Dick Cheney's Error
What, then, is the straw that causes me to finally consign a man I served with in the House Republican leadership to the category of "those about whom we should be greatly concerned"?
It is Cheney's all-too-revealing conversation this week with ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz. On Wednesday, reminded of the public's disapproval of the war in Iraq, now five years old, the vice president shrugged off that fact (and thus, the people themselves) with a one-word answer: "So?"
"So," Mr. Vice President?
Cheney told Raddatz that American war policy should not be affected by the views of the people. But that is precisely whose views should matter: It is the people who should decide whether the nation shall go to war. That is not a radical, or liberal, or unpatriotic idea. It is the very heart of America's constitutional system.
In Europe, before America's founding, there were rulers and their subjects. The Founders decided that in the United States there would be not subjects but citizens. Rulers tell their subjects what to do, but citizens tell their government what to do.
If Dick Cheney believes, as he obviously does, that the war in Iraq is vital to American interests, it is his job, and that of President Bush, to make the case with sufficient proof to win the necessary public support.
That is the difference between a strong president (one who leads) and a strong presidency (one in which ultimate power resides in the hands of a single person). Bush is officially America's "head of state," but he is not the head of government; he is the head of one branch of our government, and it's not the branch that decides on war and peace.
When the vice president dismisses public opposition to war with a simple "So?" he violates the single most important element in the American system of government: Here, the people rule.