Dick and Liz Cheney’s Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America is a bestseller, but I doubt many people are reading it. This book is a call to prayer, evocative for the faithful because of the very predictability that makes reading it unnecessary. The title and flag‐draped cover testify to the former vice president and his daughter’s purpose: to excoriate President Barack Obama’s sins against the militarized conservative denomination of our civic religion.
The prologue begins with a quote from Daniel Webster’s 1825 oration celebrating the laying of the cornerstone of Boston’s Bunker Hill Monument, where Webster asked for “honest exultation” of the nation’s role in delivering freedom to the world. It’s a fitting start. One reason is that the Cheneys immediately make an error: They misattribute Webster’s speech to the monument’s dedication, which occurred in 1847. Another is that Webster’s speech includes a subtle push for U.S. intervention in Greece’s civil war. Were that intervention occurring today, the book would surely call it as insufficient, accuse Obama of abandoning Greece, and cast its fate as vital to U.S. security.
But what’s especially fitting is that Webster’s speech imagines the United States as the agent of divine purpose. The Cheneys similarly worship U.S. state power, insisting its virtue be taken on faith. That faith, and a penchant for argumentation by assertion and adjectives, is evident by the end of their first paragraph: “We are, as a matter of empirical fact and undeniable history, the greatest force for good the world has ever known.” Alternatives (England, capitalism, language, God) are not worth considering. Empirics stay on script, unquestioning.
Hence the first section: 110 pages of U.S. national security history since World War II. By the Cheneys’ account, despite the occasional Democratic stumble, military might, leaders’ fortitude, and florid speeches prevailed until 2008. Part two, somehow of equal length, attacks the Obama administration for “retreating,” “appeasing,” an “apology” tour, Bhenghazi, the Iran deal, undoing surge magic in Iraq, inviting EMP pulse attacks, etc. The conclusion maps a road to resurrection in bullets points and bold‐face.
Even most fervent acolytes can safely not read this book. The style is that of an undergraduate Young Republican hurriedly assembling cribbed facts and talking points, only with better proofreading. Given the structure just described, anyone with a passing familiarity with the Cheneys will know what’s here.