Fly-Fishing Through the GOP Convention

Our children also learned the art of fly-fishing from Dick. He loves the streams and rivers of this great country and he has passed that love along to them. Indeed, I would say one of the keys to understanding Dick Cheney is understanding fly-fishing. It is not … It is not a sport for the impatient. And most of all, it is not a sport for chatterboxes.Lynne Cheney introducing her husband Dick Cheney, at the Republican convention, June 2.(to read the transcript, click here and scroll down halfway; to see the video, click here and scroll down just a few lines.)

Dare one ask whether Lynne Cheney was taking a swipe at yours truly? On its face, it seems implausible. Still, Chatterbox did identify Lynne as a potential problem for the GOP ticket shortly before Dubya named Dick as his running mate. Chatterbox also goaded the press to pay more attention to Cheney’s appalling 1989 explanation of why he didn’t serve in Vietnam: “I had other priorities in the ‘60s than military service.” If Lynne did intend a subtle dig in this direction, she hit her target. Chatterbox has never had the vaguest clue what fly-fishing, and the gauzy Norman Maclean/Howell Raines literary cult that surrounds it, is all about.

Another, somewhat less satisfying, explanation for the “chatterbox” reference is that Lynne was taking an obscure swipe at the loquacious Newt Gingrich, who’s been running around Philadelphia this week prattling that he invented “compassionate conservatism” and that Dick Cheney is “one of my close friends.” Clearly, Gingrich’s noxious presence clashes with the pastel spirit the Republicans are struggling to maintain. (Even Cheney’s attack speech pledging to “restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office” struck Chatterbox as comparatively genial.) Moreover, Dick Cheney’s friendship with Gingrich seems a bit more ambivalent than Gingrich lets on, to judge from the revised 1996 edition of Kings of the Hill, Dick and Lynne’s history of the House leadership. Although the overall tone of the book’s “Speaker Gingrich” chapter is admiring–the Cheneys blame much of Gingrich’s unpopularity on a hostile press–they do concede that when Dick was in Congress, he “was once quoted calling the future Speaker a ‘pain in the fanny.’ ” Gingrich also takes a small hit for attacking Dubya’s father in 1990, after congressional-White House budget negotiations, in which Gingrich participated, persuaded Bush père to abandon his “no new taxes” pledge. Gingrich’s party disloyalty and hotheadedness are contrasted with the courtly moderation of Bob Michel, the House minority leader Gingrich would ultimately replace:

Michel was part of a generation more comfortable with comity than conflict. He took a more conciliatory attitude toward Democrats and would have found the prospect of walking away from a president of his own party–as Gingrich had done in the 1990 fight–nearly unthinkable. Asked once to describe the attributes of a good congressional leader, Michel listed “patience.” This was not one of Newt Gingrich’s strong points.

In other words: Bob Michel had the soul of a fly-fisherman. Gingrich did not.