You’ve probably heard that Dick Cheney agrees with Bill Clinton about letting people who are losing private insurance keep their old plans, as President Obama repeatedly seemed to promise they could. That’s not surprising: Cheney is a troll who maligns the president whenever he can, and piling on with Clinton is a special kind of fun. Yes, it’s outrageous that a man who has enjoyed many millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded medical care doesn’t give a damn about the uninsured in our society, but that’s Dick Cheney.
Still, I was a little startled to hear the former vice president express total indifference to questions about his heart donor in a revealing interview on Politicking with Larry King (it airs Thursday night; here's a clip). It’s a window into his utter entitlement and self-absorption, and he comes off as an even bigger monster than I’d thought. Most people would at least feign interest in the donor; Cheney can’t manage it.
When King asks if he knows the identity of the person whose heart keeps him alive, Cheney, who is promoting a book about his transplant experience, says no, and adds, “it hadn’t been a priority for me.” Then he goes on:
When I came out from under the anesthetic after the transplant, I was euphoric. I'd had--I'd been given the gift of additional lives, additional years of life. For the family of the donor, they'd just been [through] some terrible tragedy, they'd lost a family member. Can't tell why, obviously, when you don't know the details, but the way I think of it from a psychological standpoint is that it’s my new heart, not someone else’s old heart. And I always thank the donor, generically thank donors for the gift that I’ve been given, but I don’t spend time wondering who had it, what they’d done, what kind of person.
“It’s my new heart, not someone else’s old heart.”
Consider the complete self-centeredness of that statement, and the utter lack of empathy. I shouldn’t be surprised at that -- war criminals and torture-promoters aren’t known for their empathy -- but I was. Cheney’s so absorbed in his great good luck that he can’t help sharing: “My cardiologist told me at one point, 'You know, Dick, the transplant is a spiritual experience, not just for the patient, but also for the team.'" What a generous guy, sharing that "spiritual experience" with his cardiology team! So: Cheney is happy to have a new heart, but doesn’t bother to “spend time wondering who had it, what they’d done, what kind of person.”
And his statement that it wasn’t a “priority” to learn about his heart donor revealingly echoes his explanation for getting five deferments from the Vietnam War: The notorious war hawk famously told the Washington Post: "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service." Now he has other priorities than learning about his heart donor.
It’s certainly not compulsory to find out about the person who died so that you could live – who gave what Cheney called “the gift of life itself.” There may be valid psychological reasons not to. I don’t judge that decision. But I can’t get over the coldness required to express complete indifference to knowing about that person, and their family’s suffering.
Or could it be compassion? For a lot of people, the tragedy of a family member dying would be compounded, not lessened, by learning that their heart went to Cheney. Nah, there’s neither compassion nor self-awareness in the way Cheney talks about receiving “the gift of life,” from American taxpayers or from his mystery heart donor.