Rising to the occasion, Part Three

Today, the Washington Post ran the third installment of its four-part series on Vice President Cheney. This one concerns his role in domestic policy. Here, Cheney’s judgments and positions were even more on target (if less heroic) than those pertaining to fighting terrorism. Of course, many of his domestic positions involved “set piece” issues, so it was easier to be correct and more difficult to be heroic.
In any case, Cheney deserves great credit for insisting on pro-growth economic policies, including the tax cuts that helped bring the economy back to life and produce the sustained expansion. Perhaps even more impressively, his screening of potential Supreme Court nomninees, involving two hour interviews for about a dozen candidates, produced a list of five finalists that included John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and two others from the top drawer, Michael Luttig, and Harve Wilkinson.
The article also provides examples of where Cheney’s views did not prevail. In virtually every case, the position the Post attributes to Cheney was, in my opinion, the correct one. For example, according to the Post, Cheney sided with conservatives who wanted the administration to file a brief taking a hard line against race-based preferences in the University of Michigan cases. He was less than enthusiastic about No Child Left Behind. He was unhappy with the administration’s failure to control spending. He objected to the cost of the administration’s prescription drug entitlement. He did not favor nominating Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court.
As interesting as some of this “inside baseball” may be, there’s probably less to these stories than meets the eye. In almost every administration one advisor (or maybe two) ends up playing the leading role. To be sure, as the Post keeps reminding us, the vice president has never been that advisor. But there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be. For one thing, the vice president, unlike all other subordinates in the administration, is actually elected. Moreover, Cheney’s credentials (cabinet member, White House chief of staff, member of Congress, etc.) made him a logical choice for the top advisor role. Certainly, they dwarf those of others who have played that part — e.g., Bobby Kennedy, Bob Haldeman, Hamilton Jordan.
Finally, though the Post implies otherwise, there is no evidence that Cheney is freezing out input the president wants. Bush was free at all times to ask for or about the views of those who lost out in the bureaucratic infighting. Today’s installment shows that Bush made a number of key domestic policy decisions without much regard for what Cheney wanted. As to foreign policy and the war on terrorism, it’s pretty clear that Bush relies increasingly on the views of Secretary of State Rice and others who don’t always see eye-to-eye with Cheney. That Bush previously relied more heavily on Cheney surely was the result of his faith in the man’s judgment, not some form of manipulation.
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