The creativity and gumption of event organizers produced a surprising evening of civil discourse between a dedicated Democrat and a rigorous Republican–Madelaine Albright and Dick Cheney.They appeared together at the Streiker Center at Temple Emanu-el in New York City, last month and they both minded their manners; and so did the
Wendeen arrived for the debate, just in time to catch up with her former bosses from two different Presidential administrations, before they squared off for a wide-ranging discussion of world affairs.The complexities facing the current US president in our relationship with Saudi Arabia was front and center that evening; the apparent cover-up of the murder of a Washington Post journalist was fully boiling over.
The evening’s speakers offered overviews and strategies that were more similar than different, both taking measured positions rather than engaging in rambunctious independent politically motivated rants. The audience was treated to a rarity in these days of mostly tribal politics– an auditorium full of guests who acted as if they live in one America, even when tested. There came a point in the discussion, in which the decidedly Democratic majority of attendees seemed agitated by the respect given to the other side. But the savvy moderator had stirred , deftly. The Streiker Center’s alert executive director stepped in- -at the speed of lightning. Gady Levy simply raised his hand to make a stop sign. By the time his hand was visible to the crowd, everyone had simmered down; this crowd aspired to higher standards of civility. Wendeen was relieved. An experienced public servant, responsible for vetting lawyers and law firms for catastrophes, she had little appetite, for participation in heated public debate.
Wendeen first met Ambassador Albright in 1994, as a member of the United Nations 50th Anniversary Host Committee; The Ambassador hosted a very elegant dinner for the Committee at her Waldorf Tower digs. The celebration was a reluctant project headed up by the Mayor of New York, but Wendeen threw herself into Committee work. Three years into her stint at the United Nations, Ambassador Albright pivoted to become the first female Secretary of State, at the invitation of President Clinton. She made the introduction to the White House that put Wendeen’s vetting skills front and center in uncovering “Nannygate” the widespread practice of high powered parents (including a nominee for the position of Attorney General), hiring illegal aliens as nannies and then vastly under paying them.
As to the former Vice-President, political science classes never prepared Wendeen to deal with Dick Cheney’s certitude on just about everything. But, following the events of 9/11 Mr. Cheney effectively became one of Wendeen’s legion of bosses, as she assumed her role as a civilian commander of a major post 9/11 task force initiative; vetting lawyers for special counsel roles in the US and overseas.
Arguably the most powerful vice-president in history, in each step of public service, from the Pentagon to the White House, Cheney carved out for himself a critical role that impacted the course of history. Behind the scenes, Mr. Cheney was like a machine, a voracious reader, an obsessive student of history, and the mastermind and enforcer of policies that nearly made the more liberal establishment croak. The ultimate power behind the throne on military and foreign policy, Cheney’s business negotiations were equally notable, especially his retirement package from Haliburton in 2000, estimated at 20 million when it was still a lot of money!
Educated, competitive, focused strongly on public service and their ideas, the Albright-Cheney match-up kept the audiences’ rapt attention for their entire 90-minute lesson in passionate politics grounded by civil argumentation and debate.