The report in the New York Times that Vice President Cheney tried to convince President
Bush to use federal troops to round up suspected al-Qaeda terrorists in Buffalo, N.Y. gives me a chance to brush the dust off my perenniel proposal that the office of vice president be overhauled. I have argued as nauseam that the vice president should head one of the cabinet departments — specifically that he or she should serve as secretary of state, secretary of defense, or secretary of the treasury. The advantages of this change would be as follows:
- It would discourage political parties from nominating non-entities like Spiro Agnew.
- It would avoid wasting the time of a valuable person like Hubert Humphrey.
- It would make it difficult for a president to deliberately ignore a vice president.
- It would keep the vice-president engaged in the legitimate, above-board daily business of the executive department — a particular advantage to a vice president whose background is principally legislative.
- It would give the vice president an opportunity to establish a track record as a top administrator.
- It would spare taxpayers from paying a salary for no work.
- It would keep people like Dick Cheney busy and obstruct them from behaving as though they had authority that the Constitution hasn’t given them.
Cheney had no understanding of — or respect for — the concept that government is at the service of the people, not the other way around. He established a pattern of operating in secrecy — again, without the authority to operate at all — that should outrage Americans of any political stripe. If the Times report is correct, it demonstrates Cheney’s disregard for well established principles of American governance — notably the broad constitutional prohibitions against using troops for what amount to police actions on domestic soil. Bush evidently listened to more responsible advisers in that instance. Incidentally, the Washington Post report on Cheney’s shadow “presidency” is still available at this link: