With the recent flurry of activity to reconsider George W. Bush’s presidency with the opening of his library, I felt I would save comment for a future time. Yet, it got me thinking about contrasting the last two Vice Presidents – Dick Cheney and Joe Biden. My main reason in so doing is the stark contrast in style and performance. You see, for all the crap Joe Biden takes from the press waiting to pounce on his misspeaks, I think he has done a highly commendable job as Vice President. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for his predecessor, Dick Cheney. The more I learn about Mr. Cheney, the more Machiavellian he becomes. In fact, the highlighted word is the one word I would use to describe him when pressed.
When Bush was first elected, I was content knowing the Vice President had been around the block and had served as George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense. His candidacy was recommended by Paul O’Neill, the CEO of Alcoa, who was Bush the father’s first choice as Defense secretary. I mention that as it is important later on. But, when I read more on Cheney, the initial comfort I felt was misplaced. His knowing his way around the block meant he knew how to exploit things to his advantage. For example, being the former CEO of one of the largest fracking companies in the world, he did two major things that will make your stomach turn.
First, he sold off the mineral rights and afforded gas lease rights to various national park lands and other public resources to fracking developers. They were given permission to frack on public property and made a huge amount of money. Unfortunately, since fracking is not as safe as portrayed, the various animal and human populations close by have been suffering. But, that was only step one. Second, he had inserted a very brief provision into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to include a provision in the Act that prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the frackers under the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. And, fracking companies did not need to disclose the chemicals they added to the fracking water to make it easier to frack as they reduced friction, killed algae, broke down minerals and deposits. If fracking is so safe, why would you need to add this paragraph?
He did many other things, but let me highlight two. First, Paul O’Neill, the guy who turned around Alcoa and recommended Cheney to Bush the father, became the Secretary of Treasury to Bush the son. Yet, O’Neill felt the Bush tax cuts were not the right path forward for our country and was vociferous about his concerns. Rather than listen to someone with a very good track record, Cheney fired him at the behest of Bush. By the way, O’Neill was right – we did not need those tax cuts and we are paying for them still today. None other than Warren Buffett agreed with O’Neill at the time.
Second, Cheney helped build the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument to go into Iraq. Between him, Karl Rove (another Machiavellian person) and Scooter Libby (who went to jail for giving up a CIA operative to the press – see Valerie Plame), they painted a picture that we Americans, the United Nations and Congress bought hook, line and sinker. The trouble is when you send Americans to die, you better be damn certain this is the right course. As an aside, take your time President Obama on Syria before you sentence young men and women to die like Bush and Cheney did in Iraq.
On the flip side, Biden has been a very positive ambassador for Obama given his role before on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has been able to extend the reach of the Secretary of State and our relations around the globe have improved, so says a Pew Survey before and after Obama took office. On the domestic front, Biden has been a means to reach out to Congress on behalf of the President. The President has been given a huge stiff arm by Congress and he has not been as forceful as needed. But, he has asked Biden to play huge roles in brokering a deal to avoid the first fiscal cliff disaster of 21 months ago and chairing discussions to introduce better gun control legislation among other things.
Biden also played a huge role in moving forward the debate on same-sex marriage. By answering direct questions in an interview about a year ago, he staked a position that the White House came out and supported. He let the cat out of the bag early, but it was the right call and actually helped the President and country by pushing this issue forward. This was more vintage Biden, yet this is one issue where America is and was ahead of the politicians.
The final point I will make is Biden is a people’s Vice President. He is very approachable when he goes out to meet folks and they gravitate to him. His personal loss and his struggles to overcome resonate with people. Cheney is not comfortable in that role and so he chooses not to practice it. The contrast reminds of the difference between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. Francis sees the major issue of the day as global poverty. He is truly a man of the people. Benedict is more cerebral and less approachable. The same could be said for Cheney.
It is not just me that feels this way. It is GOP folks as well. Why have Bush and Cheney not but included in the last two presidential races from an advocacy or supportive role? The party knows they did not do a good job (note the library cannot change that George), so they distanced themselves. Bush was not physically invited to either of the last two GOP conventions and he only spoke by video as a sitting President in 2008. That may have been the biggest insult – the GOP did not want the sitting President to attend. The press will say that both skipped the events, but this is the biggest event your party does. Why would you not want to have your last president to attend, especially while he is still in office?
Getting back to Biden, he deserves an “atta boy Joe” from all of us. He is far from perfect, but he has served the country well. If Hillary Clinton elects not to run, Biden may be the next Democratic presidential candidate. I would expect she will, but Joe would deserve the shot, if she did not. Unfortunately, Cheney would not be included on anyone’s short list after his stint as VP. He did some good things while in the White House, but for the most part he will be remembered for the above issues.