The Politics of Dick Cheney
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GWEN IFILL: Within hours of Dick Cheney’s selection as George W. Bush’s running mate, Democrats were on the warpath. “Cheney’s record,” Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said, “is probably as far right as anybody in the Republican party.” Vice president Al Gore, who is still deciding on his own running mate, joined the chorus today, speaking at the operation PUSH Convention in Chicago.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Governor Bush has made his choice, and now there can absolutely be no doubt when the American people go to the polls this November. They will be choosing between two very different visions for our future. It is a choice between the old guard that gave us deficits, divisions, and social injustice in the past and a new vision of prosperity and progress, investment, inclusion, and growth to lift up all of our people.
GWEN IFILL: Cheney, a former White House chief of staff and secretary of defense who spent 10 years in the House of Representatives, has left an extensive policy paper trail. He defended his voting record today during a campaign visit with Governor Bush to his hometown of Casper, Wyoming.
DICK CHENEY: First of all, I voted, I guess, probably for 10 years in the House of Representatives. I am generally proud of my record in the House and the job I did representing the state of Wyoming, of working with House Republicans to rise to the number two leadership position there. I’m sure if I were to go and look back at individual votes, I can probably find some that I might tweak and do a little bit differently.
But I think that it was also the 1980′s. It was a time when we had huge budget deficits, no money and when we really had to be concerned about controlling federal spending. Today we’re in a different era. We’ve got a surplus. We’ve got the opportunity now I think to go do some things that we could not have done 20 years ago, and the governor has laid out a number of those — for example, such things as reform in the education system, improving the Medicare system, fixing Social Security.
The real question about this campaign is about the future; about what kind of policies we are going to pursue in the next administration. Governor Bush has laid out a very positive vision for America. He has been very articulate in terms of pushing his concept, the notion of compassionate conservatism. I’m happy to support it and don’t believe I’ll have any problem at all doing that.
REPORTER: Mr. Cheney, the Democrats have mentioned votes in areas like South Africa, the environment, abortion, are there any votes in those areas that you would do differently today?
DICK CHENEY: I’m sure we cast dozens of votes in environment, South Africa, and abortion while I was there. You have to be a lot more specific than that. I was and am a conservative. I believe in a limited government, strong national defense. I believe in the power and prerogatives of the president, the conduct of foreign policy. The record reflects all of that and I’m happy with that.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: And I obviously thought about the record. And this is a conservative man, and so am I. But the thing that distinguishes Dick Cheney is, is that he can get along with others, he is a persuasive person. He can’t stand the politics that divides people into camps and pits people against each other. He’s going to be a great vice president.
GWEN IFILL: So who is Dick Cheney? For a few of the answers we turn to two of Cheney’s former House colleagues, Republican Vin Weber of Minnesota, now with the political lobbying firm here in Washington and also an adviser to Governor Bush; and Democrat Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, now the president of the Association of American Publishers. Joining them is author David Frum, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative policy research organization.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Weber, who is Dick Cheney, and what does he bring to the Bush ticket?
VIN WEBER: I think we should all remember who Dick Cheney was 48 hours ago because we’ve known this man a long, long time. And if you asked anybody, in almost any party, 48 hours ago, who’s Dick Cheney, they would have said one of the really most outstanding people you’ve ever known in government, an outstanding White House chief of staff, an outstanding secretary of defense, a person who I think even Pat would agree with me didn’t have an enemy that I could think of when he was in the Congress of the United States, the sort of person that everybody turned to for judgment, maturity, intellect, depth, and perspective on issues.
And that’s who he is. Is he a conservative? Absolutely. Our party is a conservative party.
But Dick Cheney is one of the most respected political leaders in our country. It’s a great testimonial to Governor Bush that he feels secure reaching out to a person of such great stature, and it’s a testimonial to Dick Cheney that he’s still willing to go back and contribute some more to government.
GWEN IFILL: Pat Schroeder, here is a chance to agree with Vin Weber. Do you agree with him? Was Governor Bush being mature, or was he being over confident
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Well, I think first of all everybody liked Dick Cheney but I dislike his voting record tremendously. I mean, the message to me of this ticket is white guys rule. And there is no inclusiveness. You can talk and talk and talk; they keep talking about how they want to include people and all of this. But if you look at his record – I mean — he’s been against the equal rights amendment and for apartheid in South Africa, and all sorts of things in-between. And you can’t really call those budget issues.
They are not just budget issues; he’s been a very strong social conservative on many, many things — now, a very nice, one, not a confrontational one, not an abrasive one. And I’ve spent hours on the plane with him because we both came from those two rectangular states, Wyoming and Colorado, and had to fly in the same way. But the bottom line is this is a new century. I had hoped that we would see some new faces — rather than recycle — this is like summer reruns. And I must say I think this was a very safe, cautious choice for George Bush and it didn’t show vision.
VIN WEBER: Al Gore ran for president in 1988. Is he a rerun too?
GWEN IFILL: Before you guys start squabbling, let me bring David Frum into this, because I’m curious about what you think of the Bush-Cheney ticket.
DAVID FRUM: I agree with Mr. Weber. Dick Cheney is a very, very impressive man, and he is indeed quite a conservative man, if we use “conservative” as an adjective. But he was not one who had a reputation and a position as a conservative as a noun. That was not his primary identity. He was a conservative Republican rather than perhaps a Republican conservative. And his nomination, I’m not so sure that it is such a safe choice. But it does send this message, which is: a lot of the 1980′s reformists zeal has gone out of the Republican Party. This is a – this is now a party aimed much more at government, much more at consolidating, much more at a few incremental changes in how things are done –that Reagan era urge to make a big difference, that does seem to have gone.
GWEN IFILL: What’s the difference between a conservative Republican and a Republican conservative?
DAVID FRUM: It’s a flavor difference, and maybe it’s subtle but still, I think, means something. A conversation Republican is someone who owes his identity – draws that identity mainly from his party affiliation and then happens to be on the conservative side of that party. A Republican conservative is someone of that ideology and finds the Republican Party an appropriate and convenient place to express that view but is ultimately committed to a set of ideas, rather than to an institution.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: But I would say, David, it’s kind of like the country club Republicans that like to govern but govern for their friends versus the populist Republicans who kind of rose up in the 80′s and were trying to broaden it and speak to other people. I think I would change it and say the country club Republicans have won. No, I really do think…
VIN WEBER: When you’re done, I have -
GWEN IFILL: Please respond if you like.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Go ahead.
VIN WEBER: It’s totally different. And I read David’s piece in the New York Times - thought it was a good piece – but I disagree. Here’s why: When Ronald Reagan came to office, we had had many years of the liberal establishment governing the country. And we were insurgents; we were trying for change the government and the Republican Party and maybe even a little bit the Democrat Party. Where I disagree with David is, I think we’ve succeeded.
The Republican Party is a Reaganite, more or less populous, conservative party. We’ve even affected the Democrat Party on issues like trade and taxes to a substantial extent more than they want to believe. President Clinton is proposing an increase in the defense budget. Pat, that never happened when you were there. So we’ve essentially won. Now, to say that the Dick Cheney and Governor Bush are part of a governing Republican establishment is a tribute to the Reagan insurgents, anti-establishment Republicans that you’re talking about because that’s good. That’s what the kind of government will be.
DAVID FRUM: That’s half true. It is true that the success of the Reagan 80′s pulled the Democrats towards where the Republicans were. But it’s also true that the political success of the Clinton 90′s has changed the Republican Party. And you see it in some of icky qualities of the Republican convention we’re all going to be going to.
VIN WEBER: Icky.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Not always.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s not start talking about the convention. I want to move on. Keep this. Dick Cheney. Dick Cheney does not come from an important state, he doesn’t represent a key constituency. So what does he bring to a Bush/Cheney ticket? What does he bring?
VIN WEBER: The most important thing about the selection of a vice president is not the vice-president himself but what it says about the presidential candidate that did the choosing. And that’s why I think this is not only a great choice substantively for the country but I think it’s a good choice politically because people who are looking at George W. Bush outside of Texas for the first time are seeing the first real governing decision that this prospective president has made – and that’s what the choice of a vice president is – it’s your first really governing decision — reflected a tremendous stability, a tremendous amount of judgment. It reflected putting conventional political considerations like ideological balance or geographic balance behind you and putting ahead of you somebody who has serious experience in the legislative branch of government foreign policy, the business sector, somebody who clearly can walk in and be President of the United States tomorrow and everybody would be comfortable with it.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: All that you said was actually done by Clinton and Gore. I think the Clinton-Gore ticket broke down a lot of the stuff about geographical diversity, age diversity, all of that. So I think you can’t say this is new that Bush is breaking this down. I think it got broken down –
GWEN IFILL: Is it helpful?
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: No, I don’t think so. What it really shows is I guess you could say that Bush is strong enough to admit where his weak parts are. People worry about foreign policy, worry about defense policy, worry about national leadership because he hasn’t been in Washington. So he’s saying I’m going to put this person here. That maybe very comforting for the people who want to support Bush and are going to support Bush anyway. But for everybody else, it kind of looks like, oh, no, the same old, same old, the reruns this is really going to be a very conservative, backward looking group — in a time when we’re supposedly in the 21st century and we are hoping for new messages. We’re saying one thing and doing another.
DAVID FRUM: It does send another message though. The strongest point of criticism of the Clinton administration – aside from its casual attitude toward the law — has been on policy grounds. It’s the vacillation and vagueness of its foreign policy. And one of the messages that the appointment of Cheney does send, the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats, is Republicans are much more careful when they use force and much more thorough about using force. It reminds people of the best episode of the Bush administration.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Time out. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That I think is a ridiculous statement. What do you mean? When did we have a war here?
DAVID FRUM: What I mean is if Dick Cheney had been the secretary of defense in the Clinton administration it wouldn’t have taken them years and years and years to make up their mind about what to do on Yugoslavia, and then it would have been seen through.
GWEN IFILL: We’re not going to settle this tonight. Let me move on to another issue. Dick Cheney does have a record, a record of voting against programs like Head Start, voting against issues like banning cop killer bullets, will those kind of votes, Vin Weber, come back to haunt him?
VIN WEBER: Well, I think that certainly as somebody who has been in Congress, you can’t say that a voting record is irrelevant. I think it’s perfectly appropriate that we debate his voting record to an extent. I think at the end of the day, a couple of things are true. The issues you’re talking about — cast out of 10,000 votes or something like that — are really not a representative view of Dick Cheney’s record. Second of all, the bulk of his experience really makes him the outstanding choice he is — is secretary of defense, White House chief of staff, all the breadth of experience that goes beyond a handful of votes that the Gore people have chosen to attack him today. You know –Dick Cheney is not walking away from his record; I wouldn’t walk away from his record, but I think that’s going to end up being a relatively small part of this campaign.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Can I just say, I think votes are really the defining thing. You know, if I said to you, which is the best way to judge me, what I’m going to promise you I’m going to do right before I want to get elected – or what I did when I truly was elected in the past, I think most Americans would say, you know, the votes you established in those ten-years in office are going to define you much more than all the rhetoric of the campaign. And I think too, that what you’re going to find is, 10,000 votes, yeah, but a lot of those are on all sorts of stuff like naming post offices and stuff that are not relevant. When you look at the really, really incredible votes, he was always way to the right and looked just like Strom Thurmond.
GWEN IFILL: David Frum.
DAVID FRUM: I think one of the dangers of being in power for a long time, as the Democrats have now been, is you use the same tricks over and over again. And I’m -
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: Using a trick?
DAVID FRUM: The tricks work and they stop working so this technique of taking out guns and saying we’re going to scare people with that and the environment and using those — that worked against the essentially empty Republican Party of 1996. I don’t know that it works when the Republicans actually have something to say — because.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: How about the equal rights amendment for women?
DAVID FRUM: The equal rights amendment was squarely rejected by the country as a whole.
GWEN IFILL: Vin Weber, will he be able to rise above this things, whether it’s a Democratic strategy or Republican strategy?
VIN WEBER: Sure. Look at in the case of Vice President Gore – we’re talking about his voting record flip-flopping on abortion, gun control, tobacco, right on down the list. I don’t think that’s going to end up being a defining issue either. What these people say about the future of the country is going to matter. Governor Bush has outlined a very positive and very creative program for a Bush administration. Dick Cheney is going to support that strongly, and it’s a winning ticket, I think.
GWEN IFILL: Is it a winning ticket that people will think is taking away from the basics of the Republican Party?
DAVID FRUM: I think it will win, and I think it will win because a lot of Republicans are ready to be taken away from their basics.
PATRICIA SCHROEDER: And I still see the White House as a big tree house with a big sign on it: No girls allowed, no African Americans allowed. No Hispanics allowed. You know, business as usual — white guys rule.
GWEN IFILL: I get the feeling everybody has made their point. Thank you all very much.