Thu 1 Jul, 2004 09:29 am
When Cheney's mask slips, it reveals Bush
Nothing will persuade the president to drop his mentor from the team, not even an explosion of expletives
Thursday July 1, 2004
In Washington, political identities cultivated over decades can crumble in a minute. Vice President Dick Cheney presides under the constitution as president of the Senate and is addressed as "Mr President", but former representative Cheney is not a man of the Senate. (The Senate regards itself as distant from the House of Representatives as the Metropolitan Club is from the Horsefeathers saloon near the House side of Capitol Hill.)
Cheney's executive branch credentials were as President Ford's wunderkind chief of staff and elder Bush's secretary of defence, but on the Hill he is remembered as the former house Republican whip during the Reagan period, his only previous elected position. In the house, the Republicans were then in the minority, and Cheney was the driver behind the scenes of the hard right, protector of obstreperous young reactionaries like Newt Gingrich, yet still presentable to the broader establishment as a respectable saturnine figure. Those who observed him operate in the house saw through his veneer, but he elevated himself by advancing the persona of the statesman.
The self-control that had served him so long broke down in public on June 22 on the floor of the Senate during a photo session. As Cheney was posing with members, Senator Patrick Leahy ambled over. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee, had recently been critical, along with other Democrats, of no-bid contracts in Iraq granted to Halliburton, the company Cheney had run and in which he still holds stock options and receives deferred compensation (despite his prior claims to the contrary). "Go **** yourself," the vice president greeted him.
Cheney's spokesman appeared to deny that those words had been spoken: "That doesn't sound like language the vice president would use." But Cheney raced onto Fox News to hail himself as courageous for emotional authenticity. "I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it." Then he elaborated that his ejaculation was an administration policy: "I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue." Leahy's seeming civility, he explained, was just a charade: "I didn't like the fact that ... he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream."
A main source of Cheney's effectiveness and image of competence has been his ability to avoid putting his cards on the table. But in a moment of pique, he dropped the entire deck. His game face fell and his malicious streak broke through. Cheney's blandness had suggested he was deliberate, experienced and imperturbable. In the first Bush administration, victory in the Gulf war solidified that reputation. When the president was defeated, Cheney was not. He emerged from those ashes unscathed.
Just as the elder Bush picked someone who might have been one of his sons, younger Bush chose a version of his father. Dan Quayle was light as a feather, another scion from a wealthy Republican family, the vice president as understudy. Cheney was to be the mentor of the Bush family's Prince Hal and widely believed to represent the old man's realism. In 2000, he was put in charge of selecting George W Bush's running mate, collected the private dossiers of potential candidates and chose himself. Asked who vetted Cheney's financial records, Karen Hughes, Bush's communications aide, replied: "Just as with other candidates, Secretary Cheney is the one who handled that."
Bush's executive branch has been concentrated in Cheney. He has been as powerful as Quayle was irrelevant. It was Cheney who said to UN weapons inspector Hans Blix as he embarked on his mission to Iraq: "We will not hesitate to discredit you"; Cheney who personally tried to force the CIA to give credence to Ahmed Chalabi's fabricated and false evidence on WMD; Cheney who, along with Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld (to whom he was deputy in the Nixon White House), undermined Secretary of State Colin Powell at every turn; and it is Cheney who is the neo-conservatives' godfather.
It is worth remembering that Cheney's link to the neo-cons largely developed after the last Bush administration and was arranged by his wife, Lynne Cheney, cultural warrior on the right, former chairperson of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, the principal neo-con thinktank. Even before his outburst, Cheney had come to stand for special interests, secrecy and political coercion. Under the stress of Bush's falling polls, he cracked.
Bush still strains to project optimism and cast the Democrats as demagogic pessimists. His campaign this week produced a commercial, "John Kerry's coalition of the wild-eyed", that featured snippets of Al Gore, Howard Dean, Michael Moore and Kerry criticising Bush. Interspersed among the Democrats was a frothing and saluting Adolf Hitler. Bush's apparent remake of the Springtime for Hitler number from Mel Brooks' The Producers is partly an attempt to counter the box office success of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Running against Hitler is also an effort to transform the sober Kerry, not Cheney, into the "wild-eyed" threat.
Perhaps the grandest political gesture Bush could make would be dropping Cheney. When Cheney bursts through his mask, he reveals not only his own face, but Bush's. "The idea of dumping Cheney is nuts, makes no sense," one of Cheney's political advisers told me. "One of the reasons he's there is they don't have someone to anoint as a successor." After all, where would it leave Jeb Bush in 2008? "Dumping Cheney would be seen as a sign of weakness. Cheney is very popular in the party." The Bush campaign's premise depends on turning out the maximum Republican vote. Bush can no more repudiate Cheney than he can repudiate himself. Cheney will never hear from Bush the words he hurled at Leahy.
· Sidney Blumenthal is former senior adviser to President Clinton and Washington bureau chief of salon.com
Cheney can go f*ck himself. I'm tired of him f*cking this country.
Re: When Cheney's mask slips, it reveals Bush
Sidney Blumenthal wrote:
"The idea of dumping Cheney is nuts, makes no sense," one of Cheney's political advisers told me. "One of the reasons he's there is they don't have someone to anoint as a successor." After all, where would it leave Jeb Bush in 2008?
Why didn't I say that?
Waitaminute, I did
June 21, 2004
Jan. 29, 2004
Sep. 8, 2003
Glad to have you aboard, Sid!
Sid asks me to pass on his thanks.
Sid asks me to pass on his thanks.
Well, the next time you see Sid give him a big smooch from me.