Watergate scarred Dick Cheney for life. Sort of like getting a load of birdshot right in the face. All that silly to-do over breaking and entering, bribes, dirty politics, Oval Office lies to cover it up, the dreaded I word, taught the young right-wing politico a hard lesson: Congressional oversight is more trouble than it’s worth. Given the chance, Cheney would take care of that.
His notion of good government is the unitary executive. No one interferes with the White House. The president is not the third leg on the table of government–he’s the whole table. What he decides to do and how he does it are nobody’s business.
In 2001, when Cheney convened a meeting of his new “energy task force” to write comprehensive energy policy for the nation, word leaked out that the task force was comprised of his buddies in the oil industry and their lobbyists. Like bringing in the wolves to guard the henhouse. When demands were made by the media and members of Congress that these lupine architects of energy policy be identified, Cheney balked. Neither Congress nor the public had any right to know a thing about either the policy or who engineered it. He claimed executive privilege. He was, after all, the VP — a bona fide member of the executive branch. That gave him the right to wield the big executive shield. National security, ya know.
Cheney liked his executive privilege as long as it protected him from answering to Congress and the public. Now he’s not so crazy about it. Not the privilege part. It’s the executive branch part that’s got him stewing.
By presidential order, the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office is responsible for keeping track of the nation’s secrets, ensuring they are properly protected. This small agency routinely inspects government offices, safely archives secret information for posterity, requires officials in the executive branch to report data on the number of documents classified and declassified. Even the National Security Council cooperates with the inspections, provides all necessary data. So did Cheney’s office until 2003, when he suddenly refused to go on making nice with the ISOO. No more data provided, no more routine inspections. It was a touchy situation for the Veep then, with Libby and other aides under criminal investigation for leaking classified information. You can’t have just anybody snooping around at a time like that. Cheney has since attempted to abolish the pesky ISOO altogether.
His rationale? His office, he now contends, is “not an entity within the executive branch.” Since he holds another job–the tie-breaking vote in the Senate (and we all know how much time that takes)–he insists his legislative responsibilities exempt his office from routine executive branch oversight. What does this mean? That Dick Cheney and his staff are accountable to no one.
He’s neither fish nor fowl. He’s neither legislative nor executive. Or he’s both. Or he’s something else. What is something else? What it looks like is a “dark alley presidency.” The enforcer. The shadow power behind a lazy, intellectually challenged president. And everyone knows about dark alleys. It’s where you get beaten senseless and robbed. It’s where you get mugged. No light, no law. No rules apply. The bad guy with the big gun calls the shots.
Somebody needs to call the cops. The ones who wield the I word cudgel.