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Warshaw, Shirley Anne. The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney.

Warshaw, Shirley Anne. The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009. 320 pages. Cloth, $29.95.

The historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., describes President Franklin D. Roosevelt's use of a number of advisers as a conscious effort to "check and balance information" and, therefore, ensure that no one adviser would become the Rasputin of his administration. (1) Political scientist Shirley Anne Warshaw assembles a strong case that George W. Bush paid insufficient attention to the shrewd strategizing by Richard B. Cheney, which allowed Cheney to accumulate inordinate policy influence while he served as head of Bush's search for a running mate, as head of the incoming president's transition committee, and during their eight years in office together. Thus, Cheney had influence in the Bush administration comparable to that of Grigori Rasputin in the family of Russia's last monarch, Czar Nicholas II. As Warshaw shows, Cheney's advice was nearly as ruinous to Bush as Rasputin's was to the Romanovs.

Cheney's opportunity to wield more power than any vice president ever has had and, Warshaw predicts, ever will have, arose from three circumstances. First, Bush's knowledge of politics at the national and international level was extremely limited. Bush was driven by born-again religious faith and by his policy-making experience as governor of Texas. Accordingly, Bush entered the 2000 presidential campaign and the White House with an agenda that was limited to engrafting the "compassionate conservatism" philosophy onto social-welfare policies (with the aid of volunteerism and the "faith-based initiative"), reducing the burdens of taxation, and reforming the nation's schools. Second, Cheney possessed a wealth of experience in the operations of the U.S. government and in international affairs, which he obtained as he served in numerous capacities in the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford (including service as Ford's chief of staff) between 1969 and 1976, as he occupied Wyoming's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1978 to 1989 (during which time he was a member of the House Intelligence Committee), and as he served as President George H.W. Bush's secretary of defense until the end of the elder Bush's single term in office. Cheney's experience in international affairs was bolstered by his five years as chairman and chief executive officer of the multinational energy-industry service firm, Halliburton, from 1995 to 2000. Third, the younger Bush remembered how Ronald Reagan marginalized the role of the elder Bush during the Reagan-Bush administration of 1981-89, and did not want to imitate the mistreatment with Cheney. (Ironically, as Warshaw points out, Cheney had good reason to vividly recall the humiliation to which Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller was subjected from 1974 to 1976, because Cheney himself had orchestrated Rockefeller's elimination from contention as Ford's running-mate for Ford's unsuccessful 1976 campaign to secure a full term of office.)

As Bush undertook the range of presidential powers that he was ill-prepared to exercise, Cheney continually recognized opportunities to fill the vacuum. As head of the transition team, Cheney orchestrated the appointment of all but two of Bush's fourteen original cabinet-level department heads and of innumerable policy-making officials--people who were Cheney's long-time associates and people who were recommended to Cheney by his confidants from Congress and previous Republican administrations. Cheney then prevailed upon Bush and Bush's top assistants to integrate Cheney loyalists, including Cheney's staff in the vice president's office, into the White House staff, so that virtually no significant meeting held in the White House took place in the absence of Cheney's operatives. Cheney also assumed control of policy making in areas that were priorities for him but not for the president--i.e., the economy, energy, the environment, regulation of commerce and industry, and national security. Not only did Bush not deem Cheney's initiative in these areas objectionable, but, actually, Bush was grateful for the assistance in matters about which he cared very little and knew even less. Furthermore, Bush and his aides had proved themselves to be politically adept, but they were amateurs in the areas of policy and the national government's mechanics for turning policy ideas into actual public policies. Therefore, they extolled the involvement of Cheney and his team in the policy-making process, oblivious to the fact that the Cheney group was, in reality, dominant.

What might have been a manageable division of labor was disarranged when al- Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center and wrecked the Pentagon's west side on September 11, 2001. Bush's fantasy of having eight years in which to redirect public policy through such approaches as his compassionate-conservatism philosophy was shattered, as the need to defend the homeland sidetracked every other objective. Bush's inexperience and unfamiliarity with the intricacies of international relations forced him to rely on advisers who knew more than he did. Cheney had this knowledge; moreover, Cheney had filled the ranks of foreign-policy staffs throughout the executive branch with his loyal associates. The president had been painted into a corner. Warshaw portrays Bush's lack of foresight as his "fatal error, which allowed Cheney to establish himself as a power-broker in the administration" (p. 243). As the conditions that would have permitted Bush to lead the executive branch dried up, Cheney displaced him as the source of control. Remarkably, there is no evidence that Bush resented Cheney's assumption of a level of power that no vice president had ever even imagined. If Bush did resent it, I reason that he decided that restraining Cheney would quickly expose himself as being unqualified and helpless.

As Warshaw demonstrates, Bush--as presidential candidate, as president-elect, and as president--was comforted from the outset by Cheney's assurance that he had no separate political objectives of his own; Cheney intended never to run for president. Thus, Bush assumed, he could be confident that Cheney would pursue nobody's interests other than those of Bush himself. This, I believe, was another "fatal error" that set the stage for the other one. Previous vice presidents who aspired to become president would accept a sycophantic role, as a matter of self-interest, as the pathway to their own eventual presidency. For eight years, Bush's father presented himself as a Reagan loyalist, correctly anticipating that the eventual reward for his obeisance would be the 1988 Republican nomination for president. However, because Cheney had no further ambitions with regard to running for office, he could afford nonchalance toward public opinion and the sensitivities of prominent Republicans, such as those who serve in Congress. This emboldened Cheney to relentlessly drive a pro-business and anti-Saddam agenda, while he audaciously flouted the demands of interest groups and congressional committees for the right to participate in decision-making and for disclosure and openness. While Cheney's imprudence caused his popularity to sink to the level of eighteen percent when the Bush-Cheney era ended, which seemed to disturb him not at all, Bush was absorbing crushing collateral damage. Every president is deeply concerned about how he will be remembered in history, and the hapless Bush managed what is "widely viewed as the worst administration of modern times, eclipsing even that of Herbert Hoover ..." (p. 8). Just as Roosevelt was determined not to be manipulated by a Rasputin, so, too, will future presidents be on guard against the recurrence of the likes of Dick Cheney.


(1) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Coming of the New Deal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1958), 523. See also Francis E. Rourke, Bureaucracy, Politics, and Public Policy, 3d ed. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), 23.

Barry D. Friedman, PhD

Professor of Political Science

North Georgia College & State University

Dahlonega, Georgia
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Author:Friedman, Barry D.
Publication:International Social Science Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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