Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Dick Cheney and the Robust Conception of Presidential Power

Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

Dick Cheney and the Robust Conception of Presidential Power

Article excerpt



The memoirs of former Vice President Dick Cheney1 are not short on personal vignettes aimed at capturing the attention of the reader and giving a sense of the author's life and times. They do not shy away from efforts to depict the author's political career in the most flattering light. The writing style is very much Cheney's, given the terseness with which Cheney relates the stories he tells.

The memoirs advance arguments that are important to Cheney, arguments that have defined his political career. One in particular is consistently referenced and emphasized: an expansive view of executive power. Cheney has done nothing to disguise or camouflage his beliefs on the subject throughout his political career.

This Book Review discusses Cheney's conception of executive power. It reflects on the fact that despite Cheney's Nixon Administration experience with agencies whose missions and activities went against his small-government instincts, Cheney did not become a skeptic of executive power. On the contrary, even as a member of Congress, he sought to safeguard executive power against what he-and others around him-saw as encroachment by Congress. This Book Review also highlights two notable instances in which Cheney, as a member of the Executive Branch, sought to protect presidential power-and one instance in which he worked to preserve the autonomy of the Vice President from the President and his staff.


Cheney's introduction to politics and political life came as a congressional fellow for William A. Steiger, who served as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 until his death in 1978.2 Cheney's early association with Congress through the fellowship program and his most seminal early exposure to the Executive Branch could have made him a skeptic of presidential power. Working as an aide to Donald Rumsfeld, who was selected by President Nixon in 1969 to head the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO),3 Cheney witnessed examples of government activity that ran counter to his small- government instincts:

I remember, for example, one OEO proposal that promised to help migrant workers by moving them from Florida to South Carolina and teaching them to grow azaleas. It sounded great until someone asked how many azalea growers there already were in South Carolina and how many azalea growers South Carolina could realistically support. The answer was that the market was already operating efficiently and at full capacity. The proposed plan could have wiped out the entire azalea industry in the state.4

After having served with Rumsfeld at OEO, Cheney migrated to the Cost of Living Council (CLC), which Rumsfeld was asked to run by President Nixon.5 As assistant director of the CLC, Cheney was given the opportunity to see firsthand yet another example of government intervention in the marketplace that might have diminished any enthusiasm he had for a powerful Executive Branch. Cheney describes how the CLC was tasked with crafting and implementing wage and price controls:

The Democratic majority in Congress was urging the president to use powers they had given him when they passed the Economic Stabilization Act, legislation that effectively authorized him to commandeer the economy by imposing controls on wages, prices, salaries, and rents. The Democrats voted these extraordinary powers confident that no Republican president, much less a solid free market one named Richard Nixon, would ever use them, and in the meantime, they could criticize him for not taking action. But Nixon took them up on their offer, and on Sunday night, August 15, 1971, he announced a freeze for ninety days on all wages and prices. The Cost of Living Council was created to monitor the freeze and to achieve an orderly return to the free market when the ninety-day period was over. …

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