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Jacob Heilbrunn

Jacob Heilbrunn

Posted: December 21, 2008 07:13 PM

Cheney's Out of Angles and Biden's Full of Them


It was refreshing to see Joe Biden refuse to take the diplomatic route about Dick Cheney's preposterous statements on -- where else? -- Fox News Sunday about the sweeping powers that the Constitution grants the vice-president. Biden was having none of it. He didn't simply dismiss the notion that the vice-president has what amounts to monarchical authority, but also the president. Biden emphatically rejected what he rightly called the "unitary executive" theory of the presidency -- the flapdoodle cooked up by David Addington and John Yoo to legitimize torture and a host of other unseemly policies pursued by the Bush administration. This was simply another variant of Richard Nixon's "when the president does it, it isn't illegal" contention.

Even if Cheney remains deaf to the obvious, it is. Cheney's sour remarks are a reminder of why he and Bush can't depart Washington too soon. While Bush has at least feinted at second thoughts in his recent appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, which prompted the Washington Post's Dana Milbank to call him "a walking confession booth," Cheney has remained unrepentant. So has William Kristol's Weekly Standard, which features a hatchet-job on Barton Gellman's excellent study of Cheney's operational code, Angler. As the Bush administration reaches it final weeks, however, Cheney appears to be out of angles. The most he can do is grouse about the ungratefulness of his detractors for his tireless efforts on behalf of the nation. But Biden had it right: Bush and Cheney's ham-fisted war on terror has created rather than suppressed terrorists. Too bad the Democrats didn't take a more vigorous stand, however, when it counted. It remains an amazing fact that Obama was one of the few to denounce the Iraq War even before it was launched. The other prescient voice was Brent Scowcroft, who put it simply in the August 15, 2002 Wall Street Journal: "Don't attack Saddam."

The good news is this: Barack Obama seems to be including Biden in all significant meetings and has now tapped him to oversee a "White House Task Force on Working Families." It doesn't appear to be simply a token task force. It's supposed to push for reforms and develop policy proposals, which can't come too quickly. Oh, and guess what? It won't be operating in secret, either.