shifting lines in the sand. He was a hawkish Secretary of Defense (1989–1993) following the precepts of the Eisenhower Doctrine—any (oil rich) Middle Eastern country could request American economic assistance or aid from U.S. military forces if it was being threatened by armed aggression. 1st August 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi forces into neighbouring oil-rich Kuwait.

President George W Bush (senior) unleashed coalition (mainly US) forces in Desert Storm under the command of General Norman Schwarzkopf. February 24. Within 100 hours, Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait in the ground war. With aerial dominance, they were sitting ducks.

[Not in the film, but worth quoting Cheney’s perceptive response to the invasion of Baghdad, in the first Gulf War: how many American dead is Saddam worth?]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Cheney

 ‘Because if we’d gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn’t have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq. Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it – eastern Iraq – the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq. The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families – it wasn’t a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? Our judgment was, not very many, and I think we got it right.’

Vice Presidency (2001–2009).

We all know about what’s now called 9/11.

But if you asked me who the Vice President was at the time, I couldn’t have answered. The tone of the film is set early. George W. Bush (junior) (Sam Rockwell) is in the air metaphorically and literally when the planes hit The Twin Towers. Dick Cheney takes charge of the 9/11 fallout.  

But Dick Cheney had always been—more of less—in charge. The coup that LBJ had attempted had failed, but Cheney was the real power in American politics. The dithering George W Bush President, but the Vice President pulling the strings. Ironically, the power grab going in the other direction. The American President grabbing more executive power as the Twin Towers fell. Extra-ordinary rendition. Repealing the Geneva Convension. Spying on American citizens.

The invasion of Afghanistan was payback for 9/11.

Payback for his old bosses at Halliburton Corporation by adding billions of dollars to shareholder value. The invasion of Iraq’s oil-rich fields with evidence from a list drawn up before Saddam Hussein was found to have mass weapons of destruction—he didn’t have and links to Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaida hidden network in the paperwork with the weapons of mass destruction.  

Cheney, a hawk abroad, and conservative at home. No surprise with his fortune coming from a fossil fuel, Times 500 Company, he helped in the pushback for the ideas of global warming. He helped reframe the debate, through think-tanks sponsored by Times 500 companies as simply climate change, which sound much more palatable and less threatening. The kind of idea picked up the moron’s moron.

Cheney endorsed Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, but didn’t shut his eyes to how he got elected. Russian interference, or what he moron’s moron would call Russian help from their cyber networks, Cheney classified as ‘an act of war’. But he’d also have to have declared war on that American institution Facebook that cashed the cyber cheques made in Russia and created the images of hate that polluted politics (from a very low base which Cheney’s think-tanks helped fuel) and still does.

The film ends with the viewer finding out the narrator of the film is the man that provided Cheney with a new heart after his failed. I guess they should have saved it and given it to someone more deserving. But money talks loudest. Worth a look, but don’t expect to giggle.  

.

Greg Palast, How to Steal the Presidency and Get Away with It (scorecard) 2000-1

Al Gore, of course, won the 2000-1 election, but an unfamiliar word entered the lexicon – chad. An appeal to the Supreme Court called for a recount of the votes in Florida.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_v._Gore

Palast shows that following the 2000-1 Presidential election stories of African American voters being targeted, racial profiling, that excluded voters from the electoral roll weren’t fake news, but fact. He had a copy of two CD-Rom disks from the office computer of Katherine Harris, Florida Secretary of State. 57 700 potential Democrat voters named as felons. Purged from electoral roll in the run up to the election. 90.2% innocent of any crime.  Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush spent almost the entire Republican budget on a computer hunt for black voters. What Governor Jeb Bush did was illegal. He later ran against Trump for leadership of the Republican Party. I guess he’ll be back for another try.

My favourite quote here was Trump telling Rupert Murdoch he was running for the Presidency and Rupert Murdoch telling him, ‘no, you’re not’. That’s power Without the backing of the Murdoch corporation and Fox News, of course, there’d be no President Trump.

Ironically, former Governor of Florida, George W. Bush had a prior drink-driving conviction (misdemeanour) therefore he shouldn’t have been allowed to vote, for himself, or anybody else. That purge would have added or subtracted one vote to the 500-600 chads he won the election (minus the 57 700 he’d have lost by).

We all know how the moron’s moron did it. What he did was not illegal. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook  took what was for him chump change,  most of the Republican candidate’s budget of around $44 million, and matched it with expertise. With Russian bot farms churning out memes and disinformation, Trump rode a wave of discontent all the way to the Whitehouse by winning the Electoral College, but not the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won more votes but lost the election.  

Florida signed a $4 million contract with DBT Online merged with ChoicePoint of Atlanta to purge voters. Cambridge Analytica https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge also involved in the Brexit debate tried to keep their methods secret, claiming it was private and commercial information, but were outed by Guardian journalists.

Nothing new from the Trump handbook, with Mark Zuckerberg again handling Trump’s funds for re-election.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/02/trump-us-election-disinformation-russia

https://www.channel4.com/news/revealed-trump-campaign-strategy-to-deter-millions-of-black-americans-from-voting-in-2016

The historian and author Robert A. Caro magisterial (unfinished) biography of Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) offers another tale of straight forward electoral cheating. Caro juxtaposes LBJ’s fight for a senate seat with ‘Mr Texas’ Coke Stevenson.

Nobody much is interested in Box 13, or that old stuff called history. The guys in the photograph LBJ showed a hostile reporter are Texans that stole enough votes and stuffed them into Box 13 so that LBJ could become a Senator in the 1948 race. A race Mr Integrity Coke Stevenson won. He was diddled. LBJ became Senator and, his gamble he’d be a heartbeat away from the top job of President paid off when President John F. Kennedy was killed in Texas.

That’s the traditional way of doing things in American politics. Kamala Harris will be the first female President.

Robert A.Caro’s advice was turn every page and do the maths. Four years ago I thought Trump could win. I no longer think that now. ‘Power corrupts’ argues Caro, ‘but it also reveals’. What it has revealed about Trump is an unclean spirit channelling hate for his own gain. Or in other words of psychobabble: a psychopathic narcissistic personality with low intelligence.

Trump is not leading the dis-United States to disorder and disaster. Any politician can do that from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Trump is the disaster. The risk of Armageddon is lessened with him gone.  Everything Trump touches turns to shit is the closest thing to the truth I’ve heard about the 45th President. We can sleep in our beds more soundly with him gone. That’s a starting point. Not a finishing point. Go Joe Biden. Go. There can be no neutrals in the American election of the 46th President. Mankind depends on it.

Robert A.Caro (2012) The Years of Lyndon Johnson, volume 4, The Passage of Power.

We’re all aware that with great power comes great responsibility, after all these were the lines mouthed by Batman with the pointy ears before he jumped off a tall building. The moron’s moron, who anybody with any sense would like to see jumping from a tall building, reaches new lows in grasping one and abdicating the other. But that’s another story unless the moron’s moron stumbles into an Armageddon strategy to remain power, a historical aside.  Cato charts for the reader the Cuban Missile Crisis and Armageddon obverted.  

Here we have two heavyweights Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) and John F Kennedy (JFK) (chants of let’s make America great again would be met with a snort of derision). The United States was at its peak and entering a ten-year period of post-war prosperity. The Soviet Union was in decline and to feed its citizens having to purchase wheat at lock-bottom prices from the American surplus. The plan to place Chiang Kai-shek a sympathetic and Congress backed Protestant-Christian nationalist ruler in China had backfired, but the largely agricultural country was experiencing famine and lockdown under Chairman Mao (with the odd breakout of one million soldiers to challenge American might in Korea in the early 1950s).   America was the only game in town and the most powerful man on the planet was by some way, the American President. Robert A.Caro goes with the maxim, power corrupts, but twists it a little, in adding, power also reveals.

Here in the penultimate volume is  he sets out of show what it reveals about LBJ,  (seven years later we’re still waiting on the final volume and I’ll guess we’ll hear more about Vietnam) but also the American dream before it turned sour in South East Asia and in the flower-powered sixties.  The Passage of Power had me thinking of John Irivine’s classic A Prayer for Owen Meany in the way that when the call came LBJ, despite all his faults, many of which he shared with the golden boy of American politics, JFK,  the Vice President was ready. He’d been ready all his life to be American President. He’d gambled that he was only a heartbeat away from the top job as Vice President and that gunshot put him in the seat of power. Kamala Harris odds are a lot less than the four of five to one that LBJ gambled on.  

Johnson VS Kennedy 1960. Both are running for President. When it becomes clear that LBJ doesn’t have the numbers for the Democratic Nomination to run for the Presidency and JFK does, they cut a deal in which LBJ agrees to become his running mate and when they win the election, they’ll be number one and two. President and Vice President of the—then—greatest nation on earth.

Coming second, unless it’s the Second Coming, means coming nowhere. Vice President is an honorary position with as much (or as little) power as the President’s wife.

Caro begin where he left off with Master of the Senate. LBJ is running the world from his Senate office. Eisenhower is relinquishing power and his Vice President, the young Richard Nixon, is the Republican Candidate for the top job. LBJ has two strategies that he tries to implement to retain power in the Senate (where if a President proposed a Bill, LBJ had the power of Caesar to give it a thumbs up or down) and to change the roles of President and Vice President to more of a job share. LBJ’s plots were simply brushed aside.

Here we have LBJ’s low period, when the Master of the Senate is no longer courted but avoided by Senators and a bit of a joke figure—nicknamed Rufus Cornpone, because of his flailing arms and long-winded stories—in  JFK’s new Camelot. ‘Power is Where Power Goes’ declares Caro and there were few Presidents as popular as the youthful JFK. LBJ is Vice President, but hears about the Bay of Pigs fiasco from the media. He’s so out of the picture he reverts to what worked before for him with older, more powerful men, and becomes a sycophantic arse-licker and sends JFK one—unwanted gift—after another. JFK instructs his cabinet to deal with the Vice President with the greatest courtesy.

JFK’s brother Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy (RFK), the Attorney General and former committee member and supporter of J. Edgar Hoover’s Committee on UnAmerican Activites, but as Caro shows, also JFK’s alter-ego and real number two, hates LBJ. It’s one of the great American no-holds barred feuds. Before and after the fall. Both men never forget or forgive and hold a grudge longer than Satan.

When JFK is President, Rufus Cornpone is regularly savaged by RFK. With another election on the horizon JFK assured LBJ that he’ll still be on the ticket as Vice President, but that seems doubtful, as LBJ does not seem to be in positon to deliver the Southern States in the Electoral College that gave JFK the 1960 Presidency. JFK is an idealist, but he’s also a pragmatist.

In October 1963, LBJ’s protégé and bagman Bobby Baker was involved in a sex and cash scandal that mirrored the Profumo affair in London. The media had begun investigating ‘Lyndon’s money’ and made a direct link between the tens of million dollars he’s made in his Texas radio and television empire, which he purchased for peanuts, and his political office, where he sold ad space for political influence. Quid pro quo, something for something. Oil men like Brown & Root, for example, pledged millions and bought Congress, then Senate and then the Presidency.    

LBJ did something remarkable after President Kennedy’s death, he united the American nation in a way not seen since President Roosevelt, perhaps even more so. But he did something even more remarkable, he faced down Senators from the South who’d formed a coalition to stop people of colour integrating and committing what they saw as the sin of miscegenation. Roosevelt, Trauman, Eisenhower and Kennedy were unable to pass civil-rights legislation because of the way the Southern senators used arcane rule, filibustered and top-loaded influential committees with their supporters and held hostage the passage of other bills in the legislative chamber to bend the will of their rivals and force them to retreat. LBJ had been a key player in this cabal led by the Georgian senator Richard Russell, who like many opposed the desegregation of the army and believed men of colour lacked natural courage and moral leadership. LBJ had in the previous volume helped fund Russell’s run for the Presidency. LBJ was the ultimate insider. As President who’d stolen his seat in the Senate, nevertheless he flipped the Southern Senators and passed civil-rights legislation, created Medicaid and a nascent welfare state in America.  Power is as power does asserts Cato. LBJ stands tall among his Presidential peers.

Robert Kennedy’s assertion that JFK would have got around to achieving those great legislative peaks shows the Attorney General’s loyalty but also his political naivety. Only one President, supreme master of politics, LBJ, could have achieved what he did. His time had come, but at the peak of his power—it was gone. He won the election by one of the biggest landslides in American history, but we know what comes next, or at least we will know when Caro finishes his final volume. If you want to know about how we came to be where we are, read his history of LBJ. The old hates never went away, they remain, and are in the White House now with the moron’s moron as President. God bless America, indeed, and God help the rest of us.