This move afoot to dump Dick Cheney is more than a clever Democratic ploy to generate GOP chaos since some Republicans favor it, too. But, respectfully, they're wrong.
Cheney has been the Democrats' and partisan media's whipping boy for some time now. He makes a nice target, since he is an unapologetically successful capitalist, a hawk and an articulate point man for the administration's policy agenda. Also he refuses to pander to the media or political correctness, and is beset by medical problems.
Back when the Democrats were living in the post 9-11 world, they grudgingly respected Cheney and the experience he brought to the team. His calm, deliberate and low-decibel approach was considered an asset as we were momentarily united in marshaling our resources to fend off the terrorist threat.
Indeed, some of the first shots the media fired at President Bush amounted to backhanded praise for Cheney. Bush, they said, was too simple to be running the show, so Cheney was pulling the strings behind the scenes. Unlike Bush, he had "gravitas."
But from the outset, Democrats disliked Cheney. After all, he was a co-conspirator in the "stolen" election. They began to grumble about Cheney's alleged conflicts of interest with mega-evil corporation Halliburton.
But Halliburton was just a convenient vehicle to smear Cheney. All but those on heavy medication realize Bush and Cheney didn't attack Iraq to line their own pocketbooks. What really started bothering Democrats was Cheney's increasingly visible role as a fierce advocate for regime change in Iraq. This qualified him for graduation from mere dislike to white-hot hatred. Henceforth, he had to be slandered equally to Bush.
In fact, because of George Bush's general likability, it became all the more imperative that Cheney be defamed. No matter how much they trashed Bush, people still seemed to believe he was a decent guy. Cheney's demeanor makes him more vulnerable to attack.
So where does that leave us? Well, Democrats have laid an ample foundation for those who want to jump on the dump-Cheney bandwagon. They've hammered him enough that significant numbers of people are beginning to wonder about him.
But it would be a fatal mistake to jettison Cheney. Only if his doctors strongly recommend it -- so far, they haven't -- or if his continued candidacy would gravely jeopardize the president's re-election prospects, should he step down. (Admittedly, Cheney isn't likely to run for president himself in four years in the event he and the president are re-elected. But the resulting potential loss of the incumbency advantage in 2008 isn't sufficient reason to change horses now.)
It's highly doubtful that Cheney will drag down the ticket, but his removal might. The conservative base remains strongly behind him and would be justifiably upset if he were cashiered. As for so-called swing voters, they are going to vote mainly for president, not vice president.
Besides, Cheney can more than hold his own against Edwards, unless you're talking solely about superficial qualities. Edwards may be more glib and charismatic, but Cheney is the adult with a reservoir of knowledge, maturity and experience, especially in foreign affairs and defense, which will be the deciding issues in this war-dominated campaign.
I realize that Edwards, according to Edwards, "was the first person in his family able to go to college" and that his "father worked in a mill in Northern Carolina." And I'm gratified that Edwards reminded us of these dispositive background facts, because they just didn't sink in the first 150 times he said them.
But there's a more fundamental reason Cheney shouldn't be fired. While his role has been overstated -- he's not the de facto president -- he is nevertheless an essential part of the governing team who has played a major role in national security decisions. He and the president, while not co-presidents, are seen as one, where the war on terror and Iraq policy are concerned.
President Bush's removal of Cheney for other than health reasons would be tantamount to an admission by the president that his own national security policies have been flawed and that he has to change course. He would be sending a message of no-confidence in his own governance because if Cheney has been wrong or too hawkish, so has Bush. Democrats now clamoring for Cheney's head would triumphantly portray his expulsion as complete vindication of all their opportunistic criticism of the war effort.
President Bush is not about to concede that he has been traveling the wrong course in the war by discharging the man who has helped him more than any other to navigate these treacherous waters the last three years. There won't be any turning back now -- and there shouldn't be.