Cheney emerges from the shadows

Vice President Dick Cheney, who has avoided the spotlight since taking the oath of office for a second term more than two months ago, is once again stepping from the shadows to tout President Bush’s Social Security plan and boost White House foreign policy goals.

Cheney is in the midst of a tour that will carry him to Bakersfield, Calif.; Reno, Nev.; and McCandless, Pa., to promote the administration’s plan for a national retirement program, a package that polls show hasn’t caught on with the voting public.

And he’s speaking with reporters again, telling the Washington Post on Tuesday that recent diplomatic appointments, like the nomination of John R. Bolton to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will bring about needed changes in the world body.

The 64-year-old Cheney emerged during the first Bush term as the president’s top adviser, especially in the area of foreign affairs where he is considered a hawk on the war on terror and Iraq. He also devised the president’s energy policy, which recently received support when the Senate voted to approve drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a key component.

Cheney has been keeping a low profile over the past several weeks. But with Bush engaged in a summit with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, followed by a short vacation at his Texas ranch, it has fallen on Cheney to push the Social Security issue.

Addressing supporters attending a town hall meeting at the Neil Road Recreation Center in Reno on Tuesday, Cheney dismissed those who claim the Social Security system doesn’t require the sort of major overhaul sought by the Bush administration.

Social Security, Cheney said, is “about as important an issue as we face as a nation” and it needs to be addressed now, despite those who claim the situation isn’t critical.

“What they’re advocating is leaving the current program in place, and the current program cannot pay those future benefits that have been promised to the younger generation,” he said. “And as I say, the current policy that’s in place today means if you’re 30 years old, there’ll be a 27 percent reduction of benefits for you by the time you hit retirement age given current law.”

In keeping with his role as the enforcer in the Bush administration, Cheney is offering a sales pitch that differs from the president. While Bush seeks comity and generally avoids criticizing those who disagree, Cheney is taking on the AARP, an advocacy group that represents people over 50, urging them to get on board.

“It is their kids and grandkids that are the ones that are affected by this,” he said. “And so I urge AARP to remember what’s at stake here. Nobody is out to destroy Social Security. Our mission is try to protect it and preserve it so it’s there for future generations, so my kids and grandkids can count on it.”

(E-mail Bill Straub at StraubB(at)