by Meg White
Amid the folksy “doggone its,” “you betchas,” and “darn rights” that Gov. Sarah Palin dished out at the debate last night, she dropped a bombshell that was largely missed: She sees herself as the new Dick Cheney.
The conventional wisdom about vice presidential debates is that they don’t really matter. We’re voting for president in November, not VP. And in every election I can think of, that’s been the case.
But to use a recent favorite in campaign lingo, Vice President Dick Cheney is a game-changer. Over the past eight years, Cheney has amassed more power than any other vice president in history.
Therefore, the fact that no one in the media seems interested in the “unitary executive” question has been troubling. I was pretty disappointed with Gwen Ifill’s moderation of the debate, but I have to give her credit for starting a conversation about Cheney’s assertion that he has a role in the executive and the legislative (and then, neither…):
“Governor, you said in July that someone would have to explain to you exactly what it is the vice president does every day. You, senator, said, you would not be vice president under any circumstances. Now maybe this was just what was going on at the time. But tell us now, looking forward, what it is you think the vice presidency is worth now.”
Palin’s response was somewhat difficult to parse out, so I don’t necessarily blame the audience for missing her veiled threat, couched as it was in warm fuzzies such as energy independence and special needs children:
“No, no. Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that’s not only to preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also. I’m thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it in working with the Senate and making sure that we are supportive of the president’s policies and making sure too that our president understands what our strengths are. John McCain and I have had good conversations about where I would lead with his agenda. That is energy independence in America and reform of government over all, and then working with families of children with special needs. That’s near and dear to my heart also. In those arenas, John McCain has already tapped me and said, that’s where I want you, I want you to lead. I said, I can’t wait to get and there go to work with you.”
And again, to credit Ifill, she asked a follow-up this time:
“Governor, you mentioned a moment ago the constitution might give the vice president more power than it has in the past. Do you believe, as Vice President Cheney does, that the Executive Branch does not hold complete sway over the office of the vice presidency, that it is also a member of the Legislative Branch?”
More clearly this time, Governor: Do you see things through Cheney’s power-tinted glasses? Palin answers in the affirmative, this time using her extensive executive experience to soften the blow:
“Well, our founding fathers were very wise there in allowing through the Constitution much flexibility there in the office of the vice president. And we will do what is best for the American people in tapping into that position and ushering in an agenda that is supportive and cooperative with the president’s agenda in that position. Yeah, so I do agree with him that we have a lot of flexibility in there, and we’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation. And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner. It is those years of experience on an executive level that will be put to good use in the White House also.”
Hmm… seems like Gov. Palin misplaced her Cliffs Notes of the Constitution. Luckily, Sen. Biden seems to have read the document at one time or another. Let’s hear what he has to say:
“Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history… The Constitution is explicit. The only authority the vice president has from the legislative standpoint is the vote, only when there is a tie vote. He has no authority relative to the Congress. The idea he’s part of the Legislative Branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of a unitary executive and look where it has gotten us. It has been very dangerous.”
Thanks, Joe. Oh, by the way, is it O.K. if I call you Joe?
Palin’s gaffe (yes, it is now officially a gaffe when a candidate screws up and tells the nation what s/he really thinks) wasn’t totally missed. Joan Walsh pounced on the moment as a point at which “Sarah Palin blew it badly.” One reader drew our attention to the remark with a subject line of “This scares the hell out of us!”
Tony Angelo writes on Kos that maybe she should have stuck with her plan to willfully ignore Ifill’s queries:
“Buried within the standard Palinizing is the gem that she agrees with Dick Cheney’s theory that the Vice President is a member of both the Executive and the Legislative branch, while also not being a member of either.
Maybe that was one of those questions she shouldn’t have answered.”
David Nather, writing in his Congressional Quarterly blog, called it “a bid for as few constraints as possible.”
As scared as some are to have Palin “a heartbeat away from the presidency,” the argument against her shouldn’t hinge on Sen. John McCain’s probability of mortality. The argument could be made that Cheney has more power than President George W. Bush. Putting a politician in Cheney’s stead that has been described as vindictive, and who believes that dinosaurs and humans roamed the Earth together, is frightening enough as it is.
Palin told Katie Couric this week that the only bad thing Cheney did was shoot somebody in a duck hunting incident. But when she followed up to say that the best thing he did was support the troops, that was shown to be a line. She clearly likes what he’s done to the office of the vice presidency.
When Couric asked Palin to name her favorite vice president, Palin responded with failed Democratic candidate Geraldine Ferraro. When Couric followed up to ask Palin for an actual answer to her question, she sighed and made a strange noise that sounded like her sucking her teeth.
“My goodness. Um, I think those who have gone on to the presidency, George Bush Sr., having kinda learned the ropes in his position as VP and then moving on up,” she replied.
So the most important trait for a vice president is ambition for greater power? Well, that certainly fits the Cheney model. That “lipstick on a pit bull” line of hers makes more sense (and becomes more sinister) every time she opens her mouth.