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Cheney Refuses Subordination To Any Government Branch

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, June 27, 2007.

It’s been an unsettling period weather wise, and politically as well. The most oppressive odor is that of a biodegrading presidential coup, and it sure stinks. The Vice President Cheney is openly defying both the office of the President and Congress, and in his defense offers two absurd contentions that are mutually exclusive and bogus on their face.

The office of vice-president was an early concern. Among our mistakes in federal governance, we defined the runner-up in the Presidential elections as Vice President, and this because it was thought we’d remain a gracious people without political faction. That’s the way it was after Washington and Federalist John Adams served two terms unopposed, and during those years Adams was kept out of executive issues by Washington. Then Adams won the Presidency in his own right. Thomas Jefferson, a mercurial, manipulative, somewhat hypocritical genius and Southerner, was his VP because he came in second. Adams was brilliant, and a major fathead but, like Jefferson, a patriot to the idea of the United States, although they saw it differently. In the next election, because Adams had annoyed his sole base of Alexander Hamilton, he lost to Jefferson, the sitting VP running against the sitting President.

In the next election, there was reason to believe that Jefferson actually lost the popular vote to Aaron Burr, equally talented, who became his VP and to say the relations between Jefferson and Burr were strained – because Jefferson feared Burr would run against him and win next outing – is to be polite. We sure had factions by that point. In the middle of Jefferson’s first term, the 12th Amendment was passed, and the VP as an office was elected separately from the Presidency, and not filled by a general election loser. This rather naturally led to the idea of running mates and what we have now.

For years, the office of VP was the graveyard of elderly men of ambition and the training ground for the young seeking the presidency. The office itself wasn’t worth much at all, had no power not granted by the President’s grace beyond the rare tie breaking Senate vote. For the same reason our military is inefficiently kept divided with overlapping abilities so that no one branch could stand against all the others, the Vice Presidency was de-clawed so the great fear would not occur here in the United States. The fear was of a coup because of a divided executive, say by a VP who was perhaps a former successful general, leading the military against the President, and eventually becoming a dictator or worse. This wasn’t hysteria. The world’s struggles with representative government often died by dynastic or military coup, and Napoleon had recently demonstrated the reality. Our government was conceived as checks and balances institutionalized by government branch, where ambitious men were legally restricted to nonviolent methods of compromise and unity. For all the good and bad, it’s worked well over all.

Which brings us to Dick Cheney, the current VP under Bush. Cheney headed Bush’s selection committee to find him a VP candidate, and after a national search selected himself. Cheney is highly qualified, and had considered running for the Presidency himself in his younger days before four or five heart attacks. But to forestall Congressional oversight, Cheney is now contesting that his office is not exclusively in the Executive Branch, but is partially in the Legislative Branch because he is granted a Senate vote to break ties, and because of this he’s actually a sort of fourth branch, and not subject to the restrictions and obligations of the other three, like obeying Presidential dictates regarding classified material, which he has not done for four years. It’s hard to say whether or not this is an idiotic and desperate ploy by his former attorney and new Chief of Staff David Addington, or a serious presentation. Either way, the Vice President is in trouble and it looks dangerous and bad.

To dismiss the claim he’s not in the executive branch strikes me as easy. Only the President and the Vice President are elected by national vote, and nothing in the Constitution or its Amendments removes the VP from the Executive. That he votes in the Senate of occasion would not make him part of the Legislative branch any more than the House ruling on presidential elections makes it part of the executive.

But Cheney has refused Congress to provide info. And his staff has vacillated between two options: saying the VP’s Office is outside the scope of the executive order governing review of how executive branch agencies are supposed to handle classified material, or claim that the VP is a unique branch of government and is exempt by default. As of this writing, Addington has answered a letter from Senator John Kerry demanding an explanation for Cheney’s position by reverting to what is in effect a fourth branch of government argument.

It was never a good idea to allow a VP freedom of action, even if this President tacitly approves. If any part of either of Cheney’s contentions is allowed to stand, the government and nation are at more risk than at any time since the Civil War. This is a world class, serious threat to the United States.