Crossposted with the Center for American Progress
Eric Alterman, Danielle Ivory
Former President George W. Bush recently mused with the press about scooping up his dog's droppings. Meanwhile, former Vice President Dick Cheney has taken on the role of attack dog. Some conservatives have suggested that President Barack Obama somehow goaded Cheney into this role when he attacked the VP during the campaign.
Alas, it was no secret to anyone that much of what we call the "Bush administration" was really the "Cheney administration" beginning with Cheney's choice of himself as VP. Cheney's profile in the Bush administration was hardly that of the proverbial "warm bucket of spit." Rather, as de jure vice president, Cheney acted as de facto president, sometimes behind the curtain, sometimes in front of it.
In his excellent book, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, Barton Gellman wrote, "Cheney's influence in the Bush administration is widely presumed but hard to illustrate. Many of the men and women who know him best said an explanation begins with the way he defined his role." He continued: "Other recent vice presidents have enjoyed a standing invitation to join the president at "policy time." But Cheney's interventions have also come in the president's absence, at Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels where his predecessors were seldom seen. He found pressure points and changed the course of events by "reaching down," a phrase that recurs often in interviews with current and former aides.
Mary Matalin, who was counselor to the vice president until 2003 and remains an informal adviser, described Cheney's portfolio as "the iron issues" -- a list that, as she defined it, comprises most of the core concerns of every recent president. Cheney took on "the economic issues, the security issues . . . the energy issues" -- and the White House legislative agenda, Matalin said, because he became "the go-to guy on the Hill." Other close aides noted, as well, a major role for Cheney in nominations and appointments.
This was unprecedented. As Robert Kuttner has pointed out Cheney's role actually created a kind of constitutional crisis....
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at http://www.thenation.com/blogs/altercation.
Danielle Ivory is a reporter and producer for the American News Project. She lives in Washington, D.C.
This column was recently named as a finalist in the category of "Best Commentary -- Digital" for the Mirror Awards.