Answering to No One

By Mondale, Walter | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 5, 2007 | Go to article overview

Answering to No One


Mondale, Walter, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


The Washington Post's recent series on Dick Cheney's vice presidency certainly got my attention. I have more than a passing interest in its evolution, from the backwater of American politics to the second most powerful position in our government.

Almost all of that evolution has been positive -- until now. Under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, it has gone seriously off track.

The Framers created the vice presidency as a constitutional afterthought, solely to provide a president-in-reserve should the need arise. The only duty they specified was that the vice president should preside over the Senate.

The office languished in obscurity and irrelevance for more than 150 years until Richard Nixon saw it as a platform from which to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1960; it has been an effective launching pad for aspiring candidates since.

But it wasn't until Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency that the vice presidency took on a substantive role. Carter saw the office as an underused asset and set out to make the most of it. He gave me an office in the West Wing, unimpeded access to him and to the flow of information and specific assignments at home and abroad.

Our relationship depended on trust, mutual respect and an acknowledgement that there was only one agenda to be served -- the president's. Subsequent administrations followed this pattern.

But this all changed in 2001, and especially after Sept. 11, when Cheney set out to create a largely independent power center. His was an unprecedented attempt not only to shape administration policy but, alarmingly, to limit the policy options sent to the president. …

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