Shirley Anne Warshaw

 

On her book The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney

Cover Interview of June 22, 2009

In a nutshell

The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney explores the extraordinary depth of Cheney’s influence in the Bush administration – and how Cheney built that influence.

Cheney’s role was so pervasive in policy development that he was, in fact, a co-president.  I struggled with alternatives for a title, considered titling the book Hijacked or Stolen Power.  But the reality is that Bush willingly allowed Cheney to control a wide range of policy areas — as long as Cheney did not intrude on the faith-based or education policies that were the core of the minimalist Bush agenda.

To most observers of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney’s legacy was centered in foreign policy.  But, as it turns out, Cheney had his hand in almost every area of domestic policy.  And, equally as important, it was Cheney who built the legal team that asserted the president’s claims of constitutional authority.  Decisions involving detainee imprisonment, wireless surveillance, and harsh interrogation practices were framed by Cheney’s hand-picked lawyers and around Cheney’s interpretation of constitutional power.  Cheney and his chief counsel, David Addington, built the legal teams in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice, in the White House Counsel’s office, and in the Department of Defense.  But this is only part of the story.

Quite simply, Cheney gained power because George W. Bush was focused on building a moral and civil society with the resources of the federal government.  For Bush, the presidency meant building a moral and civil society centered on ensuring that faith based organizations were funded, that the federal government never supported abortion or violated human life with embryonic stem cell research, that abstinence education and committed heterosexual relationships became the centerpiece of a high school sex-education curriculum, and that freedom of religion became a core value in foreign policy.  Bush had little interest in all else – for everything else, he had Dick Cheney.

The narrow focus of the Bush agenda led to the co-presidency, in which Cheney controlled economic, environmental, and energy policy in addition to national security policy.  In contrast to the faith-based presidency of Bush, Cheney oversaw a business-friendly presidency intent on deregulation and slashing the federal workforce with-according to Cheney- its intrusive oversight.  Cheney’s expansive role in economic policy led, for example, to a plan to outsource fifty percent of the federal workforce as part of what was known as the President’s Management Agenda.  By controlling the transition, Cheney placed business-centered executives across the administration – many of whom were energy executives – to cut bureaucratic staffs and terminate regulations which the business community considered too costly.