Cheney speaks at BYU; lightning fails to strike

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Vice President Dick “Richard” Cheney’s visit to Brigham Young University’s commencement ceremony on Thursday passed smoothly and without incident, though there had been much controversy beforehand. The cantankerous, go-F-yourself-encouraging veep, known in some circles as Bush’s “attack dog,” came across as likable and pleasant in his address to graduates and their guests. He didn’t say anything controversial or political (I don’t think anyone expected him to; it wouldn’t be the right forum for that), and he even earned a couple of laughs.

You can hear his entire speech here. Note the places where he got the biggest applause: when he extended President Bush’s well wishes to the graduates, and when he mentioned BYU’s consistent ranking as No. 1 in the category of “stone-cold sober” colleges.

He cracked a few jokes at his own expense. He said that in his own college career, he nearly earned a doctorate, lacking only the dissertation. “I’ll get started as soon as I come up with a topic,” he said.

He mentioned his wife’s Utah Mormon ancestors and played to the crowd by mentioning BYU campus buildings and referring to them by their common, casual nicknames: “the Wilk” for the Wilkinson Center, “the H-Fac” for the Harris Fine Arts Center, etc. I was hoping against hope he would also mention “the Syphilis” (for SFLC, or Smith Family Living Center), but alas. Apparently that building was replaced with the Joseph F. Smith Building a couple years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve been on campus.

I had to laugh at the obvious pandering going on there, which I assume all graduation speakers do, not just Cheney. “Hey, BYU students! Wilk! Marb! Jell-O! Hike the Y! Cougareat! Eh? Eh?” It reminded me of one time when the Garrens Comedy Troupe was performing for a huge audience of Mormon teenagers who had convened at BYU from all over the country for a week-long conference. We needed to stall for 30 seconds, so Joel went to the microphone and said, “Anyone here from California?” The resultant cheers and applause killed half a minute and gave us the time we needed.

Anyway, Cheney’s speech was fine. If it were all I knew about him or his politics, I would think: Hey, here’s a friendly old coot who knows how to work a crowd but who sounds pretty sincere, too. Here’s a guy I wouldn’t mind hearing more from. Of course, it’s not all I know about him or his politics, and I’m not a supporter of Cheney or his boss, but I have to say, he gave a nice, enjoyable commencement address.

He got a standing ovation, naturally, including from LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley. Either President Hinckley was just being polite, or he personally is a Bush administration supporter. Probably the latter. I’m not surprised or bothered, any more than most Mormons would be surprised or bothered to learn that President Hinckley’s No. 3 man, James E. Faust, is a full-on Democrat. Lots of people I respect and admire are Bush supporters. Besides, President Hinckley is a Mormon and a male in his 90s, so he’s used to being in the minority.