Wyoming’s favorite son has taken a wrong turn
Star-Tribune Editorial Board
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Vice presidents, once upon a time, had little to do beyond waiting for something to happen to the boss. Other than attending foreign funerals and occasionally casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, they rarely got into the game.
All that changed in 2000, when Dick Cheney went looking for George W. Bush’s running mate and found that the perfect candidate was (drum roll) Dick Cheney. He resigned from Texas-based Halliburton and rediscovered his Wyoming roots. From that election on, Cheney devoted himself to the task of making the executive branch answerable to no one.
The ironic twist in the latest Cheney controversy is the vice president’s contention that his office isn’t even part of the executive branch. Cheney certainly was part of the president’s team when he invoked executive privilege to hide the names of his secret energy policy advisers. But he apparently becomes a free agent when he’s asked to follow an executive order about the storage of classified data.
By declaring that his Senate powers make his office a legislative-executive hybrid, Cheney reasons that he doesn’t have to follow the rules for either branch. The backlash was predictable. Outraged Democratic lawmakers have threatened to cut funding for his office.
The effort probably won’t succeed. But this incident has inflicted further damage to Cheney’s already battered public image and makes us wonder: Whatever happened to the Dick Cheney who represented Wyoming so effectively in the U.S. House for more than a decade?
How could the man praised for his leadership as defense secretary during the first Gulf War become one of the architects of a second Gulf War that has gone horribly wrong?
Comedians used to make us laugh by suggesting Cheney, not Bush, was really running the show. But the joke isn’t funny anymore. It seems Bush either turned over many duties to his vice president, or looked the other way when Cheney grabbed them. Either way, the president can’t duck responsibility for his subordinate’s actions.
A solid reason exists for Cheney’s miserably low public approval ratings: His insistence on secrecy creates the impression he has things to hide. The vice president gets to pick most of his battles, and for the past six years they often have been about keeping information from the public.
The executive order Cheney refused to follow, by itself, is a fairly small matter that speaks more to arrogance than any potential security breach. But his laughable excuse struck a nerve with the public. Here is a man who believes he is so untouchable, he doesn’t even have to answer to the president.
The old Dick Cheney didn’t work exclusively behind the scenes. Republican fundraisers weren’t the only events that drew him out in public. Before Cheney became the Bush administration’s stealth warrior, most of us were proud that he grew up here and represented us. Even people who disagreed with his politics respected him.
There is still time for Cheney to mend his image before he leaves office in January 2009. But he needs to stop acting as though his decisions mustn’t be questioned, and accept that he has made mistakes. No matter how many times Cheney insists Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, it won’t change the fact that he wasn’t. Too many people regret the Iraq war for anyone to buy Cheney’s argument that opponents want to abet terrorism. That’s offensive and insults Cheney’s own intelligence.
Wyoming people are loyal to their own, but the vice president needs to give his neighbors a better reason to support him. He’s running out of time