Cheney the tax wonk
Today's installment of the Washington Post series on Dick Cheney covers his influence over economic policy. (Comments on the first two installments are here.)
The vice president's staff encouraged people to cooperate on this part of the package, with unsurprising results: far fewer anonymous sources and a far more positive portrayal of the VP.
Some of the classic Cheney traits are there: a penchant for secrecy, and a profile so low he's invisible:
In a town where politicians routinely scurry for credit, Cheney more often kept his role concealed, even from top Bush advisers.
"A lot of it was a black box, and I think designedly so," said former Bush speechwriter David Frum. "It was like -- you know that experiment where you pass a magnet under the table and you see the iron filings on the top of the table move? You know there's a magnet there because of what you see happening, but you never see the magnet."
This segment also does an excellent job of illustrating how Bush's "CEO-style", big-picture approach leaves plenty of room for a detail-oriented vice president to amass power. Cheney immersed himself in the inner workings of the White House bureaucracy. He would attend low-level policy meetings, helping shape the menu of options that would eventually percolate up to Bush. Then he would sit in on the higher-level meetings, shepherding ideas he had helped germinate. Finally, of course, he almost always had the final word with Bush before decisions were made.
Possibly most important, Cheney was well positioned to simply block proposals he didn't like, because officials learned to run proposals past him before formally submitting them. A lot of things Cheney didn't like were simply never proposed.
The result was that while Cheney didn't win every battle, he won most of them -- and most battles were framed by him from the beginning, so even when he lost the final choice was within a range of options he had defined.
We also get a glimpse of Cheney the compromiser, problem-solver and peacemaker. He was responsible for resolving issues on subjects as diverse as the future of NASA, tax cuts, FBI searches of Congressional offices and what to do about Jim Jeffords -- with Cheney eventually persuading Bush to let Jeffords throw control of the Senate to the Democrats rather than meet his demands for new spending.
You also get a sense that the same traits that served Cheney, Bush and the country so badly in the realm of national security -- inflexible attachment to rigid principles, a push to win internal policy debates at all costs -- worked out better in the economic realm, where constitutional principles aren't at stake and there's a lot of incentive to abandon principles for mushy compromises, buying opponents and political capital with taxpayer money. One can dispute Cheney's principles -- the solution to everything is tax cuts for the wealthy! -- but it's hard to fault the dogged determination and bureaucratic skill with which he pursued them.
Tommorrow we'll cover the last segment.
Cheney, politics, midtopia