The Cheney Precedent

I am going to miss Dick Cheney.

As the days wind down, and just weeks remain of the Bush/Cheney administration, there will be no wistful revisiting of history or humility from Cheney as he looks back on the dramatic eight years during which he transformed the role of vice president.

There he was Sunday, telling FOX News that Joe Biden is free to "diminish" the vice presidency if he so chooses. First he wanted to state for the record that Biden — a member of the Judiciary Committee for 36 years and a teacher of constitutional law — had confused the first and second articles of the Constitution. Then he described Biden's description of Cheney's "recklessly" expansive view of the power of the vice president as "campaign rhetoric."

Cheney remains unapologetic about the unprecedented power center he built in the executive branch — though he still maintains, for purposes of shielding his records, that he exists as a fourth branch of government, neither executive nor legislative. He will go out abhoring public opinion polls, and ignoring the media. Call it what you will but the man stays firm in his conviction.

Biden has pledged he will serve Barack Obama as a counselor, and while sitting in on all big decisions, will return the vice presidency to its traditional role. He has agreed wholeheartedly with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he does not belong at the Senate Democrats' policy lunches or caucus meetings — something Cheney did routinely on the Republican side.

We actually don't know if Biden will end up being the vice president he is describing, but future vice presidents could also seek to expand upon the traditional role now that the Cheney precedent is on the books. Once it has been done, it can't be completely undone.

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