Joseph Epstein: I Don’t Donate to Politicians but I Will to Liz Cheney

From a Wall Street Journal commentary by Joseph Epstein headlined “I Don’t Donate to Politicians, but I Will to Liz Cheney”:

I am a minor-league philanthropist. I give modest sums to animal shelters, the preservation of wildlife, children’s hospitals, my local public library, the Simon Wiesenthal Foundation and several other organizations and institutions. I don’t give to universities, lest they think I encourage their wanderings from their true mission—although I have considered giving $5,000 to Northwestern University, where I taught for 30 years, and earmarking the money to be spent exclusively on a Jewish tight end for the football team.

I have never given money to politicians or political parties. Yet I am about to send a $200 check to Liz Cheney for her Wyoming congressional campaign. Ms. Cheney, who is trailing more than 20 points in the polls against Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman, appears all but guaranteed to lose her congressional seat in the Aug. 16 primary. She says she has been unable to campaign openly because of credible death threats posed, one assumes, by ardent Trump supporters. The Republican Party in her home state has abandoned her. It not only endorsed Ms. Hageman but flatly refuses to recognize Ms. Cheney as a Republican.

I have a short but pleasant history with the Cheney family. In 1991, I was a member of the National Council on the Arts, which advises the National Endowment for the Arts. I received a call from Gertrude Himmelfarb, known to friends as Bea Kristol, with whom I, along with her husband, Irving Kristol, and the painter Helen Frankenthaler, was to have dinner. Bea asked if it would be all right for Dick and Lynne Cheney to join us for coffee and dessert after dinner. I said of course, and soon after dinner the Cheneys arrived at the Washington Four Seasons restaurant, with security men hovering near the entrance.

Much of the conversation was led by Mrs. Cheney, then chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, asking Helen and me questions about how the endowment was run. I was impressed by how Mr. Cheney graciously gave way to his wife and how little attention he needed. When the Cheneys departed, Helen Frankenthaler remarked on Lynne’s penetrating questions and then asked, “But what does he do?” (He was U.S. defense secretary.)

On another occasion, Lynne Cheney was to give a talk in Evanston, Ill., and beforehand had a light dinner—a sandwich, coffee, ice cream—at my apartment. She was amiability itself: modest, thoughtful, good-humored. I found myself won over by the Cheneys and was sorry to see Mr. Cheney’s reputation tarnished by his role as vice president in engineering American entry into the war in Iraq, now considered misbegotten—a reputation that hasn’t recovered to this day. In any case, I was partial to Liz Cheney without having met her.

That partiality grew into outright admiration when Rep. Cheney took the strong and ultimately self-sacrificial stand against Donald Trump’s behavior during the Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol. She didn’t have to do what she did and continues to do on the committee to investigate Jan. 6. Yet she has done it with gravity and high intelligence. Not since Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan have I encountered a political figure for whom I felt the same strong respect.

Few politicians risk losing their next election to take the high ground of just action. Ms. Cheney’s performance is all the more admirable when placed next to various Republicans—Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is vying for speaker if Republicans take the House, is a sad example—spinning, squirming, hedging their true views of Mr. Trump lest they and their party lose his support in the midterm elections. The sight is not pretty and gives good reason why politicians, and politics generally, are often held in richly deserved contempt by many Americans.

By dramatic contrast Ms. Cheney bathes not in self-righteousness but genuine righteousness, which is good for the political complexion. She claims to have taken the position she has because she felt it was “right” to do so. “The single most important thing is protecting the nation from Donald Trump,” Ms. Cheney said in an interview with ABC News. For her, moral rectitude comes before party. This is most impressive—and extremely rare.

As vice chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, Ms. Cheney has come across as smart, strong and authoritative. She has been asked, if she loses her seat in Congress, whether she might be interested in running for president. Unlikely as that seems, I could see her as a vice-presidential candidate on a non-Trump ticket that promises to return the Republican Party to its first principles. On such a ticket, if successful, Liz Cheney could be for women in this country all the things that Kamala Harris has thus far proved not to be.

My check is in the mail.

Joseph Epstein is author, most recently, of “Gallimaufry: A Collection of Essays, Reviews, Bits.”

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