Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Shapeshifting Veep

Latest Newspaper column:

I'm sure it's become obvious by now that I don't have any great love for the Bush administration.

But every now and then, I have to confess a certain admiration for their sheer chutzpah. (If you're not familiar, chutzpah is a Yiddish word meaning sheer, unmitigated brazenness. The classic definition of someone with chutzpah is the boy who murders both parents, then pleads for mercy because he's an orphan.)

This time, the one making me shake my head in disbelief is the Vice President, Dick "Shooter" Cheney. Recently, Cheney has begun to advance one of the most cockeyed legal theories since a guy out in San Francisco claimed eating too many Twinkies was evidence of a mental imbalance so he couldn't be guilty of murder.

This latest exercise in vice-presidential gall began with a request from a little-known organization called the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office. As part of their jobs, staff members have to make sure that classified documents are subject to proper security safeguards. In order to do that, naturally enough, they have to know what classified documents are held by whom. To make thispossible, the president signed an executive order requiring all offices to provide information on their classified documentation, including letting the National Archive inspect the VP's offices to see how they're handling sensitive information.

Nope, said Shooter, I ain't a-gonna do it. According to a spokesman, the vice presidency is not part of the executive branch of government and therefore not subject to the required disclosures of the president's order.

Say what? Doesn't the Constitution provide that "the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America," who shall "together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected," etc.? Doesn't that pretty clearly put the president and the veep in the same branch?

Well, Dick Cheney's never been one to let clear language or simple logic stand in his way when he wants to keep something a secret, even in defiance of an order from the president. He's not "an entity within the executive branch," his office claims, because he also presides over the Senate and casts deciding votes in case of ties. So he's really a senator, thus part of the legislative branch.

Except when he isn't. Remember the Super-Secret Energy Task Force that met with Cheney to determine national energy policy in the first Bush term? Remember how they resisted all attempts to find out who actually met with Cheney? Remember what Cheney claimed as his justification for refusing to release the information? Do the words "executive privilege" strike a familiar note?

And he says all of these things with a straight face. At least, I assume that's a straight face. It's hard to tell with Cheney, since his face seems capable of only three expressions: anger, smugness or contempt.

Dick Cheney: He's a legislator! He's an executive! He's both! And neither! He can change his form at will! He's the chameleon vice president! No man can command him, not even the president! (Or he won't. Dubbya won't even back up his own executive order if his veep says no. Some decider.)

It's no wonder that Cheney's popularity ratings have dropped to historic lows, approaching those of the buffoonish Dan Quayle. At least Quayle was good for a few laughs. A poll taken two weeks ago by the American Research Group found that 54 percent of Americans would support impeaching Cheney. (A whopping 45 percent would support impeachment of Bush himself). If this keeps up, there'll be infectious diseases with higher favorability ratings than Shooter.

It looks, however, as if the Congress is at least moving to rein Cheney in, even if it refuses to stand up to Dubbya. On July 10, a Senate appropriations panel chaired by Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stripped $4.8 million out of Vice President Cheney's budget for not complying with security rules.

It may be just in time, too. Cheney is reportedly the person in the White House who's most determined to get us into yet another shooting war, this one with Iran. He has apparently convinced himself and his minions that a full-out bombing campaign against Iran won't cause the entire Middle East to explode in anti-American warfare, and so what if it did? We'll get the troops from somewhere.

Fortunately, this appears to be very much the minority position in the White House, but we'd better keep an eye on the vice president and make sure he doesn't come up with some other insane theory that also makes him supreme commander of the armed forces.

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage. His third novel, "Safe and Sound" is available now.


Peter said...

Is this one of those political diatribes to which a recent comment objected on another blog? Just checking.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Peter said...

I thought he already was running the armed forces. Just don't let him become chief justice or commissioner of baseball.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"