Now that former vice-president Dick Cheney, last seen being wheeled into history, has returned with a vengeance to the public sphere, the debate has resumed over which movie supervillain he most resembles. A couple of years ago, writer Darin Murphy took umbrage at the widely used Darth Vader comparison for being unfair to Vader, who did not, after all, defer his military service five times and never shot anyone in the face unless he meant it. Two weeks ago, Maureen Dowd reported that George Lucas has also rejected the analogy: Cheney, Lucas said, is the wicked emperor who pulled the strings and turned his protégé to the dark side. Unfortunately, this would mean George W. Bush is Vader, which is an even bigger slur on poor Darth, a murderer of great discipline and character who, moreover, was finally moved to slay his demonic overlord.
Although the Galactic Emperor, né Palpatine, shares many of Cheney’s core values—principally that one must embrace the “dark side” in order best to serve a centralized government with no checks on its authority—he does not fire the imagination the way Vader does. He’s a dullard. Perhaps it’s time to consider other candidates.
Fu Manchu. Like Cheney, the Chinese warlord controls a vast criminal network via blackmail, extortion, and assassination squads while lurking in subterranean caverns. He inspires terror in subordinates and enemies alike by torturing freely and with relish. Defeated many times, he is stubbornly resilient: “The world shall hear from me again.” Unlike Cheney, however, Fu Manchu oversees the torture personally and doesn’t claim he doesn’t torture. Also, being an ethnic stereotype, he never perverts or violates the Constitution of the United States. (Is it coincidence that “Scooter” Libby once wrote a novel featuring Asian torturers?)
Dr. Mabuse. Like Cheney, the Teutonic arch-fiend controls a vast criminal network while lurking in the shadows. He wields hypnotic power, unnerving subordinates and enemies alike with his implacable demeanor. Called on to surrender in the name of the state, Mabuse cries, “I am the state!” Unlike Cheney, however, he creates chaos intentionally rather than by accident, through the use of incompetent party loyalists and their inbred progeny. Also, he does not hide behind the rule of law, and, again, he never perverts or violates the Constitution of the United States.
Voldemort. Like Cheney, Harry Potter’s nemesis also had a near-death experience and is so strong of will that he controls a vast criminal network while in a state of primordial slime, exerting a telepathic force over his minions. His followers tend to be racists (mudblood haters) as well as those who believe that government power should be concentrated in the hands of a like-minded aristocracy. He controls an influential media outlet staffed by lapdogs. He shoots someone named Harry in the face. Unlike Cheney, however, he meant to shoot Harry in the face. Also, he doesn’t cherry-pick intelligence. Plus, he gets gradually better looking. And he never perverts or violates the Constitution of the United States.
The Dark Lord Sauron. Like Cheney, the former chief lieutenant of the first Dark Lord Morgoth is capable of controlling a vast network of demonic assassins while in a shapeless, dormant physical state. As a leader, he becomes increasingly addicted to order and domination and fed up with humans (or elves) who express differing opinions. He is hostile to regulation, especially in regard to lumber and mining interests. A paranoiac, he spies on everyone and assumes the worst in people—which leads to his downfall. Unlike Cheney, however, Sauron does not have access to an influential media outlet, so when defeated he becomes “a mere spirit of malice that gnaws itself in the shadows, but cannot again grow or take shape,” instead of a lump of bile opposite Sean Hannity. Also, he never perverts or violates the Constitution of the United States.
For my money, Cheney is Palpatine with a soupçon of Sauron, a pinch of Voldemort, a dash of Mabuse, a jigger of Fu, with some Elmer Fudd and Richard Nixon folded in. That is, needless to say, a recipe for calamity.