The Most Overlooked Storyline of '08: The GOP Cheney Problem
In this case, I'm talking about a fascinating and insightful article from Townhall by prolific conservative writer Bruce Bartlett. Although I disagree strongly with Bartlett's politics, his conclusions are dead on.
Bartlett states unequivocally that Bush screwed over Republicans from the get go. He's not talking about the War/Occuaption in Iraq. He's not talking about Katrina. Nor about government for the rich, reckless mismanagement, Dubai ports, outing undercover agents, or trying to use immigration as a wedge issue.
No, he's talking about Bush's selection of and loyalty to Dick Cheney as his vice-president--and the stubborn penchant for sycophancy that led to it.
The article is entitled Republicans' Cheney Problem, and I strongly encourage everyone to read the whole article. But the absolute key paragraph that will raise some eyebrows is this one:
That the Republicans do not have a sitting vice president running for the presidential nomination in 2008 is entirely George W. Bush's doing. In 2004, he decided that he would rather have a vice president who would never question him than one who could carry on his legacy. As Bush explained in a Feb. 12, 2007 interview on C-SPAN:
"From my perspective, it is good not to have a vice president running for president. Can you imagine somebody out there running and all of a sudden saying, 'Well, I wouldn't have done it exactly that way.' When things got difficult, like they are in Iraq, I told the president that he should have done it this way. He chose another way.' In other words, there would be the tendency for a candidate who was associated with the president to feel like they needed to distance themselves during the tough moments, like right now, and that would create instability inside the administration."
This is absolutely critical: Bush picked Cheney (and stuck with him) because Cheney would stay loyal to his batshit crazy policies even when they went south (as even he must have known they would). And now Republicans like Bartlett who still remain enamored of Bush's policies are upset with Dear Leader because he valued loyalty and message consistency over the ability to carry on the rotten legacy of his policies.
What Bartlett and his colleagues fail to realize is that sycophancy, belligerence, secrecy and unresponsiveness are legacies of this president--the disasters of Iraq, Katrina, etc., are merely outgrowths of an entire "fuck-you" attitude towards governance. Further, it's not clear why Bartlett should be surprised that the leader of an entire political establishment dedicated to the philosophy of "Look Out for Number 1" spent his political career and capital, well...looking out for number 1, rather than looking out for his Party.
Bartlett, of course, goes on to argue the obvious points in favor of having a vice-president willing to carry on your legacy as a president--a position Bush explicitly chose to deny his own Party:
Another virtue of having a vice president with ambitions of his own is that he is the only senior White House official in a position to resist the sycophancy that always surrounds the president. This is important because presidents live in a bubble, surrounded by people who owe their power and position solely to him. They are loath to be seen as "out of the loop" or to read news stories about their imminent departure, when they had no such plans. This tends to make the White House staff highly responsive to the president's wants, biases and whims.
Once into a second term, the vice president cannot be fired and his own ambitions will encourage him to pressure the president into adopting policies and taking positions that will be popular with voters. Since presidents cannot run for a third term, they would otherwise be totally impervious to public opinion. If a vice president hopes to be elected president himself, he has a strong incentive to advise the president to adopt policies that will make it easier for him to win.
Precisely. That's the whole point! Bush knew good and goddamn well that his policies were atrocious and terrible for the American People--and he sure as hell wasn't going to have some traitorous vice president who would attempt to go over his head to salvage the reputation of the party. (Instead, he would get a traitorous vice-president who would out nuclear proliferations secret agents while remaining loyal to his 27% approval-rating policies). Cheney's atrocious approval ratings aren't by accident--they're by design.
And this, after all, is the modus operandi of George W. Bush: take it over, run it into the ground, and run away. It's what he did to Arbusto oil; it's what he did to the Texas Rangers; and he'll be damned if he doesn't do the same goddamn thing to the Republican Party. Only problem is, he's taking the American People and their representative democracy down with him (to say nothing of the people of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere).
The final paragraph is the kicker:
For these reasons, I think Dick Cheney's lack of ambition for the presidency has been more of a handicap to Bush than the blessing he sees it as. It has fostered insularity at the White House and closed off an important avenue of influence to the president that has encouraged him to take a "go it alone" attitude, which is bad both for the country and the Republican Party.
No doubt--but that's what happens when you make devil-may-care selfishness and greed a moral good; when stubbornness and belligerence are seen as virtues, rather than vices; when a vampire-like insistence on secrecy and lack of sunshine in government are seen as heroic; when faith in idiocy is valued over reasoned intelligence; and when Gordon Gekko's "Greed is Good" speech is seen not as a villain's moral lesson, but as a guidebook for life and motivational seminar.
It's just too bad that we've all had to be unwilling passengers of this careening train wreck.