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Dick Cheney was starting his second term in Congress when I arrived in Washington in 1981 as Press Secretary to then-Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois.
But Cheney was already on a fast-track to power, moving into chairmanship of the Republican Policy Committee after just two years on the Hill. He may have been a newbie in Congress but Cheney was an insider, a former White House chief of Staff with the proverbial friends in high places.
By 1983, I was a Congressional chief of staff who also worked with the National Republican Congressional Committee, so I met with Cheney and other Republican leaders in strategy sessions for the 1984 election. My notes from a first meeting with Cheney listed three words: Pompous, arrogant, and insufferable.
Cheney was then, and still is, an asshole but that wasn’t an impediment on Capitol Hill. It was an asset (pun intended) and one that served Cheney well. He moved up through the ranks and served as House Minority Whip in his sixth and final term in Congress.
A “whip” serves as second in command to the party’s House leader. The title comes from an expectation that the person holding the office must, when needed, “whip” others into line to back the party’s legislative initiatives. Cheney knew how to hardball and was considered by many a master of intimidation.
Years later, another Congressional bully – Republican whip Tom DeLay – would brag that he learned the techniques of intimidation from Dick Cheney.
Cheney kept a copy of the book, “Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun” on his desk and waved it around when threatening people. Attila, he said, was too soft. In campaign strategy sessions he would say that “rules are for losers. We’re here to win and we will do whatever it takes to win.”
But winning was hard for a minority party in Congress and Cheney chafed as second-fiddle to the Democratic majority. The Republican day would come, he said, and when it did “payback will be a bitch.” When President George H.W. Bush offered Cheney the Secretary of Defense job in 1989 he jumped at the chance.
Today, as the most powerful Vice President in American history, Cheney has honed his arrogance and moved into his own world of invincible power, a vacuum where he feels unfettered by the rule of law and untouchable by any of the three branches of government.
He is, he believes, a power unto himself, a second-in-command who answers to no one, not even his theoretical boss – the President of the United States.
And, for the moment, he is what he believes he is – answerable to no one but himself. Until someone finds a way to stop him, he can, and will, do whatever he wants for the remaining time that George W. Bush has in office.
Someone should stop Dick Cheney but the sad truth is no one will. He exists in a netherworld of Constitutional ambiguity, defined only by his enormous ego and insufferable arrogance.
He is a creation of everything that is wrong with the American political system. He is also a master of the system that he has managed to subvert and turn into his own, untouchable, fiefdom.