Ask Bush White House reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman what he thinks of Dick Cheney, and he might give you some nice, clean reporter answer. He was a powerful man, he might say. A man who demands things be done his way, and at his whim.
Those things are all certainly true. But let's put the Cheney era another way: Cheney's influence over the Bush administration has been so vast and so dangerous, it will take a generation of historians to put it into perspective.
He dictated domestic and foreign policy. He championed wars for the sake of deterrence. He manhandled government agencies in the name of big businesses, sometimes stomping on the wishes and promises of his President in the process. He wielded unprecidented power — more than any vice president in history, John Adams included.
Now, just two days until the election that will draw the curtain on the Cheney era, the role of the next vice president within the White House is again unclear. Cheney’s reign changed what is possible from the country’s second-in-command. On Tuesday, one of two very different people will have to decide what to take and what to leave from the Cheney model.
And only one candidate — Governor Sarah Palin — appears poised to wield the power Cheney established.
Like Cheney, Joe Biden would enter the vice presidency knowing Washington inside and out. He’s spent almost four decades inside the beltway, far more time than the man at the top of his ticket, and will certainly have a role in helping Barack Obama push policy and navigate Congress. Obama, however, will need no Cheney-esque assistance. Obama is now the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party. Regardless of what Hillary Clinton supporters might say or think, the policy of the party now runs through him, and should Obama win, he'll take this mandate to the White House. Biden will, at the end of the day, offer advice and guidance if he's asked but will not dictate to a man whose voice needs little assistance.
Palin is in a different position. McCain is far from popular in certain sects of the Republican Party. Until Palin's selection, his base barely noticed he was running. Now, it's her rallies that elicit reaction, her name that is most often mentioned as the future of the party.
It's hardly McCain's fault. He has done all he could the past eight years to become the candidate his base wanted. He's kissed the asses of everyone from big business and its lobbyists to the evangelical right, all in an effort to become what his party required. He's succeeded to some extent — hell, he won the nomination. In his mind and the minds of his loyalists, these eight years of sacrifice have earned him his place as the party's face and voice should he win Tuesday.
But the far right of the party may have other designs. Two days after Tuesday’s election, the Republicans' conservative elite will gather in rural Virginia to discuss what will come of their dysfunctional, fractured party. Should McCain win, the plan is simple, according to Politico: Palin will serve as the right wing’s voice and vote inside the White House:
If the Arizona senator wins, the discussion will feature much talk of, "How do we work with this administration?" said the attendee, an acknowledgement that conservatives won't always have a reliable ally in the Oval Office.
Under this scenario, Palin would be seen as their conduit to power. “She would be the conservative in the White House,” is how the source put it.
Should McCain win Tuesday, Palin will enter the White House without even a sliver of the Washington experience that allowed Cheney to gain power so quickly. But she won't need it. The connection between Palin and the far right of the party will provide her that power. Even if she doesn't know what she's doing — and trust us, she doesn't — the people that would guide her hand certainly do.
Cheney's hijacking of the Bush administration led to eight years of astounding policy disaster. Should Palin be allowed to take take his place, it seems the far right of the party will use her to ensure those policies continue.