In an essay in today’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd employs a curmudgeonly counterfactual in discussing one of her bête noires, Dick Cheney.
Discussing Cheney’s recent book that he “has written with his cardiologist, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, about his heart transplant at the age of 71,” she casts a negative light on his comment that it has been a “spiritual experience,” one in which “I wake up every morning literally with a smile on my face, grateful for another day I never thought I’d see.”
Dowd argues that Cheney deceived George W. Bush about the condition of his heart when he was being considered as his running mate in 2000, writing “In his “60 Minutes” interview with Dick Cheney, Sanjay Gupta made it clear that Cheney had gotten special treatment to ascend to the vice presidency, given that he’d already had three heart attacks, the first one at 37. As Dr. Gupta noted, the Bush campaign was concerned enough to check with the famed Texas heart surgeon Denton Cooley, who talked to Dr. Reiner and then informed the Bush team — with no examination — that Cheney was in “good health with normal cardiac function.”
“I’m not responsible for that,” replied the man who never takes responsibility for any of his dark deeds. “I don’t know what took place between the doctors.”
Four months after being cleared, Cheney suffered his fourth heart attack during the 2000 recount and had to get a stent put in to open a clogged artery.
Dowd then comes to her counterfactual:
If the doctors had not signed off on Cheney’s heart as “normal,” then Cheney would never have been vice president, and Donald Rumsfeld never would have been defense secretary, and Paul Wolfowitz never would have been his deputy, etc., etc. And W. wouldn’t have been pushed and diverted into Iraq.
In this alternative scenario, “It’s Not a Wonderful Life,” where Cheney is not peddling his paranoia, how many Americans would not have lost their lives and limbs?
For the record, Dowd has previously invoked the famous Jimmy Stewart “what if?” scenario in an older Times opinion piece on the Iraq War ("A Not So Wonderful LIfe," 12/19/04, see below). As with that essay, Dowd uses counterfactual reasoning to concoct a better world that would have been – in this case, if Cheney’s dissimulation had been exposed at the time.