TCS Daily

Hail to the Veep, Any Veep

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - February 24, 2006 12:00 AM

Vice President Cheney's accidental shooting of Harry Whittington has, naturally, opened up all sorts of debate regarding the power the Vice President wields in the current Administration. We are being treated to endless disquisitions on the outsized influence that the Vice President possesses, his penchant for "secrecy" his supposed unaccountability, and so on. And all of these disquisitions appear to carry an underlying argument; one that calls for the power of the Vice Presidency to be significantly reduced. An excellent example of this phenomenon is this Newsweek story, which refers to "the unusual nature of Cheney's power," calls him "by far the most powerful vice president in history, and one of the most secretive and mysterious public officials to ever hold such high office in America," and points out that Cheney is "caricatured as a Darth Vader, spooky, above the law; nefarious." The implication that Dick Cheney's power—and the power of future Vice Presidents—must be curtailed naturally follows from this and other descriptions in the article.

I realize that this debate will become hopelessly muddled in a partisan slugfest given that a specific personality is identified with the office of the Vice Presidency. So let's pretend for a moment that we are not discussing Vice President Cheney, but rather a fictitious Vice President Jones. Make Vice President Jones a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent in your own mind as you read this article—it should not affect my argument or the conclusions that follow from it a jot.

If we assume that Vice President Jones serves in a political environment much like the current one then it is safe to say that both he/she and a fictitious President Smith (also of whatever party suits your fancy) are deeply concerned about terrorism. Given the nature of the September 11th terrorist attacks and their apparent attempt to decapitate the United States government by aiming Flight 93 at either the White House or the Capitol Building, both President Smith and Vice President Jones will specifically be concerned about the line of succession to the Presidency and how the integrity of the line of succession will be maintained in the event of another catastrophic terrorist attack.

Part of maintaining that line of integrity is not only ensuring the orderly transition from a President to a Vice President in the event of the President's incapacity, but also ensuring that the Vice President is fully prepared to take over the duties of the Presidency on a moment's notice. An orderly transition depends quite strongly on the Vice President being able to seamlessly assume the responsibilities of the Presidency and that entails having the Vice President fully briefed and heavily involved in just about every aspect of the decision-making and deliberations regarding the policies of the Administration in which the Vice President serves.

So to return to the case of Vice President Jones, we want to make sure that he/she is entirely up to speed regarding the implementation of specific aspects of foreign and national security policy. We want to make sure that Vice President Jones is getting his/her elbows dirty in setting budgetary priorities. We want to make sure that Vice President Jones is completely conversant with the work of the Department of Homeland Security, especially given the key role the Department would play in any terrorist attack.

Of course, even in the absence of any terrorist threat, we would hope that the job of Vice President Jones would not merely entail "presiding over the Senate and checking the obituaries for reports on the President's health," as one wag famously described the job of the Vice President. We would hope that the position of Vice President would carry with it real power with real responsibility. And that power would stem—as I have written above—from having the Vice President involved in every key aspect of decision-making and policy-making engaged in by the Administration. This isn't a call for a co-Presidency; the Constitution and various court rulings make clear the power of the Presidency and I am not seeking to have that power circumscribed in any way. Rather, it entails having a Vice President who is a full partner, not just someone who is shunted aside to head up special projects of no real or lasting significance, or a glorified flunky one sends to innumerable funerals around the world. Even if we do not face some specific danger that seeks—among other things—to decapitate our government, any Presidency must be concerned with freakish events that might necessitate the Vice President's ascension into the top job. In a day and age when we do face such a danger, the ability of a Vice President to exercise the duties attendant to the office of the Presidency without having to learn on the job becomes all the more important.

It was Vice President John Nance Garner who famously said that the office he occupied was "not worth a pitcher of warm spit." It was a funny comment when made but its humor quotient went down significantly when the President Garner served—Franklin Delano Roosevelt—died suddenly in office and Garner's successor—Harry Truman—was forced to assume the Presidency without any knowledge of key Administration initiatives during the most terrible war to afflict humankind, including the Manhattan Project. Things ultimately worked out fine with President Truman, but his example showed the foolishness of keeping a Vice President powerless and in the dark. Nowadays, with top government officials—including those in the line of succession—in the crosshairs of terrorists—keeping a Vice President powerless and in the dark is not only foolish. It is a national security liability of immense proportions.



Did all the other Veeps bully the CIA, swear at Senators and make up laws as they went along?
Cheney may be the first vice-president who can claim credit for taking the U.S. into a discretionary war -- a war not forced on us by an attack. Is that really in the grand old tradition?

I do not believe the reports of Cheney getting us into war and running the government. I do believe that he is a competent and able public servant with many years of experience in several administrations. His intellegence frustrates the press and his other enemies to the point of them turning to unfounded personal attacks for revenge.
We read of our former vice-president's anti Bush ramblings on foreign soil and are grateful for Clinton's good health while he was president.

No, just the Democratic ones

And you believe this why?
The evidence to the contrary is abundant. Just before the invasion of Iraq, for example, the UN nuclear arms inspector, Mohammed ElBaradei said in early March that he had been able to determine quite certainly that the Iraqi nuclear arms program was dead: had not been revived.

Asked about this — and this was a major reason for the invasion — Cheney got on televison (Meet the Press) three days before the invasion, and said “I disagree...I think Mr. ElBaradei is frankly wrong.”

ElBaradei was not frankly wrong: he was dead right. Cheney was dead wrong, and was contradicting the word of a man who had inspectors on the scene.

He subsequently hasn't apologized, hasn't explained where he got his information. Does this seem like "a competent and able public servant?" And this isn't an isolated instance, put a persistent pattern.

If you can document this, please do so
But you've never documented anything, ever, so why expect you to now?

Fortunato northernguy
Fortunato writes that Vice-Pres. Cheney can claim credit for taking America into war. I'm a little confused about this newly discovered aspect of the American governmental system. How exactly did Cheney order the Senate and House of Representatives to repeatedly pass supportive legislation with huge majorities? How did he order the American voters to return himself and Pres. Bush to office with increased support while the war was still going on?

Fortunato, perhaps you don't accept that in a democracy the political leadership and the voters may choose to legitimately pursue policies with which you disagree.

Your objections to the current policy in Iraq may be well founded but it doesn't require a demon in the administration for contrary policies to be selected. The centrality of Iraq to a stated need for the war on terror was the main issue in the election which _re-elected_ Pres. Bush. You may feel that you were disadvantaged in that election because the Democrats nominated the one person in the U.S. who did not have a clear position on the Iraq war but nominate him they did. They did so even though they had clear alternative candidate for the nomination who clearly rejected the war in Iraq and, indeed, the foundational premise of Pres. Bush's war on terror. The Democrats refused the rejectionists for no reason other than those potential nominees' clear Iraq/terror position because the Democratic leadership felt (correctly in my opinion) that they would get wiped out with such candidtates. Instead they chose a candidate who was very skilled at trying to play it both ways. It almost worked.

Your candidate lost. He lost so badly he didn't even get to be a formal candidate in the election. In fact his efforts to get the nomination so compromised the public perception of the Democratic party that they couldn't use the amazing personal flexibility of principle of their eventual choice to sufficient advantage.

I'm aware that there was and is a debate in the State dept. and the C.I.A. about which is the greater long term threat; the Sunni with its various leaderless strands or the Shia with its model of central leadership. Unfortunately for Sadaam, while both he and the ayatolleh were clear and present dangers the Sadaamites were the most obvious and active threat. Even worse for Sadaam was that he was an easy target who deliberately tried to focus world attention on how big a threat he could be. Little did he realise that the Americans wouldn't just attack, destroy the military, make sure the Iranians stayed out of Iraq and then leave allowing him to resume running the country. Incredibly, the Americans stayed and turned the country into something that made him and his followers look like fools.

Yes, fortunato, there are plenty of reports that show all kinds of things. Some of them actually disagree with the strategy, tactics and policies that were eventually chosen. Some were available before the choices were made. Some may actually have come to the attention of the decision makers. Who cares besides you? Other, superior decisions were made. The actual decisions made were subsequently ratified many times over by duly constituted governmental leadership and eventually the voters of America.

You don't like the results of the last few elections. We get it. Try and get over it.

Irrelevancy and worse
The point is not the result of the U.S. election, (you really didn't have to write five paragraphs about the fact the the administration was elected and re-elected) but demonstrated incapability in office. The fact of (for example) the wild irresponsibility of the charges of Iraq nuclear weapons used to justify war is documented.

And this is just bizarre:

>Even worse for Sadaam was that he was an easy target who deliberately tried to focus world attention on how big a threat he could be. Little did he realise that the Americans wouldn't just attack, destroy the military, make sure the Iranians stayed out of Iraq and then leave allowing him to resume running the country. Incredibly, the Americans stayed and turned the country into something that made him and his followers look like fools.

Yes, "incredibly" is the word Do you really think that what Iraq looks like today makes Cheney's deceptions to motivate invasion look good and justified???

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