8.29.2006

president who

Many of us, adamant about not using the word "president" to describe the man who lives in the White House, use a variety of purposeful expressions instead. The Resident, Current Occupant, W and * are a few of the more respectful terms. (Of course, * was Bush I.)

At home, Allan and I call him Moron. We always know who we're talking about. In our house, there is only one Moron with an upper-case M.

One expression you'll see, although not often enough, is "the Cheney White House". It's a chillingly accurate and telling expression. In this excellent essay, Robert Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect, explains why - and why we should care.
See Dick Run (The Country)
Cheney's the real president. It'd be nice if the press noticed.
by Robert Kuttner

George W. Bush has been faulted in some quarters for taking an extended vacation while the Middle East festers. It doesn't much matter; the man running the country is Vice President Dick Cheney.

When historians look back on the multiple assaults on our constitutional system of government in this era, Cheney's unprecedented role will come in for overdue notice. Cheney's shotgun mishap, when he accidentally sprayed his host with birdshot, has gotten more media attention than has his control of the government.

Historically, the vice president's job was to ceremonially preside over the Senate, attend second-tier foreign funerals, and be prepared for the president to die. Students are taught that John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, compared the job to a bucket of warm spit (and historians say spit was not the word the pungent Texan actually used).

Recent vice presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore were given more authority than most, but there was no doubt that the president was in charge.

Cheney is in a class by himself. The administration's grand strategy and its implementation are the work of Cheney-- sometimes Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sometimes Cheney and political director Karl Rove.

Cheney has planted aides in major Cabinet departments, often over the objection of a Cabinet secretary, to make sure his policies are carried out. He sits in on the Senate Republican caucus, to stamp out any rebellions. Cheney loyalists from the Office of the Vice President dominate interagency planning meetings.

The Iraq war is the work of Cheney and Rumsfeld. The capture of the career civil service is pure Cheney. The disciplining of Congress is the work of Cheney and Rove. The turning over of energy policy to the oil companies is Cheney. The extreme secrecy is Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

If Cheney were the president, more of this would be smoked out because the press would be paying attention. The New York Times' acerbic columnist Maureen Dowd regularly makes sport of Cheney's dominance, and there are plenty of jokes (Bush is a heartbeat away from the presidency). But you can count serious newspaper or magazine articles on Cheney's operation on the fingers of one hand. One exceptional example is Jane Mayer's piece in the July 3 New Yorker on Cheney operative David Addington.

Cheney's power is matched only by his penchant for secrecy. When my colleague at the American Prospect, Robert Dreyfuss, requested the names of people who serve on the vice president's staff, he was told this was classified information. Former staffers for other departments provided Dreyfuss with names.

So secretive is Cheney (and so incurious the media) that when his chief of staff, Irving Lewis Libby, was implicated in the leaked identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, reporters who rushed to look Libby up on Nexis and Google found that Libby had barely rated previous press attention.

Why does this matter? Because if the man actually running the government is out of the spotlight, the administration and its policies are far less accountable.

When George W. Bush narrowly defeated John Kerry in 2004, many commentators observed that Bush was the fellow with whom you would rather have a beer. It's an accurate and unflattering comment on the American electorate -- but then who wants to have a beer with Cheney? The public may not know the details of his operation, but voters intuitively recoil from him.

Bush's popularity ratings are now under 40 percent, beer or no, reflecting dwindling confidence in where he is taking the country. But Cheney's ratings are stuck around 20 percent, far below that of any president.

If Cheney were the actual president, not just the de facto one, he simply could not govern with the same set of policies and approval ratings of 20 percent. The media focuses relentless attention on the president, on the premise that he is actually the chief executive. But for all intents and purposes, Cheney is chief, and Bush is more in the ceremonial role of the queen of England.

Yet the press buys the pretense of Bush being "the decider," and relentlessly covers Bush -- meeting with world leaders, cutting brush, holding press conferences, while Cheney works in secret, largely undisturbed. So let's take half the members of the overblown White House press corps, which has almost nothing to do anyway, and send them over to Cheney Boot Camp for Reporters. They might learn how to be journalists again, and we might learn who is running the government.

12 comments:

James said...

Your title reminds me of the late 70s, when our Prime Minister was nicknamed "Joe Who?"

Joe Clark's rapid rise from a relatively unknown Alberta MP to the Leader of the Opposition took much of Canada by surprise. The Toronto Star announced Clark's victory with a headline that read "Joe Who?" giving Clark a nickname that stuck for years. Much joking was made of Clark's clumsiness and awkward mannerisms. Skinny and tall, he became a frequent target for editorial cartoonists, who delighted in portraying him as a sort of walking candy apple, with an enormous head and floppy dog-like ears.
-- Wikipedia

M@ said...

With the slight difference that Clark was a good and smart person, and wouldn't have flushed the whole country down the toilet even if he'd had a full term at the helm.

I often wonder how things would have turned out with him instead of Mulroney at the reins from '84 onward.

James said...

With the slight difference that Clark was a good and smart person, and wouldn't have flushed the whole country down the toilet even if he'd had a full term at the helm.

Oh, certainly. I just meant that that's what the "president who" title reminded me of.

Clark was sort of the Jimmy Carter of Canada -- a smart and honest politician who found himself out of his depths when he ended up in the lead role. Both Clark and Carter did far better after they left their countries' leadership roles.

L-girl said...

I don't think Carter was out of his depth. I think the media and public weren't up to such a smart and moral president.

He's certainly been more succcesful since leaving office, that's for sure.

Speaking of Carter, here he is blasting Tony Blair for being "compliant and Subservient".

Lone Primate said...

I often wonder how things would have turned out with him instead of Mulroney at the reins from '84 onward.

Oh, God, yeah. When I was a young teenager I was actually a supporter of the Tories in general and Clark in particular. I remember the Tory leadership convention they had in 1983. What preceeded it was a confidence vote on Clark's leadership. Clark himself insisted on some unrealistically high number, like 66% or something, and didn't quite get it. He missed by only a few percent, as I recall, but stuck to his guns and called the convention. Even as a boy I remember thinking, man, if you can't take "yes" for an answer, don't be surprised if it's not the answer you get next time. And it wasn't. Thanks in part to his need for a super majority, he basically flushed his career as leader down the crapper and saddled the country with that dayglow political abortion, Brian Mulroney. :(

Woti-woti said...

Cheney deliberately f'ing things up just to prove that BIG GOVERNMENT doesn't work (while his Haliburton cronies reap no-bid federal contracts)is bad enough. Hezbollah officials handing out cash to bashed-up Lebanese while Bushies indulge in land-grab schemes in New Orleans(while millions in public donations sits somewhere) is even worse. Nixon's blatant attempts at power abuse were exposed by the media at every turn. Where is the outrage now? What happened to the 'free press'? And who in Canada gives a damn that Harper worships the Bushies? Just like Nixon's antics now appear tame (bush-league?) compared to real abuse of power, once Harper gets his way, the Mulroney years will look like "Leave it to Beaver" (or in the interests of Canadian content-"Wind at my Back").

L-girl said...

Whoa, a visit from a member of Joy Nation. Welcome!

Where is the outrage, indeed. The US media is led by the nose.

And who in Canada gives a damn that Harper worships the Bushies?

I think a lot of people do. We have to prevent that "gets his way" scenario.

James said...

I don't think Carter was out of his depth. I think the media and public weren't up to such a smart and moral president.

Now that I think about it, the media portrayal of Clark as bumbling is more like Ford than Carter...

West End Bound said...

At home, Allan and I call him Moron.

Perfect, and a very apt description.

Today, the fact that the "Moron" is attempting to deflect negative attention of his Katrina response is especially appalling.

All I can say is: "Moron, you're doin' a heckuva job!"

L-girl said...

It's also a little reference to the Moran. Remember this guy?

Diamond Jim said...

I call him the Moron-in-Chief or "the 'president,'" i.e. with "president" in scare quotes to indicate "so called." "The Occupant" might do, as well.

L-girl said...

Moron In Chief, I like it. :)