Dick Cheney's Powerful Veep Voice

Article excerpt

As I read that Vice President Cheney had told Iraqi opposition leaders that the Bush administration was determined to oust Saddam Hussein from power, I asked myself: Have we ever had a vice president so influential?

I don't think so. Vice President Al Gore used to sit across a lunch table at the White House once a week at a get-together with President Clinton when the two discussed policy. I was told that with the voluble Bill Clinton carrying the conversation there were few opportunities for Mr. Gore to get a word in edgewise.

But Gore was an active vice president, pushing his environmental agenda wherever he could and working to bring about more efficiency in the federal government.

Indeed, it's been a long time since Franklin D. Roosevelt's vice president, John N. Garner disparaged his job with a remark widely quoted as: "It's not worth a bucket of spit." Garner, like all vice presidents before him and for years after him, too, looked upon their position as a nothing job. They were there, as they saw it, just to be available should the president die.

The story one usually reads is how the newly nominated Democratic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy, finally consented to his father's wishes to pick as his running mate Sen. Lyndon Johnson, a man whom he disliked and who was detested by brother Robert. But Johnson once told the Monitor's William Stringer that with Kennedy's call and his acceptance, Johnson felt he was sinking into oblivion.

Johnson was right. Kennedy kept Johnson traveling, doing secondary ceremonial activity. He was seldom invited into inner circle policy discussions when Kennedy met with his cabinet and top aides. And when he was - he was ignored.

Actually, I think it was President Carter who first gave his vice president a truly useful advisory role. That was Walter Mondale whose experience as a senator and top Democratic political leader was truly leaned upon by Mr. Carter.

Since then, all presidents have, at least at times, brought their vice presidents into conversations on policy and planning. Also, since then, vice presidents - like Mr. Mondale - have usefully assisted the presidents they serve. …