Avoiding Accountability in the Cheney Presidency

Robert Kuttner has an article in the Boston Globe on noting that it doesn’t matter whether George Bush is on vacation because the man really running the country is Dick Cheney:

GEORGE W. BUSH has been faulted in some quarters for taking an extended vacation while the Middle East festers. It doesn’t much matter; the man running the country is Vice President Dick Cheney.

When historians look back on the multiple assaults on our constitutional system of government in this era, Cheney’s unprecedented role will come in for overdue notice. Cheney’s shotgun mishap, when he accidentally sprayed his host with birdshot, has gotten more media attention than has his control of the government.

Kuttner takes this futher than most who have observed in the past by noting that this is a way to avoid accountability:

The Iraq war is the work of Cheney and Rumsfeld. The capture of the career civil service is pure Cheney. The disciplining of Congress is the work of Cheney and Rove. The turning over of energy policy to the oil companies is Cheney. The extreme secrecy is Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

If Cheney were the president, more of this would be smoked out because the press would be paying attention. The New York Times’ acerbic columnist Maureen Dowd regularly makes sport of Cheney’s dominance, and there are plenty of jokes (Bush is a heartbeat away from the presidency). But you can count serious newspaper or magazine articles on Cheney’s operation on the fingers of one hand. One exceptional example is Jane Mayer’s piece in the July 3 New Yorker on Cheney operative David Addington .

Cheney’s power is matched only by his penchant for secrecy. When my colleague at the American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss, requested the names of people who serve on the vice president’s staff, he was told this was classified information. Former staffers for other departments provided Dreyfuss with names.

While the media goes along with the claims that George Bush is The Decider, the country might not be as ready to go along with the government’s move to the extreme right if they realized this was the doing of Dick Cheney and not George Bush:

When George W. Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry in 2004, many commentators observed that Bush was the fellow with whom you would rather have a beer. It’s an accurate and unflattering comment on the American electorate — but then who wants to have a beer with Cheney? The public may not know the details of his operation, but voters intuitively recoil from him.

Bush’s popularity ratings are now under 40 percent, beer or no, reflecting dwindling confidence in where he is taking the country. But Cheney’s ratings are stuck around 20 percent, far below that of any president.

If Cheney were the actual president, not just the de facto one, he simply could not govern with the same set of policies and approval ratings of 20 percent. The media focuses relentless attention on the president, on the premise that he is actually the chief executive. But for all intents and purposes, Cheney is chief, and Bush is more in the ceremonial role of the queen of England.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. The Republicans found success in the past with a President who was often content to be figure head with others running the show in Ronald Reagan. Where things differ now is the degree to which a single individual has taken so much power.

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