A bucket of warm spit

Every time I pass Cactus Jack’s Casino in Carson City these days, it reminds me of conservative Republican Dick Cheney and conservative Democrat John Nance Garner.

“Cactus Jack” Garner served in the U.S. House from Texas and later became vice president during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first two terms in the White House.

Dick Cheney, who served in the U.S. House from Wyoming, later became vice president during George W. Bush’s two terms at the helm in the White House.

Let me amend that. Cheney was V.P. during Texan G. W. Bush’s two terms, but often seemed to be at the helm himself.

Thus did Deadeye Dick destroy the Cactus Jack dictum reportedly voiced to a Texan who became both vice president and president—Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson. The quote warned LBJ the vice presidency “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.”

Whether the colorful politician said spit or used another four-letter word with three of the same letters is a matter still in dispute.

Cactus Jack also said the vice president holds an “unnecessary office” and once said that leaving the U.S. House Speaker’s office for it was the “worst damn fool mistake I ever made.”

Garner and FDR broke in the second term over FDR’s New Deal initiatives and court-packing scheme, in which Roosevelt sought to expand a Supreme Court that struck down New Deal laws. Garner openly opposed the idea; it failed.

Cactus Jack challenged FDR to be the Democrats’ nominee in 1940, ending his political career. At one point, Garner was quoted as calling FDR “the most destructive man in all American history.”

These days Cheney uses the media megaphone with verve to attack Obama administration policies and defend those of the one in which he served from 2003-2009.

Given that another terrorist attack is never out of the question, the critiques are a big setup for an “I told you so” and “you were warned” argument the Republicans are bequeathed by Cheney, who enjoys media access and has the thick skin of a retired Veep.

It has put the Obama administration off stride, to be sure, but amounts to foreign policy partisan sniping too soon for citizen comfort. And Cheney also made a key tactical miscue in my view. By putting down Gen. Colin Powell, his former rival in the Bush administration, he fired a shot in the air while circling the tanks inside the wagons. More to the point: Does any of this seem like a reprise of ready, fire, aim?

Cactus Jack ended his career by sticking to conservative, constitutional principles and challenging a popular president. Cheney is sticking to the “we kept you safe” script.

The casino in Carson City that bears the Cactus Jack name—actually it’s for Cactus Pete Piersanti, who helped spawn Jackpot, Nev., and once owned it—is a reminder to thinking folks that risks have consequences.

Cheney definitely is taking on some risk for the GOP with his verbiage. Deadeye Dick was in Reno last October speaking at the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy. At one point he joked about his infamous hunting skills.

Now he’s hunting bigger game, challenging the two most popular black men in America, one of whom is married to the most popular black woman not named Oprah.

He is the leading spokesman for the disaffected white male/cheerleader crowd, but party renaissance requires a bigger tent.

So … smart politics? Or is it risky stuff full of Cactus Jack-like spit and vinegar?

Any thinking conservative ought to wonder just who will get hit by this shotgun blast of unfriendly friendly fire.