Playing Dick Cheney

by Miguel Balbuena

Christian Bale is a Hollywood actor who has starred in 48 motion pictures so far. Of his impressive filmography, I have been able to see the following 10 works: “American Psycho” (2000), “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004), “Batman Begins” (2005), “The Prestige” (2006), “The Dark
Knight” (2008), “Public Enemies” (2009), “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012), “Vice” (2018), “Ford v
Ferrari” (2019) and “Thor: Love and Thunder” (2022).

“Batman Begins” provided a template to reset struggling franchises in order to overcome viewership fatigue with their older model. “Batman Begins” did this by exploring the previously uncharted territory of the psychological trauma suffered by the main character. This blueprint
was subsequently adopted by the producers of “Spider-Man” (2002), James Bond’s “Skyfall” (2012), etc.

But, of all of Bale’s flicks, the one that became a cult film phenomenon – in the same vein as “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960) and “Blue Velvet” (1986) – was unquestionable “American Psycho,” a mix of the social criticism genre – against the mores of the upper middle class – and
the bloody slasher genre, an unsuspected combo that can also be seen in “Bodies Bodies Bodies” (2022). 187

After having played Dick Cheney, 46th vice president of the United States, in 2018, Bale was reported to have been collecting a monthly salary of $100,000. I also once had the chance to play Cheney but my paycheck apparently got lost in the mail. My superb performance channeling this elder statesman took place during my class Public Administration and Law.

Between August 1990 and December 1993, I pursued a joint degree program – generously funded by a prestigious Fulbright scholarship – at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It consisted of a master of public administration and a master of arts in economics.

At the time this M.P.A. discipline held the top spot in the “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” according to an advertisement posted in the school. In 1995, U.S. News & World Report magazine launched an annual reputational survey using a different methodology than “Fiske”’s. Since then, the Maxwell School has been ranked number one graduate public affairs program in America, for 27 years out of 28 years, in this survey, ahead of Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Cornell.

After having taken the course Organization Theory with professor Rosemary O’Leary in the fall semester of the academic year 1990-1991, for the next semester I had the choice of taking Public Administration and Democracy, taught by her as well, or Public Administration and Law, taught by
two non-tenure track faculty members, whom I was not familiar with at all. Willing to take calculated risks, I went for the latter option.

The spring semester of 1991 began three days before the start of the air campaign of the Persian Gulf War. An atmosphere of palpable tension permeated the whole campus.

Both adjunct instructors of Public Administration and Law lived out of state and alternated teaching every week as one conducted the class for a day a week and the other did the same thing for the next week. The two flew to Syracuse to lead the class. They only appeared together twice. The first one was when they presented the syllabus of the course; the second one was when, without prior notice, they coordinated a war game that turned the classroom into a mock Situation Room, the command-and-control hub for crisis management in the basement of the West Wing of the White House.

The dramatis personae included President George H. W. Bush (played by my friend Brad Phelps), Vice President Dan Quayle, Secretary of State James Baker, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney (played by this correspondent), Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Atwood, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, Director of Central Intelligence William Webster and Ambassador to the United Nations Tom Pickering.

One of the professors placed a plate with the name of Cheney on it in front of my seat. In the same fashion that Bale did his best to give full life to this politician in “Vice,” I had no choice but to get my acting juices flowing.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a content creator and thought leader in the global knowledge economy. His prolific corpus of written work spans the fields of the natural and social sciences, journalism, art, politics and philosophy, dealing with topics such as the aesthetic dimensions of the sciences.

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