Monday, January 09, 2006

Is it time for Cheney to go?

Another hospital visit -- this time for side effects of medicine he's been taking for a foot problem -- and so it's time for the question to be asked again: Is it time for Vice-President Dick Cheney to step down?

I say "yes," but not for the reasons you probably think.

Unlike many Democrats, I don't think that Cheney is "Bush's brain" or that he secretly runs the administration from behind the scenes, or anything like that. I think Bush picked him as VP for some good and obvious reasons: His long experience in the executive branch, his close acquaintance with how things are done in DC (including a stint in Congress), his obvious loyalty to the presidents he's served, and the "continuity" image of having a senior official from the previous Bush administration. All of those things were necessary to an incoming president with little political experience (and none in Washington). But, five full years into his presidency, Bush has presumably raised up his own crop of experienced, competent, loyal mandarins. He doesn't need Dick Cheney, at least not in the same way that he did in 2001.

Also unlike many Democrats, I don't regard Cheney as solely a factotum of "the military-industrial complex," slotted into the administration to guard the interests of big contributors in getting sweetheart contracts for Halliburton and friends. I don't write off the likelihood that he's a de facto White House internal lobbyist for those interests ... but any pork-shoveling operation on the scale envisioned by some critics has more than one middleman and this administration isn't going to turn 180 degrees just because the top such middleman retires. The pork will continue to flow.

Finally, unlike some Democrats, I don't think that Cheney's retirement would be a positive for Democratic prospects this year or in 2008. If anything, it would help the GOP, in two ways: Blame for various problems could be subtly re-directed toward someone who's no longer a member of the administration (instead of toward people who still are), and Bush could enhance the prospects of his chosen successor -- not, I think, enough to pull off a presidential victory in 2008, but a little, and possibly decisively for 2012 -- by making that chosen successor vice president for the remainder of the term.

So why do I think Cheney should go? Simple: He does have heart problems. He is walking with a cane. His health is very much in question. And that raises both personal and political issues.

On a personal level, I'm willing to believe that Cheney continues to soldier on as VP out of a sense of duty -- in other words, because he believes he's needed in that position. But no political official is irreplaceable. It's time for the president to sit down with Cheney and tell him, with all due sincerity, "thank you for everything you've done for me -- now go take care of yourself and your family."

On a political level, there's the matter of presidential succession. We've been told, repeatedly, that America is at war and that the times are dangerous. Accepting that, is it responsible to expose the country to the distinct possibility that, should anything happen to George W. Bush, America will be subjected to not one, but two changes of executive between that occurrence and January, 2009?

This is an odd place for me, an opponent of the state as such and most certainly of the Bush administration, to find myself in. I know that I'm recommending something that would strengthen the administration, the GOP and the state. But it still seems to me that it's time for Cheney to go ... if for no other reason, for his own good.

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