Cheney: a cautionary tale
Since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the vice presidency has not been a purely ceremonial position (ironically, it was FDR's vice president, John Nance Garner, who said that the office "wasn't worth a warm bucket of spit"). Garner was important because he helped sell FDR's New Deal on Capitol Hill. Vice President Richard Nixon was a major political force within the Eisenhower administration. Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush's vice president, headed up a Council on Competitiveness that quietly intervened in regulatory decisions to ease burdens on U.S. industries. Walter Mondale under President Carter and Al Gore under President Bill Clinton were notable advisors on a range of foreign and domestic issues.
Dick Cheney, however, has emerged as by far the most influential vice president in U.S. history. Yet Cheney's tenure is also a cautionary tale for future vice presidents. At the end of the Bush-Cheney years, most Americans think that their country is on the wrong track, President Bush is the most unpopular president in the history of polling, and Cheney's approval ratings are below 20%.
After the highly contested 2000 election, it was Cheney who rejected the wise advice that Bush should govern from the center and find common ground with Democrats. Instead, Cheney insisted that "the suggestion that somehow, because this was a close election, we [conservatives] should fundamentally change our beliefs I just think is silly."
As vice president, Cheney met secretly with industry representatives to craft an energy policy that married the administration to big oil and an environmental policy that ignored the threats of global warming, sought to weaken clean air laws and provided private corporations greater access to public resources. Cheney's counsel secretly crafted a military order that stripped foreign terrorism suspects of their rights under the Constitution and the Geneva Convention and authorized cruel methods of interrogation. In refusing to obey an executive order on how to handle national security secrets, Cheney's counsel asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch."
Cheney was the driving force behind a host of other dubious policies. His counsel developed the rationale for the warrantless wiretapping of Americans. Just three months after Sept. 11, 2001, Cheney pushed for war against Iraq. Going well beyond reliable intelligence, he said in August 2002 that "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction; there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us." Also in 2002, despite contradictory intelligence, he insisted that Hussein's regime "has had high-level contacts with Al Qaeda going back a decade and has provided training to Al Qaeda terrorists." Domestically, the tax and budget policies that he helped implement have led to record spending increases and budget deficits.
In the post-Cheney era, the next vice president should expect to make a major substantive contribution to the new administration. But he or she should consider taking a more humble and less autocratic approach to the office than Cheney.
Allan J. Lichtman is a history professor at American University in Washington. His most recent books are "The Keys to the White House" and "White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement."
The right VP to fight the war on terrorismCounterpoint: Lee Edwards
When George W. Bush picked Cheney as his running mate in 2000, the mass media and political experts fell all over themselves praising his choice. Remember, Allan? They noted Cheney's broad Washington experience as a member of Congress, a White House chief of staff and Defense secretary. They said he brought "gravitas" to a ticket headed by a relatively young man with little foreign policy knowledge.
Following the one vice presidential debate between Cheney and Joe Lieberman, some observers went so far as to say that the Republican and Democratic parties had nominated the wrong men for president. As a matter of fact, Allan, you yourself told CNN in 2000 that you expected Bush to follow Dwight Eisenhower's management style of surrounding himself with a "very strong team," which is why, you said, Bush "chose Dick Cheney as his vice president."
So clearly what bothers you is not Cheney's deep experience and strength of character but his political philosophy -- that is, his conservatism.
You say Cheney rejected "the wise advice" that Bush should "govern from the center" and find common ground with the Democrats. But if Bush and Cheney had taken that advice there would have been no badly needed tax cuts -- which have prevented us from slipping into recession now -- no appointment of John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court and possibly no war on terrorism.
It's just that simple, Allan: Either we are at war or we aren't. If we are not at war, we look to the United Nations and soft diplomacy to protect American interests. If we are at war, we do what Bush and Cheney did -- take the war to the enemy.
As Cheney said at the 2004 Republican national convention, "just as surely as the Nazis during World War II and the Soviet communists during the Cold War, the enemy we face today is bent on our destruction." That is why we drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, captured or killed hundreds of Al Qaeda members and deposed Hussein's regime in Iraq.
And yes, Allan, we acted against Hussein because the majority of policymakers and intelligence services believed, among other factors, that the dictator was developing weapons of mass destruction. As Bill Clinton said when justifying his air offensive against Iraq in December 1998, "mark my words, Saddam will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and he will use them."
There is no denying that there have been no terrorist attacks on our soil in the seven years since Sept. 11, 2001. Is that because of luck, or a lack of will on the part of Al Qaeda, or because of the unrelenting Bush-Cheney war on terrorism? I don't know about you, Allan, but I sleep better at night knowing that someone like Cheney is helping to make the tough decisions that keep America safe.
Lee Edwards is the distinguished fellow in conservative thought at the Heritage Foundation and the author of nearly 20 books, including a forthcoming biography of William F. Buckley Jr.