KERNS: Farewell to Dick

 

 

Bryan Kerns

The often disingenuous political history of the United States has given rise to figures loved and hated, revered and despised. Few, however, have brought about the polarity that the current vice president of the United States has.

Last June, The Washington Post produced a four-part series on the vice presidency of Dick Cheney. The series took a great deal of care to expose the implications of Cheney’s many surreptitious actions in both policy and politics.

Many have speculated about the power Cheney possesses, but rarely has it been corroborated. The Post’s reporting shed rare light on the degree to which Cheney wields his extensive influence in the many corridors of government while rarely stepping out of the shadows.

According to one article, Cheney told former Vice President Dan Quayle that he had a “different understanding with the president.” Namely, Cheney’s long history in government allowed him to develop familiarity with the bureaucratic mechanics that drive the federal government and the legislative process.

He capitalized on that familiarity and sold it to President George W. Bush such that he was given wide latitude to advance the president’s agenda and, in many cases clandestinely, his own.

Cheney’s service as White House Chief of Staff during the Ford years, U.S. Congressman from Wyoming in the 1980s, and U.S. Secretary of Defense during Bush 41’s administration enabled him to build a vast network of contacts in government and the corporate world.

Thus, when it came time to fill both senior cabinet positions and lower-level administrative positions for the current Bush administration, Cheney was at a significant advantage in terms of being able to bring allies into the administration. His influence in cabinet appointments was manifest through the selection of Donald Rumsfeld, but his prodigious ability to gain appointments for political and ideological allies at levels below the cabinet may be the most telling skill Cheney has.

Assembling a coterie of allies throughout the executive departments has allowed Cheney to reach well down the bureaucratic ladder and influence policy at the level of its formation and then at the level of its adoption.

The deck is stacked from the very outset – the vice president’s position is known at the level of the deputy assistant secretary of some department and then when it reaches the president, the vice president is in the room influencing decision making.

Close to 40 years in politics has also given Cheney the distinct ability to cause attrition in the ranks of his enemies. The slow, plodding pace with which he has grown his power has culminated in the second highest office in this country.

Cheney succeeded in re-centering the focus of the U.S. government on the Pentagon and the war in Iraq. He neutralized the influence of former Secretary of State Colin Powell and turned him into an international laughingstock by marginalizing his ability to affect the president.

There, however, is where a type of warped praise for Cheney’s bureaucratic aptitude stops. Although the vice president is able to manipulate the process, it is the act of being bogged down in the mechanical minutiae that ultimately diminishes his ability to look at the finished product he is constructing.

That, therefore, turns the bureaucratic genius into a sniveling imp whose myopic actions and viewpoints should have left him greatly susceptible to defeat.

With little more than nine months left in the Bush presidency, Cheney’s political career is slowly expiring. Chances are good that he will leave the White House on Jan. 20, 2009, and retreat into the proverbial and literal wilderness never to be heard from again.

With approval ratings lower than the president’s and a repugnant legacy of imperious affectation coupled with the illegal expansion of presidential authority, Cheney is cemented as one of the most odious figures in recent political history.

Let’s hope the American people have learned a valuable lesson about just who they put in positions of incomprehensible power.

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Bryan Kerns is a freshman honors and humanities major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]