- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

Of all the figures in the Bush administration, I think my favorite is Vice President Dick Cheney. Just as George Bush was indifferent to electoral politics when he selected him, so the vice president suavely ignores its vulgar calculations in the administration of his office. He is heading into a political typhoon with the president's public blessing over his refusal to release the names and details of the people with whom he met while designing the Bush energy policy. More's the storm, those people are believed to include top Enron officials such as Kenneth Lay. The vice president's governmental style harkens back to the stately manners of Britain's great 19th century prime minster Lord Salisbury.

The late historian Barbara Tuchman evocatively described Lord Salisbury as: "Uninterested in public acclaim, for since the populace was uninstructed its opinions, as far as he was concerned, were worthless. He ignored the public and neither possessed nor tried to cultivate the personal touch that makes a political leader a recognizable personality like 'Dizzy' or the 'Grand Old Man' … He made no attempt to conceal his dislike for mobs not excluding the House of Commons … He was born with a consciousness in his bones and brain cells of ability to rule and saw no reason to make any concessions of this prescriptive right to anyone whatever." That's my Mr. Cheney.

For those of us brought up in politics to pay attention to public sentiments and seasoned in the vicious scandal politics of the last 30 years, the lofty insouciance of the vice president inspires awe and trembling. It is his unambiguous intention to defend an abstract governing principle, the modest compromise of which could be easily negotiated, and weather the almost certain and certainly avoidable political furies that the media and his political opponents are unleashing.

The principle is a simple and vital one: The president and vice president cannot receive honest information necessary to carry out their duties if the Congress or others can compel them (with no showing of illegalities) to release those names and the information exchanged. To defend that prerogative, the vice president will assert, in federal court if necessary, executive privilege. He was winning this political struggle through the summer and fall. The media had largely lost interest in the matter until the collapse of Enron. Then, the congressional hounds and their fellow media running dogs smelled an opportunity and the hunt was on.

If the vice president wanted an easy out, it is surely available. Congress is asking for every name of every person he met with regarding energy issues over several months, along with all his notes, logs and papers. But, as it is only the Enron connection that provides the political energy to this media storm, politics would probably force Congress to accept only a list of Enron executives along with heavily redacted or summarized notes of the vice president which would only disclose the broad subject matter of the conversations.

As no illegalities are even alleged and certainly never happened Congress would win its measly list and lose its cause celebre. The executive privilege would be slightly dented, but not broken. However, the vice president disdains such compromises.

Secure, both in his rectitude and his duty to his office, the vice president prefers to stand on the undoubted rightness of his principles. My experience as a political player tells me to compromise. But my hopes, as a citizen, are with him. I am well and truly sick of politics by sleazy innuendo. I despise the craven politician who would compromise his duty to his office for the sake of political expediency.

Mr. Cheney is determined to deliver to his successor a stronger office than the one he received. He is completely correct that the wave of presidential scandals from Watergate to Iran-Contra to the hydra-headed Clinton abuses has dangerously weakened presidential power.

As we fight the war on terrorism we will need a strong presidency as we did during all our great wars. When the president or vice president do wrong, the law exists to reprimand them. But when the president or vice president stand on honest principle, we need strong men to protect their offices and resist the swirling Washington wind.

The English have a phrase for men like Mr. Cheney: He has bottom a solidity, good judgment, endurance and unwavering courage.

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