The Choice of Cheney

I didn’t watch the vice presidential debate. I have taken to reading such things online by preference but in thinking about the two men involved I am struck by what an odd choice Cheney was for vice president. I think this says something about the way that Bush views the Presidency.

Historically, VPs are chosen primarily for political reasons. Usually, they balance the ticket regionally or are a sop to one wing of party. The VP is there largely because the Constitution requires it. The VP is an outsider to the President’s inner circle. He has a role and is consulted and kept apprised but he is not core.

Cheney is rather unique among VPs in that he was selected not as a Constitutionally mandated spare president or to placate some faction of the Republican party. Cheney is Bush’s right-hand man. He is a member of Bush’s inner circle and a core team player.

I think Bush constructed his administration the way he set up a business team. A vice president of a corporation has definite responsibilities and power devolves though them from the president. Bush seems to view Cheney in this role of a manager or administrator, not in the role of a political associate. Cheney is probably the first VP to have the full trust and confidence of his president and vice versa. He is directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the Administration.

Bush seems to have a ruthlessly practical approach to problem solving. I don’t think theory interests him much. He set up his administration to get things done managerially, not to accomplish some short-term political goal. Cheney gets things done so Bush put him in the VP slot while ignoring the traditional political wisdom.

In the process he may have permanently altered the office of the Vice Presidency.

4 thoughts on “The Choice of Cheney”

  1. ” the first VP to have the full trust and confidence of his President and vice versa”

    Actually, Gore was a notably involved player in Clinton’s administration. Similar things were said at the time that this represented a shift in the nature of the office, etc. George Bush, Sr. was pretty involved with Reagan’s decision-making, too, but he was picked in the first place to unify the Party primarily, and he turned out to be useful leutenant and advisor as a bonus.

    Do we see a trend in recent years toward the Gore Cheney model? If so does it have to do with the demands of the office and the need to spread the work around? Is the need for electoral “balance” less than it once was, allowing the use of this position for other purposes? Or is it a peculiarity of the last two administrations?

    More generally, presidents often have a “Prime Minister” or at least senior consiglieri, and who that is depends on the personalities involved. FDR had Harry Hopkins, though he really never let any single person get too close or too powerful; JFK had RFK; Nixon had Halderman; for Bush, Sr. it was James Baker — for George Washington, it was Hamilton, his Treasury Secretary. But for Bush 43 it reaoly is Cheney.

    The VP slot, since its formal duties are so vague, can be used for this purpose but doesn’t have to be, particularly if the political functions Shannon mentions are for some reason less important these days than they once were.

  2. Dick Morris on VP selection and the VP debate, here. Excerpt:

    The Al Gore vice presidential candidacy of 1992 was the beginning of a process of choosing a VP who will provide a metaphor to help us grasp the essence of the presidential candidate. Whereas formerly one sought balance in the ticket by naming a person who was one’s opposite, Bill Clinton chose Gore to emphasize the generational aspect of his candidacy and to stress its moderate mid-south roots.
    Cheney is not a metaphor for Bush. He’s older, wiser and more articulate. But Edwards served as a poor metaphor for Kerry. His lack of substance and glib inexperience made one wonder about John Kerry. Edwards’ inability to go beyond his talking points — the same ones Kerry had already used — illustrated his limitations and, by inference, suggested that Kerry suffered from similar problems.

    Note that “whereas formerly …” Morris seems to think that something structural is taking place regarding the political role of selecting a VP.

  3. Interesting that the two boomer presidents, both of whom have/will have served two terms unlike 5 of the 6 greatest generation presidents, have redefined the VP position. Perhaps its because they play well with others.

    Cheyney also impresses me as the type of person the founding fathers thought would be chosen by an electoral college as opposed to the popularity contest elections that today attract Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Edward and, yes Bush. Pretty slim pickings. Too bad that idea wasn’t better thought out.

  4. Actually, Cheney did make the point that a VP should be someone who can take over or, as you put it, a spare President. And whether people love him or loathe him – there are very few in the middle – he fits the bill.

    Of course, he probably also made the point to make Edwards look even younger and greener.

Comments are closed.