June 26, 2007

The Man in the Shadows is Unfit for Office

Tomorrow, The Washington Post's Barton Gellman and Jo Becker conclude their landmark four-part series on the Vice Presidency of Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney is roundly regarded as the single most influential and powerful man ever to hold the office of Vice President, and the Post series examines in unprecedented depth his largely hidden - and poorly understood - role in creating and implementing policies for the so-called War on Terror, the economy and the environment. The series breaks down as follows:
  • The first part is entitled Working in the Background, and details the manner in which Mr. Cheney has exerted his influence behind the scenes through his mastery of bureaucracy and court intrigue.
  • Wars and Interrogations is the second installment and a chilling examination of the Vice President's role in promoting the torture of captured foreign nationals, and his leadership in the movement to disregard the Geneva Conventions.
  • Part three is Dominating Budget Decisions, and looks at the VP's behind-the-scenes work to outmaneuver rivals for President Bush's ear and make himself the dominant voice on tax and spending policy.
  • The concluding installment focuses on Environmental Policy, and how Mr. Cheney captained some of the Bush administration’s most significant environmental decisions, including looser air pollution controls, the opening of public parks to snowmobiles, and diverting river water from threatened salmon.
With Mr. Cheney's recent and utterly ridiculous claim that he is not, in fact, part of the Executive Branch of the federal government, this is much-needed reporting, and what it reveals about the startlingly dysfunctional Bush White House is disturbing. Worse, it paints a worrying portrait of a vice president intent on accruing power to himself and his position - no matter the constitutional or legal barriers to that desire - with total disregard for the impact his actions have on operational and policy readiness or the long-term prospects for American democracy.

It is important - among the usual spinning and shilling from backers of the Bush regime - to focus on one thing: Vice President Cheney's novel -if absurd - assertion that his duties as President of the Senate make his position a hybrid of legislative and executive responsibilities, is completely and inarguably false. Article II of the Constitution is entitled "The Presidency," and it clearly establishes that the Vice President is part of the Executive Branch:
Section 1: The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected, as follows...
Further, as Dana Milbank points out in an excellent piece called The Cheese Stands Alone, the Vice President enjoys some advantages not typically accorded members of the House or Senate:
"The vice president's theory seems to be one almost laughable on its face, that he's not part of the executive branch," Senator Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said in a conference call with reporters from his car. "I think if you ask James Madison or Benjamin Franklin or any of the writers of the Constitution, they'd almost laugh if they heard that."

Madison and Franklin did not return phone calls yesterday.

Maybe Schumer was just jealous. After all, Cheney enjoys perks not available to his colleagues in the legislative branch: a mansion off Massachusetts Avenue, Air Force Two, a West Wing office and a huge staff in the, uh, Executive Office Building next to the White House.
This being the case, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel is moving to take Mr. Cheney at his word by offering an amendment that will defund all of those executive entity privileges, and bring the Vice President's office in line with those of what he would have us believe are his "fellow legislators." Says Emanuel, "This amendment will ensure that the vice president's funding is consistent with his legal arguments."

Whatever he may be, Vice President Cheney is not a stupid man, and the idea that he is wholly ignorant of the Constitution is simply not credible. Mr. Cheney is willfully disregarding the law; and this latest outrage is merely the capstone to a career as holder of the nation's second-highest office that has been nothing short of utterly disgraceful. There should be no remaining doubt that Dick Cheney is thoroughly unfit for the vice presidency.

As usual, Jon Stewart cuts through the spin from the Bush noise machine, and lays it all out in a piece from Monday's The Daily Show called "Non-Executive Decision." (Video courtesy of Crooks and Liars.)

[NOTE: This post has been updated to provide the link to the last installment of the Washington Post series on Vice President Cheney, which was not available at the time of publication.]

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