"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Cheney viewed as liability
Baltimore Sun
Julie Hirschfeld Davis
November 25, 2005

WASHINGTON // To put more sting into a new commercial attacking President Bush over the war in Iraq, producers made a last-minute change, adding footage that showed Bush with Vice President Dick Cheney.

The edit was prompted by Cheney's dismal approval ratings in public opinion polls, said Tom Matzzie of MoveOn.org, the anti-war group that is running the TV ad over Thanksgiving weekend. He called Cheney, the most influential figure in Bush's inner circle, "as unpopular as a comic book supervillain."

While Bush struggles through one of the most difficult periods of his presidency, Cheney is increasingly being portrayed as a liability, someone associated with the administration's most divisive issues, including its use of disputed intelligence to justify the war, its policy on torture and its harsh criticism of those who question Bush.

Nonetheless, Cheney is dispatched as often as ever to argue for Bush's agenda and to defend his policies. He remains one of the most powerful figures in the White House, beloved by the conservative Republican base and with a fundraising prowess virtually unrivaled in his party.

Conservative activist Grover Norquist drew upon a different comic book analogy to describe Cheney: The vice president has "stepped out and, like Superman, put his hand out in front of a speeding train for this White House, which is the assertion that we've been lied into war."

Cheney has taken a leading role in defending the war in recent days, drawing headlines and criticism for his denunciations of Democrats who have hammered Bush with claims that the administration twisted intelligence to persuade Congress and the public to support the invasion of Iraq.

But Cheney's position as a trusted hand, especially on defense matters, has been called into question, with public doubts growing about the war and the Bush administration's use of now-discredited intelligence to build a case for invading Iraq.

Cheney's early unequivocal charges that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons have been discredited, along with his unqualified predictions about the conflict, including one he made in June that the insurgency was in its "last throes."

Democrats have felt particularly free to go after Cheney since the indictment last month of his former top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., on charges that he tried to derail an investigation into whether White House officials deliberately unmasked a covert CIA agent whose husband had questioned the claims used to justify the war.

Libby's indictment placed a stain on Cheney's office, alleging that top aides there led an effort to undercut a retired diplomat, who had questioned Bush's prewar claims, by revealing that his wife worked for the CIA. The charges were a reminder that Cheney had a strong hand in building the case for the war.

"It is hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq" than Cheney, Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said recently.

Bush's trustworthiness ratings have declined in recent weeks as Democrats have stepped up their charges about prewar intelligence, but polls show that Cheney's are far worse. A Newsweek poll conducted this month found that 29 percent regard Cheney as "honest and ethical," compared with 42 percent for Bush. A CBS poll found that 19 percent had a favorable view of Cheney.

Cheney "used to be pretty effective in explaining and defending the administration's policies, because he could do it in a more articulate and persuasive way than the president. His ability to perform that role has been badly compromised recently," said Joel K. Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University who specializes in the vice presidency.

The shift, Goldstein said, has been brought about "both by his plummeting approval ratings and by the fact that he's so closely identified with the most controversial and unpopular aspects of the Bush administration."

Cheney's allies vigorously deny any suggestion that he has lost influence or that his role has changed. Jennifer Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Cheney, said he is doing what he has always done for Bush. He "continues to maintain an active schedule promoting the president's key principles that are important to the American people," Mayfield said.

Still, with Bush's popularity sagging, Cheney's task has placed him in the center of tough fights recently, sometimes within his own party.

It was Cheney who was dispatched to Capitol Hill this month to lobby senators to relax a ban on torturing prisoners in U.S. custody to give the CIA leeway in cases when it is seeking to prevent an attack. Most Republicans broke with the White House on the issue and supported the ban - a relative rarity for a former lawmaker who wields substantial influence on Capitol Hill - and some criticized Cheney publicly for the stance. Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, called it "a terrible mistake."

A recent speech in which Cheney took an uncharacteristically conciliatory tone toward Rep. John P. Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and respected veteran who is calling for a prompt withdrawal from Iraq, was seen by some as a sign that Cheney was scaling back his cutthroat tactics.

In a Nov. 16 speech, Cheney had lashed out at Democrats accusing Bush of twisting intelligence to bolster the case for war, saying he and Bush "cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone, but we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history."

Days later, Cheney took pains to single out Murtha as "a good man, a Marine, a patriot," before going on to declare those who charge that the nation was deceived into war guilty of "revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety."

It's typical for a vice president to act as a heat shield for a president working to stay above the fray, analysts say, and many people close to the White House dismiss talk of a diminution in Cheney's stature or power as a misunderstanding of his role on Bush's team.

Cheney is at the center of the most searing controversies surrounding Bush "because he is the president's point man on the toughest issues," said Mary Matalin, an adviser.

The vice president's ability to grab headlines helps Bush, Matalin said. "When somebody comes out with a position that's contrary to the president's, there's still nobody better to discuss it, dissect it and disaggregate it," she said.

Cheney was never intended to be a warm-and-fuzzy conciliator, strategists say; he was chosen for his wide experience, conservative bona fides and his pugnacity toward political opponents.

His mandate has "always been to be a forceful and articulate proponent of the administration's view, to provide quiet, wise counsel and to help Republican candidates raise money," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster. "He was never put in his current position to be a wildly popular politician or to draw any significant political support on his own."

But his poor standing with the public and his vigorous defense of policies that have sparked bitter criticism make Cheney a convenient symbol for Bush's problems, his critics say.

"We were just struck by the potential of his image as a reminder of the failures of this administration," said MoveOn.org's Matzzie, whose group is spending at least $130,000 to run the TV ad on cable nationally and in districts that are home to Republicans who chastised Murtha.

Conservatives idolize Cheney as fervently as liberals demonize him. His recent prominence in the campaign to discredit Bush's opponents is a mark of how serious a public relations crisis the White House had on its hands, some strategists said, and how effective aides think Cheney can be in defusing it.

The Bush team "basically let the opposition have free rein" to criticize them on Iraq, "and it cost them in terms of public opinion," said former Rep. Robert S. Walker, a Pennsylvania Republican who served with Cheney when he represented Wyoming in the House. "Even some of the Republican base has begun to question their policies, and I think that's in large part because they haven't heard the administration defend them. Cheney will help win back that trust."

Some analysts argue that Cheney's greatest assets might have become liabilities. His stated lack of political ambition - once viewed as a mainstay of his power - could be a vulnerability for Cheney as he and the rest of the administration navigate tough times, Goldstein said.

Rather than seeking to appeal to a broad swath of Republicans as he would be if he were preparing for his own campaign, Goldstein said, Cheney "is the one who's saying, 'Damn the torpedoes, let's focus on the base and hunker down.' "

"It's made him less accountable than he otherwise would be," Goldstein said, "even though he's more powerful."


Everything Bush AND Cheney said was proven a lie a long time ago. If Cheney thinks he can fix all these lies by attacking democrats he's a very stupid politician. Cheney is either inept, corrupt or both. Either way he's as unfit as Bush. If you haven't read the piece on Curveball now would be a good time.

When you're done reading about Curveball, ask yourself why no one in the White House asked if the source was verifiable.