Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Cheney proves his irrelevance
The Boston Globe
Cheney proves his irrelevance

By Thomas Oliphant, Globe Columnist | October 6, 2004

THE COUNTRY doesn't need Dick Cheney any more. After his 90 minutes on the stage last night, it is clear he is no longer an essential person in politics and government. What he brings to the table are liabilities.

In debate against an opponent with the dangerously attractive attribute of freshness, Cheney paled -- literally. He's not special, it turns out. He doesn't know anything special, he hasn't done anything special, and for the future he doesn't offer anything special.

Cheney is now just another vice president who has had his hour on the stage without really mattering or making a difference. Four years ago, he had a glow of the Wizard of Oz about him, filling an obvious hole in his running mate's background; last night, Cheney was just the grumpy old man behind the curtain.

In presidential campaigns, that is the key to the veeps. They matter if they add something major, help solve a big problem, or provide the second element of a coalition. They are usually more important on the way into office than after they've been there, and last night was no exception.

In 2000, with George W. Bush running against an experienced, accomplished vice president, Cheney turned out to be important to the know-little Texas governor's election. His debate performance against Al Gore's running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, provided the added element of reassurance that the one-time conservative congressman from Wyoming and defense secretary seemed a decent fellow who could help govern the country.

Cheney ceased to have that status a long time ago. Now he has to deal with the accumulating credibility detritus of his incumbency. Just this week, he ran into disclosures from an increasingly angry and bitter intelligence community that he suppressed requests for more troops in Iraq, couldn't even persuade Donald Rumsfeld about ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, and probably also suppressed dissenting opinions about the significance of those famous aluminum tubes that never ended up being used in Iraq's nonexistent nuclear weapons program.

Cheney went into office with the typical benefit of the doubt. Now, more people in polls express unfavorable views about him than favorable ones. As he showed last night, the only way he can deal with questions about his repeated misleading of the public on matters of war and peace is by ignoring the questions and launching into another effort to make Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda seem part of the same coalition and then questioning the patriotism of all who criticize him. It can seem like decent television, but in fact it undermines his president politically as much as it helps rally the Republican base.

John Edwards had the political discipline to resist the temptation to behave with Cheney's off-putting nastiness, restricting himself to one powerful recitation of the vice president's long record of extreme right-wing position on race relations and education. He helps John Kerry politically, but what was important last night was that he helped demonstrate that Cheney isn't a big player anymore, that Edwards can play on the same stage, and therefore that the country is free to change leaders next month.

Thomas Oliphant's e-mail address is