What did I do this weekend? Watched the debate, sure, with some good friends who helped out with pizza, beer, homemade cookies, and a pre-Halloween basketful of candy; enjoyed a truly lovely dinner party prepared by rising celebrity chef Ben Miller; wrote a long Afghanistan piece for the Windy; saw an extremely satisfying Redskins victory over Dallas while witnessing the mutually-reinforcing tenacity of the Jim Zorn-derived offense and the Oliver Willis Twitterfeed. But most importantly, I devoured the second-best political book of the year: Barton Gellman’s Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency.

Though thematically appropriate, Angler holds the number-two spot only because Nixonland was also published this year, and Nixonland is a masterpiece. But Angler is the sort of work that would allow Gellman to never publish another word again and retire secure in the knowledge that he’s one of the finest journalists of his generation. There’s unmined information in Angler — lots of it, and stunningly impressive disclosures, spurring moments when I thought to myself, Why the fuck would that guy agree to talk to Gellman? — but even more important and valuable is the context and perspective Gellman is able to bring to his discoveries. Consider this rather perfect summary of Cheney’s vice presidency, simultaneously damning and generous:

Political reputations shift with time. That does not seem to be nearly so true of wars. When voters, generals, and the political class reach consensus on a strategic mistake, they do not tend to change their minds. Rehabilitation has not come for the southern war of secession or MacArthur’s drive toward the Yalu River, which brought China into the Korean War. Nor has the nation’s verdict wavered on Vietnam. The Bush-Cheney strategy after September 11, with its claims of White House supremacy and its sharp tilt from civil liberty to state command, estranged even proponents of a unitary executive and a strong national security state. The invasion of Iraq may have passed a point of no return when Dick Army — the majority leader of the president’s party, from the president’s home state — said it was "very likely the biggest foreign policy blunder of modern times." Today cannot speak for tomorrow, and Cheney may turn out to be right that the pendulum will swing back. Nothing is likelier to bring that about than Cheney’s worst nightmare made flesh. If Nexus comes [a Cheney term for a compounded series of national-security horrors], loosing a plague or igniting a mushroom cloud, posterity may decide we should have stayed the vice president’s course. This made for a paradox as Cheney neared the end of his second term. His best hope of vindication appeared to lie in a future no one could want, a future in which all his efforts failed.

A man could not do much with thoughts like that.

Yeah, well, he’d find a way to blame Barack Obama first and Usama bin Laden second. Seriously, buy this book.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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