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Cheney and Biden

Whether Vice President Cheney served the President well is a matter of public dispute. But the current “debate” over the proper role of the VP is a bit ridiculous. And, as often happens with such debates, it mixes different topics into one murky cloud:

Mr. Biden said he believed that the advice and recommendations Mr. Cheney had given President Bush “has been not healthy for our foreign policy, not healthy for our national security, and it has not been consistent with our constitution, in my view.”

Well, if the advice was not good, then Cheney was a bad advisor. There’s nothing inconsistent “with our constitution” about bad advice.

While saying, of vice presidential powers, that “I think we should restore the balance here,” he [Biden] also declined to endorse a comment, attributed to an aide of his, that the office should be returned “to its historical role.”

And this is where Biden exposes his true feelings about Cheney and the Vice Presidency: he wants to benefit from the unpopularity of Cheney, pleasing the unhappy voters by promising more “balance.” But Biden is also a healthy politician, who likes power (nothing wrong with that). That’s why the “historical role”–namely, no power to Biden–is not an appealing prospect for him. So Biden is distancing himself from Cheney, while keeping open the possibility that he will wield Cheney-like powers.

And, of course, you never hear Biden–or any other Democrat–complain about Al Gore having had “too much power” in the Clinton administration. Gore, for those with memories incapable or unwilling to go eight short years back, was the most powerful VP in the history of the U.S., until Cheney came along. The portfolio he was handling, and his personal manner, were not as controversial as Cheney’s. But that doesn’t make Gore any less of a proto-Cheney, at least insofar as expanding the scope of vice-presidential power is concerned, after the fact.

Cheney, being Cheney, could hardly resist the temptation to take a swing at this Biden position:

“If he [Biden] wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that’s obviously his call,” Cheney said of Biden. “President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and apparently, from the way they’re talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time.”

Ignoring for a moment one’s personal feelings about Cheney–or the many disagreements one might have with him over policy matters-ask yourself this question: if Biden were to be offered by Obama the same powerful role that Cheney occupied in the Bush administration, do you really think he’d say no?


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