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The Curious Incident of the Veep in the Summertime

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For some time I've been wondering whether anyone is going to explain the true mystery of what happened after Hurricane Katrina struck. I read thousands of words on the subject in this morning’s New York Times, and I still don’t get it. Where was the President? And more to the point, where was the Vice President? And don’t tell me Crawford Texas and on a ranch in Wyoming. For days there was an absolute vacuum at the top. Why? What was going on?

You’ll be happy to hear that I have a theory. Is it possible that the President and the Vice President have fallen out? I mean, I’m just asking. But if you remember September 11, 2001 -- and I’m sure you do -- the President had no idea what to do, but the Vice President did. The Vice President took over. He didn’t even consult with the President. He put the President on Air Force One and the President spent the day flying from one airport to another, which was something that even the President eventually understood made him look as if he wasn’t in charge.

The relationship between Cheney and Bush has always reminded me of a moment I witnessed in the movie business many years ago. I had written a script for an actress, and she had decided she wanted to direct it. This was a terrible idea, because she was famous for dithering, but there was no question that the studio would make the movie if she directed it. “Don’t worry about it,” the producer of the movie said to me when I asked if she was remotely capable of directing a movie. “We can walk her through it.”

It’s always been clear to me that five years ago, when all those Republican guys got together and realized that George Bush could be elected president – and that he wasn’t remotely capable – they came to an understanding: they would walk him through it. I’m sure it seemed like a swell idea, especially because it meant that they’d be in a perfect position to convince him to do all sorts of exciting things they had always wanted to do.

Cheney was the point man. Cheney was the guy they put on Meet the Press. Cheney was the person who seemed always to be the first responder. Cheney was the official they put into the bunker last May when a plane flew too close to the White House; Bush, who was bicycling in Maryland, wasn’t even told about the episode until forty minutes after it was over. Even Laura Bush, who was in the bunker with Cheney, publicly questioned the decision to keep the President in the dark.

But if you look at the chart in Sunday's New York Times, which tells you who was where when Katrina struck, Cheney doesn’t even get a listing. It’s Bush, Chertoff, Brown. Bush I and Bill Clinton were summoned to help. But Cheney didn’t even turn up back in Washington until last week, when he was sent off for a day of spouting platitudes while touring the flood zone.

Like the curious incident of the dog that didn’t bark in the famous Sherlock Holmes story, Cheney’s the missing person in this event, and one has to wonder why. If he were a woman, I would guess he’d been busy recovering from a face-lift, but he’s not. So I can only suppose that something has gone wrong. Could the President be irritated that Cheney helped con him into Iraq? Oh, all right, probably not. Could Cheney – and not just his aides -- possibly be involved in the Valerie Plame episode? Is Cheney not speaking to Karl Rove? Does the airplane/bicycle incident figure into this in any way? And how is it possible that the President is off on vacation and the Vice President is too? Not that it matters that much if the President is on vacation; on some level, the President is always on vacation. But where was Cheney?

Just asking.