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President Cheney -- Officially

by John Nichols

Presuming that he could be distracted by a colonoscopy, George Bush on Saturday arranged to briefly transfer the authority of the presidency to Dick Cheney.

Surely, Cheney, who has not exactly been without presidential authority for the past six-and-a-half years enjoyed the irony.

But not everyone was thrilled by the prospect.

Air America's Rachel Maddow called me, in my capacity as Cheney's exceptionally unofficial biographer, to speculate on what draconian consequences might await America.

Noting the Vice President's enthusiasm for starting unnecessary wars in the Persian Gulf region, I suggested that, "The Iranians are, I am certain, feeling every bit as uncomfortable about the prospect of what will be happening Saturday as President Bush."

But a rudimentary knowledge of Cheney's modus operandi forced me to dismiss the war talk -- at least for the day.

"Cheney doesn't actually like to take official responsibility for the wars he starts," I explained. "He prefers the Geppetto role to Bush's Pinocchio."

So what, Rachel pressed, will the President in everything but name do on the day when he is President in name?

We settled on the notion that Cheney might pardon himself for his role in, well, you name it -- repeatedly and unapologetically lying to Congress and the American people about WMDs and bin Laden-Saddam connections, promoting torture, plotting to use the powers of the executive branch to punish political critics like former Ambassador Joe Wilson.

But presidents can't pardon themselves. Even Cheney's former bosses, Dick Nixon and Gerald Ford, had to shuffle their positions before Nixon enjoyed his absolution.

No problem. Cheney, who it should be remembered imagines himself as neither a member of the executive or legislative branches of a federal government that inconveniently for him lacks an formally designated monarch branch, would not be pardoning himself as president. He would, as President for a day, pardon the Vice President.

Diabolical? Yes. But not beyond the scheming of a man who in order to avoid scrutiny by the National Archives determined that the founders failed to create enough branches of government. And certainly not beyond the anti-Constitutional recklessness of an administration that determined this week that the system of checks and balances no longer applies to it -- via an announcement that the "Justice Department will never be allowed to pursue contempt charges initiated by Congress against White House officials once the president has invoked executive privilege."

President Cheney? Scary, to be sure. But, for those of us who have been paying attention, not much scarier than the interregnum that began in 2001 and, failing the increasingly appealing prospect of impeachment, will continue for another 18 months of days when, depending on the condition of Bush's colon, Dick Cheney will run the country as formally or informally as circumstances demand.

John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Nation

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