Let this be a rule for politicians looking to come back to public American life after a tumultuous near-decade run: Try to act more like George W. Bush and less like Dick Cheney.
Since leaving the White House, Cheney hasn't stayed quiet. Anyone who even occasionally watches Sunday news shows knows this. But what's happening now is particularly dramatic. The former vice president, who was known for being close with very few people outside his nuclear family, is now seeing his family go publicly nuclear.
On Sunday, Cheney's two daughters—Liz, who is running an ailing bid for the Senate in Wyoming, and Mary, who is gay—took a family fight public. Liz, on Fox News Sunday, responded to a question about how her sister thinks her disapproval of gay marriage is "dead wrong," saying, "I love Mary very much. I love our family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree."
Mary Cheney's wife, Heather Poe, was not pleased. So she took to Facebook:
I was watching my sister-in-law on Fox News Sunday (yes, Liz, in 15 states and the District of Columbia you are my sister-in-law) and was very disappointed to hear her say, "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."
Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 - she didn't hesitate to tell us how happy she was for us.
To have her now say she doesn't support our right to marry is offensive to say the least
I can't help but wonder how Liz would feel if as she moved from state to state, she discovered that her family was protected in one but not the other.
I always thought freedom meant freedom for EVERYONE.
Mary Cheney followed this post up on her own Facebook page, saying that she "couldn't have said it better" herself and telling her sister that "this isn't just an issue on which we disagree—you're just wrong—and on the wrong side of history." Cheney took this a bit further with The New York Times, saying, "What amazes me is that [Liz] says she's running to be a new generation of leader. I'm not sure how sticking to the positions of the last 20 or 30 years is the best way to do that."
The family drama puts the former vice president in a tough spot. Dick Cheney, who has previously said that he sees nothing wrong with gay marriage, is slated to appear with Liz this week at a fundraiser in Denver. It obviously wasn't Dick Cheney's fault that all of this family tension spilled out into the open, but his advocacy for his daughter's campaign challenging Sen. Mike Enzi from the right has helped make this deeply personal issue public. "My parents are stuck in an awful position," Mary told The Times.
For contrast, see George W. Bush. Because up until this week, he's been a bit hard to see.
Sure, there have been the leaked paintings and last week's cringey and criticized scheduled appearance at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. But for the most part, by doing his best to stick out of politics, Bush has avoided any big, post-presidential hiccups.
And it's not like the former president is just trying to completely fade away. He wrote a memoir. He's been giving speeches, such as one in Pittsburgh last week where he admitted he'll "try to be as vague as possible" about the current president and the current politics to avoid making news. But the speech wasn't purely apolitical: He did slam congressional inaction, advocate for immigration reform, push for Keystone, and defend NSA operations as "necessary to protect the country."
Bush will soon get another, more national shot to speak up. On Tuesday, he'll be a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Cheney's post-White House strategy of criticizing the president and injecting himself and his family into the political landscape has helped turn this week into a messy family crisis. Bush's tactic, staying as clear of the spotlight as possible, has helped to redeem his public image—as evidenced by his first positive approval rating this summer since 2005.