Dick Cheney: Bush critic

Bush grew weary of Cheney and his bad advice, as often happens with Presidents and their running mates. The code is to suffer in silence, but when did Cheney ever think he needed to obey custom?
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Bush and Cheney: Their decade didn't even make it for 10 years.

Bush grew weary of Cheney and his bad advice, as often happens with Presidents and their running mates. The code is to suffer in silence, but when did Cheney ever think he needed to obey custom?

This is rich. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is writing his memoirs. They undoubtedly will rail against what he sees as grave dangers presented to the international and economic security of the United States by the Obama administration. No surprise there. But they reportedly also contain putdowns and dismissals of his former boss, President George W. Bush, depicted as a weak guy who lost his way when he quit paying attention to Cheney.

Cheney's book won't actually get published until spring, 2011, but he already has launched a talk-show, lunch-with-columnists campaign to hype its sales on publication. If the contents of his memoirs are as reported, Cheney will only succeed in reinforcing the picture he drew of himself during the eight Bush years. It also proves the point that Presidents should think twice or three times before selecting their prospective Vice Presidents and senior appointees.

Bush the Younger came to the Presidency as a successful Texas governor aiming to establish "compassionate conservatism" in the White House. He had worked across party lines in Texas and intended to do so in Washington, D.C. His transition activities — dealing with policy and policy appointees — had been run by Cheney who quite artfully positioned himself to be chosen as Bush's running mate. Bush did not know the depth of Cheney's commitment to a neo-conservative agenda, unlike Bush's own, or of his long partnership with Donald Rumsfeld, who Cheney pushed to be Defense Secretary.

These choices became critical when, post-9/11, Bush found himself in the midst of an international crisis for which his prior experience had not prepared him. He turned in the crisis not to his father, George H.W. Bush, or his father's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, but to Cheney, Rumsfeld, Defense Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz, and others who urged an Iraq intervention on the greenhorn President. The centerpiece of their argument was that Saddam Hussein had resumed production of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in Iraq and that the presence of these weapons necessitated the intervention. CIA Director George Tenet, a suck-up careerist, assured Bush it was "a slam dunk" that such weapons existed in Iraq.

You know the rest. As his Presidency proceeded, Bush lost confidence in Cheney-Rumsfeld and eventually canned Rumsfeld, replacing him with current Defense Secretary Bob Gates. He also reportedly stopped listening to Cheney and rebuffed him when he tried to save Rumsfeld and when he urged a pardon for Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, after Libby's 2007 convictions for perjury and obstruction of justice.

The only thing different about the Bush-Cheney relationship from those of other recent Presidents and Vice Presidents is that Cheney has been willing to break the normal code of respectful silence usually observed after their service together.

From George Washington onward, U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents often have been at odds.

In modern history, Franklin Roosevelt ran four times for President with three different running mates — dumpingJohn Nance Garner and Henry Wallace before choosing Harry Truman as his fourth-term running mate. Truman, on taking office, was ignorant of the fact of a nuclear bomb and unbriefed on most important issues attending the looming end of World War II. Garner characterized the Vice Presidency as "not worth a pitcher of warm s...t."

Dwight Eisenhower treated his Vice President, Richard Nixon, with some distaste and did not campaign for him in his 1960 run for the Presidency against John F. Kennedy. JFK — and especially his brother and campaign manager, Robert Kennedy — viewed his own 1960 running mate, Lyndon Johnson, with semi-contempt. LBJ was on the national ticket only to assure it carried Texas, which it did, and thus the election.

Johnson cold-shouldered his own Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, for much of his term and tried to bully him out of Vietnam dissent. (As Humphrey's assistant in the LBJ White House, I saw first-hand the daily humiliations Johnson meted out to his Vice President). Johnson's big mistake, on succeeding Kennedy, was to keep JFK's foreign policy/national security advisers, Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, and Walt Rostow. They, as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et. al. in the Bush II administration, counseled a deepening involvement in a mistaken war.

Nixon's Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was a dreadful hack who was forced to resign his office after being caught accepting cash-filled envelopes across his desk. Agnew's successor, Gerald Ford, ascended to the Presidency after Nixon's fall and promptly changed policy course on a number of fronts, including Vietnam.

Bush the Elder was embarrassed over time by his selection of Dan Quayle as his running mate. On the Democratic side, unsuccessful Presidential candidates George McGovern, in 1972, and Walter Mondale, in 1984, were hurt by their selections of Tom Eagleton and Geraldine Ferraro, who had previously unknown skeletons in their political closets.

Fact is: Most Vice Presidential candidates are selected either because they do no harm to the Presidential candidate and/or because they bring some needed political benefit with them — such as LBJ's strength in Texas which JFK needed in 1960.

John McCain's notorious selection of Sarah Palin last year helped sink his campaign. Joe Biden was selected as President Obama's running mate principally for his appeal to white, working-class voters in critically important Middle Atlantic states. In the Senate, he had risen to chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee but otherwise was regarded as an often impetuous hip-shooter.

I over many years saw the inside of relationships between Democratic Presidents and Vice Presidents and Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees. None could be characterized as genuinely felicitous and close. But few spoke out loud to tell about it.

Cheney, who regards himself as a heavyweight among flyweights (everyone else), turns out to be the one who has broken this unwritten rule. When his book is released, may he look back one more time — and be turned to salt.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.