Laura Hershey: Writer, Poet, Activist, Consultant Rotating Header Image

Cheney’s Villainy — Nothing to Do with His Wheelchair

I never thought I’d be sticking up for Dick Cheney. But his appearance at the Inauguration today, riding in a wheelchair pushed by several Marines, has elicited so many nasty, disabiliphobic comments, that I find myself… well, not exactly defending Cheney, but at least defending the dignity of wheelchair use.

Cheney apparently pulled a back muscle, and has to stay off his feet for a few days. Granted, with his clunky chair and his scowling countenance, he’s not exactly the model of the hip, sexy crip. Too many commentators, however, have turned the wheelchair into a mark of shame. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said, “The Vice President in that wheelchair… is a metaphor for the low esteem with which he’s held in this country. His numbers are pathetically low.” (Is Matthews aware of the fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the most effective and most popular presidents, governed from a wheelchair?)

Around the Internet, I’ve seen numerous gleeful references to the image of Cheney in a wheelchair. Several compared him to Dr. Strangelove, the maniacal nuclear scientist in Stanley Kubrick’s film. Others invoke Mr. Potter, that mean old banker in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

We don’t need another villain in a wheelchair. A villain he may be, with shared responsibility for torture, repression, and all kinds of other crimes against humanity. But the wheelchair has nothing to do with it.


  1. Consuelo says:

    Bravo, Laura!

    It’s important that the media understand the difference between a person’s human disability and another’s inability to be human.

    Through each other’s eyes and experiences, we will learn from and teach.


  2. Greg Smith says:

    I found it disturbing that they didn’t cover the wheelchair accommodations that needed to be made. How did they get the chair from the White House to the Capitol? Did they put in in the trunk of “The Beast?” Why didn’t they even introduce him on the steps of the Capitol like they did Biden? His role was dimished because he was temprarily disabled.

  3. Raging Dad says:

    Excellent point. I was listening this morning to the television feed, and was appalled when they referred to how difficult being in a wheel chair must be, because Cheney is “such a proud man.” As though being in a mobility device is something to be ashamed of. That was a very unkind comment, and I suspect that very few of the commentators are being told just how troubling that kind of comment is.

  4. Red Gimp says:

    So little media coverage of issues impacting persons with disabilities during this Presidential season. Not just Matthews, but Olberman and Maddow have ignored thousands of emails asking for coverage. The comments by Matthews demonstrates the underlying reasons why people with disabilities and their issues are not equally covered.

    Here’s an idea. The next time there is a movie about FDR, how about using an actor with a disability? I’ve got the legs for it.

    Bravo Laura.

  5. eleanor s says:

    Today as i sat in the living room of a neighbor in my 100% visitable, liberal co-housing community, watching the inauguration, drinking mimosas and celebrating…another neighbor remarked what a great metaphor it was that cheney was in a wheelchair. i confronted him with the implications of his comment. someone i’ve lived and worked beside here in the community for 10 years. how long oh lord?

    I’m gonna copy this blog and comments and send them to him. Good job, Laura.

  6. Penny says:

    Dead on. Matthews was full of nonsense chatter today, but that was a startlingly weird thing to say. It’s not a metaphor, Chris, it’s a wheelchair. It’s useful, not pathetic. Sheesh.

  7. autumn says:

    i feel obama has acknowledged PWD, which IS progress, but has he made any specific promises?

  8. Tera says:


    And I never thought I’d be praising the journalistic integrity of “The Onion”:

    “Vice Presidential Handlers Lure Cheney into Travelling Crate”

    See, Chris Matthews? You *can* comment on all the crap Cheney’s done without being ableist about it.

  9. dave nold says:

    Greetings Laura,

    Great post. Let’s keep the ball rolling and try to enlighten these journalists.

    And thanks for linking to my clip – much appreciated.


  10. Alison Hymes says:

    Chris Matthews also kept blabbing about Ted Kennedy’s hat before Kennedy collapsed, as if there wasn’t an obvious reason for Kennedy to be wearing a hat.

  11. To autumn: Yes, Obama made many specific disability-related campaign promises:

    And, you can also download the full 8 page PDF file with his disability platform at:

    One of his promises is the sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to encourage the US Senate to ratify it. I’ll be watching for that one.

  12. jade says:

    I actually think it’s quite hilarious myself. I mean, the fact that he’s in a wheelchair and he’s really evil just cracks me up. Think about it, whenever a villain is riding in a chair (in the movies) it usually means he is powerful enough to not have to walk. “walking? pssh!” So when Cheney, a villian, is confined to a wheelchair, it happens to be a funny, coincidental combination. Notice how no one thought Roosevelt was extra evil because he used a wheelchair.

  13. Patricia Sprofera says:

    I didn’t read Chris Matthews’s comment until I got the email from JAF earlier today.

    His having uttered those remarks was not surprising. What was surprising was that people actually watch MSNBC and listen to Matthews, et al.

  14. Liz says:

    I posted about this very thing too!

    I didn’t know about this blog, oddly, though I love your old crip commentary site and the essays & columns there. I’m so happy to find your blog 😎

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