With a smile, following our interview on CNBC last week, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "That was a trick question." I responded, also with a smile, "That's why I asked it, sir."
What was the question? Simply this: "If the president asked you, would you reconsider your door closing on a race in 2008?"
Here's Cheney's answer:
"I've made it very clear, Larry, that my tour here is tied to (George W. Bush). I agree(d) to come back to government. I've had a great 25-year career. He persuaded me to come back after eight years in the private sector. I've loved it -- hadn't regretted it for a minute -- but I'm here to serve him as long as he serves. ... I think if I were a candidate, then you'd begin to get the traditional divisions ... inside the West Wing, the president headed down one road and the vice president worried about how he's being received in Ottumwa, Iowa, and the Iowa caucuses four years hence. It doesn't work that way. ... It's worked very well for us. I'm absolutely committed to doing everything I can to help him succeed, but I'm also committed four years from now. I don't plan to be here. I'm going to be out on the road or back with my grandkids or fishing streams I've not yet fished."
Does Cheney leave the door open just a teensy bit for a 2008 run? The sentence arguing for this option is, "He persuaded me to come back after eight years in the private sector." Could Cheney be persuaded again? I wish it were possible. But Cheney does seem set on casting his fly rod four years from now.
That's a pity. During the interview, I brought up a prescient and potentially prophetic column in The Wall Street Journal by Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations. In it, he coined a new term: Cheney envy. You have to be a special sort of vice president to earn such praise.
Cheney, of course, has been instrumental in promoting freedom and democracy abroad, but he's also been a key player in selling supply-side tax cuts, personal savings accounts for Social Security, legal-abuse tort reform, energy reform and other market-oriented policies at home. His partnership with President Bush is legion. And the scope of their transformational reform administration is itself almost unsurpassed. In the last hundred years, only the FDR reforms have been greater.
Ironically, it is precisely the FDR New Deal reforms that Bush and Cheney are attempting to reconstruct. They want the New Deal to fit a 21st century paradigm that substitutes free-market choice and personal responsibility for Roosevelt's Depression-era overregulated capitalism.
But when you see leading Republican senators and House members move off the reservation of personal-account Social Security reform, when you see them flinch on even the mildest budget restraints for overspending entitlements, you wonder if the Bush-Cheney reform-legacy will stand the test of time.
There is a disappointing parallel here. George H.W. Bush was elected to a third Reagan term to guard the Gipper's legacy of tax-rate cuts, deregulation, and the exportation of political and economic freedom abroad. But Papa Bush disappointed, by raising taxes at home and doing business with dictators overseas. Realism trumped idealism on foreign policy. Seeing Saddam Hussein retain power in Baghdad was the worst example of this.
It is highly doubtful that a President Cheney would repeat such errors in a third W. term. First off, Cheney's basic belief system has been set in stone for more than three decades. Second, he is a highly effective communicator, having trounced Joe Lieberman and John Edwards during the vice presidential debates. Third, Cheney possesses one of the widest and deepest knowledge bases of government policy of anyone in Washington today. His ability to get things done -- often amidst fractious debates on domestic and international policy -- is well documented.
This is the true source of Cheney envy. It has frequently been observed that the Republicans have all the good ideas nowadays and that the Democrats have virtually none. But you'd be correct if you said Bush and Cheney not only generated these ideas, but also put them into action.
Does anyone seriously doubt that Cheney is the most qualified person, in either party, to be our next president? Any number of early Republican hopefuls -- Bill Frist, Tom Allen, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Mitt Romney -- would look good riding the bus with Cheney in a few years. The Cheney for President bus, that is.
I hope President Bush asks Vice President Cheney to succeed him. For four more years.