Dick Cheney should resign his office.
The vice president should not be banished simply because he has become one of the most unpopular figures in American political history, nor because his incessant vitriol, heaped upon everyone with whom he disagrees, poisons our discourse and divides our country. Rather, the vice president should vacate his office because doing so is the only way to bring an honorable end to a miserable tenure.
By resigning, Cheney could give substantive meaning to Republican calls for personal responsibility.
When we found, some two decades ago, that “responsibility” was one of the most widely shared American values, we uncovered a very specific meaning attached to the concept — that actions ought to have consequences. Since then, Republicans tortured Democrats, arguing that we were irresponsible — working to sever the link between actions and consequences.
Today, though, by continuing to occupy his office, Dick Cheney undermines the very concept of personal responsibility, signaling that, for those in power, actions have no consequences.
Under the most lenient interpretation, Cheney has been wrong every step of the way on Iraq: wrong on the relationship between al-Qaeda and Saddam; wrong on weapons of mass destruction; wrong on the need for war; wrong on how to win the peace.
His errors have certainly produced consequences for others — nearly 3,200 Americans are dead, and over 20,000 are wounded, at potentially a trillion dollars in cost to the taxpayers. To what end — to eliminate WMDs that, in fact, had been dismantled more than a decade before we invaded?
Cheney has imperiled our national security, as the failed policy he (and Bush) championed has rendered America impotent in dealing with the very real threat posed by a nuclear Iran. Yet what consequences has Cheney suffered? What responsibility has he assumed?
In a parliamentary system, Cheney (and Bush, too) would be long gone. In those countries, “taking responsibility” for failure is synonymous with resigning. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has already announced he will resign before his term ends as penance for the far less grievous sin of following Bush and Cheney too closely.
While our system lacks the political mechanisms to force elected officials to take responsibility for failure — members of Congress cannot drive the president or vice president from office — Cheney would do well to emulate his British ally.
However, the vice president has not simply made mistakes, he has told lies, repeatedly. While being wrong is not an indictable offense, lying to the country is.
Cheney told us that Saddam and al Qaeda were cooperating when he knew they were not. He told us Iraqi agents met with Sept. 11th hijackers when he knew the evidence was non-existent. He told us Iraq was working to acquire nuclear weapons when he knew that was not so. He told us about capturing Iraqi mobile chemical-weapons labs when he knew they were hydrogen-filling units sold to Iraq by a British company. Nearly two years ago he told us the insurgency was in its “last throes,” even while he knew attacks were increasing in intensity and severity.
The most recent entry on Cheney’s rap sheet is the conviction of his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for perjury in a trial where the prosecutor was clear about the “cloud hanging over what the vice president did” and the jury itself was demanding to see Cheney in the defendant’s dock. What kind of a person blithely goes about his business while a loyal lieutenant faces a prison term for protecting him?
Dick Cheney could serve his country best by resigning. At least then it could be said that the vice president believed in responsibility, loyalty and honesty.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.