Monday, 19 January 2004

Tricky Dick Deux

Kevin Drum reckons the soft underbelly of the Bush presidency is Dick Cheney:

I’m going to stick with my suggestion that the Democrats could gain some traction by making Cheney a bigger issue in the campaign than vice presidents usually are. It would require a subtle touch, of course, but let’s face it: nobody likes an evil genius operating out of a hole. There ought to be something there we can take advantage of.

On the other hand, Unlearned Hand isn’t buying quite yet:

First of all, I think most Americans just won’t believe any claims that the Vice-President is exerting so much control. It goes against all conventional wisdom on vice-presidencies, and that’s a lot of inertia to overcome.

I’m not so sure about that; vice presidents have become more salient figures over the past 10–15 years than they used to be (see, e.g., Al Gore), although I’ll agree that the size of Cheney’s role is unprecedented. I’m rather inclined to think that vice presidents ought to have larger roles anyway, within the limitation that their primary job is to not die before the president does.

Cheney’s large role, in a lot of ways, is probably due to the relative inexperience of Bush in national politics. Interestingly, though, the “Ex-Governor – D.C. Insider” pattern has applied to every presidential ticket since Ford’s.

Second, it can easily be spun (perhaps correctly) into proof that Democrats know they can’t win by going after the President himself. Karl Rove could have a field day running ads that say “They are picking on the President’s staff because they don’t want to go head-to-head with George W. Bush.”

Well, it’s one thing to go after Andy Card and another to go after Cheney—the latter’s name, at least, is on the ballot. And I think there are legitimate issues that can be aired about Cheney’s role vis à vis Halliburton. I don’t know that I buy them necessarily (Cheney is hardly the first beltway insider to “descend from heaven” into a cushy job in the private sector, to borrow the Japanese coinage), but it’s a legitimate topic for discussion.

Third, I think Cheney’s presence is actually reassuring to a lot of people. To the extent that people do buy into the “Bush is dumb” rhetoric, many of them think having Cheney around makes for a perfect complement: Bush gives them the leadership and machismo that reassures a frightened nation, Cheney provides the organization and runs a lot of the policy analysis.

Perhaps that’s the case. On the other hand, I think the public perception of Cheney is that he’s on the verge of death—hardly a reassuring image. On balance, I tend to agree with Kevin and think Cheney’s a liability, at least on the image side.

Personally, though, I think Democrats could make much more hay with the Creepy Combo of John Ashcroft and Tom Ridge—at least with libertarian-minded voters like me who are deeply skeptical about Homeland Security’s smoke-and-mirrors operation and Ashcroft’s ties to the fundies and the CCC types. With a reasonably credible candidate at the front of the ticket (at this point, it’d have to be Edwards or possibly Kerry), that sort of message might sway my vote.

This is today’s OTB Traffic Jam entry.

Friday, 30 January 2004

Pondering Cheney

Who, exactly, is Dick Cheney’s constituency in the Republican Party? Sauromon figures and “dark princes” don’t generally have much of a political following, and Cheney doesn’t seem to be an exception to the trend. He’s not a darling of the Christian right—John Ashcroft’s their man, and Cheney’s lesbian daughter would probably not endear him to the right either. Cheney has always struck me as more of the “policy wonkish” sort—a right-wing Al Gore without the passion, if such a thing is possible (or, for that matter, not a redundant description).

Which, of course, makes me wonder why the idea of replacing Cheney on the Bush ticket in 2004 seems to be going over like a lead balloon. Even though the potential replacements—Rudy Guiliani and Condi Rice are the names most often bandied about—aren’t exactly faves of the right either, I don’t see how they’re a step down from Cheney for the base. And anyone that thinks a Rick Santorum or Ashcroft-style cultural conservative is a smart addition to the ticket is borderline delusional.

Thursday, 5 February 2004

Time to push the veep out the airlock

Judging from the Plame leak investigation news, the idea of keeping Dick Cheney around seems more and more foolish by the day. He’s got no constituency in the base, Halliburton will always be an albatross around the administration’s neck with him around, and you can hang virtually every criticism of the administration on him—the WMD claims, Plame, corporate cronyism, the works—on his way out the door.

Not that I know who to replace him with, mind you…

Update: Robert Prather thinks I was a bit coy above in not naming Condi Rice as my preferred replacement. Certainly she would be preferable to Guiliani, I don’t see any of the “hard right” folks like Ashcroft or Santorum as being worthwhile, and I don’t really see any other credible candidates out there. On the other hand, making such a pick feels like nothing so much as jumping on the Panthers bandwagon last week did—for all I know, the right pick could be someone from left field (Fred Thompson?).

And, the Functional Ambivalent agrees that it’s time for Cheney to find a privately-financed, but still secure, undisclosed location.

Tuesday, 2 March 2004

Castration still on the table?

Robert Garcia Tagorda is the latest to ponder whether or not Dick Cheney needs to be replaced:

Here’s my tentative observation: Cheney represents two related problems. First, he has a bad image. Second, he gives Democrats a good target for criticism. Rudy and Condi can help fix the first, but they wouldn’t necessarily solve the second. For instance, though they’re significant improvements from a public-relations standpoint, they wouldn’t really slow down the attacks on the jobless recovery.

On national security and foreign policy, they could do both: Rudy’s post-9/11 performance still resonates with the public, while Condi has the professional qualifications. But how much would they add overall to the campaign? Bush is already strong on these fronts, and unless he can gain notably more voters by subtracting Cheney’s Halliburton ties and WMD remarks (among others), I don’t see how Republicans truly benefit from the change.

In the end, it might still be best to dump Cheney, if only to energize the ticket. I just caution against high expectations.

I think dumping Cheney, however, removes the most obvious target for criticism—and the only one actually on the ticket. While some of the Cheney criticism would devolve onto Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge, Paul Wolfowitz, and a host of other figures, it’s hard to pin all of the myriad problems attributable in some tenuous way on Cheney to any single one of them. Removing a lightning rod for critics like Cheney, while not immunizing the administration from criticism, at least has the effect of diffusing that criticism, thus making it harder for Democrats to personalize their attacks.

Update: Kevin Drum doesn’t think it’s going to happen. He asserts that “Cheney is very popular with Bush's conservative base,” something I don’t buy at all, for reasons discussed here, although it’s a forgivable error on Kevin’s part.* For what it’s worth, though, fewer conservatives than moderates think Cheney should be ditched, according to the Annenberg poll numbers that Robert cites, but I can’t tell offhand if the finding is statistically significant.† (The finding may also simply reflect the fact that conservatives are more loyal to the administration in general.)

I’ve previously discussed Cheney’s status as a liability for the administation more than once in the past couple of months as these rumors have swirled around.

Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Two Dicks

Dan Drezner assesses Richard Clarke’s book thusly:

Richard Clarke is the perfect bureaucrat. I mean that in the best and worst senses of the word. In the best sense, it’s clear that Clarke was adept at maximizing the available resources and authority required to do his job, given the organizational rivalries and cultures that made such a pursuit difficult. In the worst sense, Clarke was a monomaniacal martinet whose focus on his bailiwick to the exclusion of everything else is phenomenal.

Dan also provides more ammunition for those of us who think Dick Cheney should get the boot—not just because he’s deadweight on the ticket, but also because he “ha[s] inserted himself into the National Security Council process in a way that deliberately or accidentally sabotaged the decision-making process.”

As Glenn Reynolds might say: double-ouch.

Update: Hei Lun of Begging to Differ has more on Clarke’s alleged Republican credentials (frankly, mine are better). Special bonus: yet another takedown of Josh Marshall’s risible assertion that “I have no stake in Richard Clarke.”