Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Permanent Cabinet Member

In 2000, I was with quite a few other people in lauding the choice of Dick Cheney to be George W. Bush's vice presidential running mate. He seemed a perfect complement to Bush: experienced, cool, hard-nosed, and supremely knowledgeable of the insider's game.

That analysis was largely true, but who was aware of the radical remake of the government in the form of greatly increased executive power that Cheney and allies like Donald Rumsfeld had in mind? Or how it would be so amplified by the War on Terror?

I don't think Cheney is evil incarnate like some, but even now wields immense power in this administration, and on some key issues, has long since lost his way. His ideology makes him believe that toughness in foreign policy, something that was missing under President Clinton, is a strategy in itself.

None of that is news to anyone. But what it got me thinking about this morning was the desired role of a vice president.

Up until Al Gore, vice presidents were almost universally powerless, the position shunned by many leading political candidates. Gore took things up several notches, and Cheney's power in the administration is off the charts.

I've always thought this increase in power was a good trend, because it only made sense to get another capable advisor and actor available to the president. Another cabinet member, really.

But there is one inescapable problem. If VPs turn out to be a bad choices, they can't be dismissed. Yes, they can be jettisoned for a re-election bid, and Bush should have done just that for 2004. But why would he? Bush had no problem with Cheney, it was people outside his administration. They weren't large in number in November of 2004, but have grown significantly since.

Hillary Clinton is another example, of course. Her mismanagement of health care in 1994 did much to bring on the 1994 Republican House victory, and a presidential spouse with great power isn't going anywhere either.

I still think the expanded role for vice presidents is a good thing, but it gives me more pause.

1 comment:

redbarb said...

Vice-Presidents should be like backup quarterbacks. They should be able to do the job but not who you really want to start. I am sure the 08 campaign will feature assurances that the veep picks "won't be Cheney." It is unlikely anyone without any presidential possibilities but with lots of influence will be seen in that job for awhile. Dick has poisoned the well for those types.