March 02, 2004

Vice President Liberty Valence

One of the disturbing things about reading Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty is that in the book Vice President Richard Cheney wears an even blacker hat than Lee Marvin wears in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence."

Now Suskind does not claim that his principal source, ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill had either the skills with a lawbook of Jimmy Stewart or the skills with a sixgun of John Wayne. Nevertheless, the story doesn't hang together fully. I find the picture of Cheney painted to be psychologically impossible. Nobody sets out to wear a black hat. There is no psychological depth to Suskind's (or O'Neill's) portrait of Richard Cheney: no clue as to why he decided to operate within the Bush administration the way that he apparently did. It is a mystery--and as much of a mystery to O'Neill and Suskind, apparently, as to me.

There is one interesting passage about Cheney in The Price of Loyalty:

[Greenspan's] actions... were born of loyalty to a core principle: to know all that can be known and then try, every day, to do what is in the best long-term interest of the American economy. The Bushes, of course, have relied on a different oath: loyalty to a person, whether "41" or "43," and to the family. There might be disagreements on what position the best available facts or political calculations recommend. But you stick together, no matter what.

Cheney had long made peace with this notion of personal loyalty. It was at the core of why men in power--including both Bushes--always felt comfortable investing their confidences, secrets, doubts, delights, and very careers in the hands of this quiet man from Wyoming.... Dick [Cheney]... was now unshakeably loyal to someone neither Paul [O'Neill] nor Alan [Greenspan] reall knew... even if he was about to become president. That, suddenly, made the political philosophy and policy passions--the mind of Dick Cheney (a subject of some mystery, even to close friends--subordinate issues. Literally.

But even this ascription to Cheney of a strong personal loyalty doesn't cut it as an explanation of his behavior. For I think nearly everybody believes that Richard Cheney has not served George W. Bush well. O'Neill describes Cheney's mode of operation inside the Bush administration as consisting of moving as many issues as possible outside the normal cabinet staff process--NEC, NSC, et cetera--and deciding all issues on the basis of "the [right-wing] base likes this [policy] and who the hell knows anyway.

And if George W. Bush fails to win reelection this November, this mode of operation will be responsible.

Or as one person put it to me: "Jeez, Brad. If only they'd been careful to keep a long-run budget surplus, passed a real stimulus program, made noises about how Kyoto is a joke but global warming does need to be controlled, and not worked quite as hard to fracture our alliances over Iraq--they'd be golden, they'd be unbeatable."

Which raises the question: why has Cheney served George W. Bush so badly? Is he pushing his own policy preferences through the process? Or is George W. Bush a very stubborn man who wants things done this way?

Posted by DeLong at March 2, 2004 04:28 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Brad, a few weeks ago, you mentioned that Cheney had a decent reputation in the 70s and 80s.
I don't remember your exact words, but the gist of it was that while Cheney was very right wing, he wasn't nutty or dishonest. You know, my recollection of Cheney in the 80s was that he was a right wing flack of the highest order, not to be trusted on a matter of fact or principle.
I don't think it's any surprise that once he got real power he turned into Darth Vader.

Posted by: marky on March 2, 2004 04:43 PM

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A) It is too early to tell if Bush has been served badly, they might wish to play the game as close to the edge as possible. It may take a generation to judge.

B) I am not sure what the strategic goals of this administration really are, tho fairly certain they are not as stated. Possibly what Krugman describes are their actual goals. I can't tell how well Cheney is serving Bush unless I know what Bush wants. I suspect what he wants comes from Marvin Olasky at UT.

C) Yes, I suspect Bush is a hard man to move from previously held positions. A man who decides "from his heart and gut" is not moved by evidence or logic.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on March 2, 2004 04:48 PM

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Not to be a nitwit nitpicker, but I think it's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance".

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056217/

Posted by: WK on March 2, 2004 04:55 PM

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GWB could have spent his first term defeating the Taliban, capturing Osama bin Laden, establishing a semblance of a democratic system in Afghanistan, spending money on an economic stimulus package that doesn't depend on tax shifts and credit card maxing rather than pissing it away in Iraq, and he would have coasted to a landslide electoral victory which in turn he could have used to attack Iraq in the first weeks of his second term. Why is it that the Bushes just can't get their timing right?

Posted by: ogmb on March 2, 2004 05:21 PM

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Brad:
Or as one person put it to me: "Jeez, Brad. If only they'd been careful to keep a long-run budget surplus, passed a real stimulus program, made noises about how Kyoto is a joke but global warming does need to be controlled, and not worked quite as hard to fracture our alliances over Iraq--they'd be golden, they'd be unbeatable."

Me:
I'd trade all of that for a nearly $200 million election warchest.

Republicans may well outspend democrats 5 to 1 in 2004, thanks to listening first to the donors.

Posted by: Jack on March 2, 2004 05:57 PM

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Look, why are we mystified by this? This the man who went on national television and stated that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted nuclear weapons. He did this and maintained his story much longer than any other Administration official, even after they began backing away from that position. This guy is out of touch with reality. The scary thing is that Bush might be closer in touch than Cheney is. In Suskind's book, the debates at the end show the President struggling to ask questions and grapple with the issues, even when his advisers tried to herd him into prescripted positions. Of course, he was completely out of his depth and eventually got manipulated into carrying out their agendas ... but at least he tried. His whole questioning of the dividend taxation cut was breath-taking for how his advisers played him for a chump.

Cheney is like that, only worse. After the ideologues got to him, he was completely sold on the Iraq, WMD, and neo-con bit. He was smarter than Bush and therefore played the role of a manipulator, but nonetheless he was as much of a victim of absolutist ideology as Bush - or even more so. At least when they didn't deliver results, generally Bush began to question their pronouncements ... if nothing else he is focused on his desire to be relected. Cheney however is completely oblivious to this.

In Cheney we find the picture of a callow man in power. He is intelligent and organized enough to politically and bureaucratically achieve his ends, but he has neither the common sense or the empathy in order to realize that he is completely over-reaching. Even Bush realizes he's in trouble now, but Dick is marching along to his own tone-deaf drummer as always.

Posted by: Oldman on March 2, 2004 06:04 PM

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Oldman: Four or five times in that interview Cheney said that Iraq had reconstituted nuclear weapon development programs. Once, he said "weapons". It was a slip of the tongue. He subsequently said as much, and everyone accepts this.

Why do you persist?

Posted by: Youngman on March 2, 2004 06:09 PM

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Youngman, Cheney was flat out wrong every time he said this. Why do you persist in defending him?

Posted by: marky on March 2, 2004 06:16 PM

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"...made noises about how Kyoto is a joke but global warming does need to be controlled,..."

I have a better suggestion. Bush could tell the truth, which is that the temperature projections made by the IPCC (1.4 to 5.8 degree Celsius increase by 2100) are the biggest fraud in the history of environmental "science." That the odds of the earth's surface temperature warming by even 2 degrees Celsius are probably less than 1 in 20.

http://markbahner.50g.com/what_will_happen_to_us.htm

And finally, given the fact that people in 2100 are likely to be at least 20 times more wealthy than people in 2000, it's absolutely immoral for the poor people of 2000 to sacrifice for the rich of 2100. The world has *real* environmental problems. We don't need to "control" computer-generated-fantasy "problems."

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/

Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

Posted by: Mark Bahner on March 2, 2004 06:24 PM

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marky, I did not defend Cheney and have zero interest in doing so.

I merely pointed out Oldman's deceitfulness.

Can you understand the difference?

Posted by: Youngman on March 2, 2004 06:27 PM

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Flat Earth alert!

Posted by: SW on March 2, 2004 06:37 PM

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Bush truly wants things done that way. After all, the guy has lived in TX most of his life. He never ventured overseas much. TX is a different planet than the rest of the US divided between very progressive elements and very regressive elements. Mr Bush is merely repeating in Washington what he did in TX. Don't forget about Karl Rove. The line on Rove was that Hughes steered Bush away from the darkest policies of Rove. With Hughes gone, Rove has had a free hand. Suskind quotes in his Esquire article: DiIulio: "Karl is enormously powerful, maybe the single most powerful person in the modern, post-Hoover era ever to occupy a political advisor post near the Oval Office."

Posted by: bakho on March 2, 2004 08:06 PM

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Youngman,

Hold on there. Maybe in some silly partisan debates you can get away with that kind of crap, but I was not deceitful. I said that "...went on national television and stated that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted nuclear weapons."

That's once I said he did it. He only had to do it once for me to say he did it once. In addition, even if we lower the bar to having reconstituted nuclear weapons programs he was still dead wrong and refused to back down on it far longer than his Administration peers.

I'm not measuring his credibility against Democrats, I'm measuring it against other officials in the cabinet and secretaries and the like. Powell walked away from it. Rice at least tried to whitewash it. Kay said they were wrong. Rumsfeld said he knew where the WMD were, but at least was intelligent enough to shut up about it after it became clear it was no longer sustainable.

So your argument is not just wrong, it's plain dumb. Nobody made Cheney get up there and make an ass of himself, he volunteered. Now get your facts straight before you call the oldman deceitful!!!

Posted by: Oldman on March 2, 2004 08:16 PM

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OK, let me quote Lt. William Calley:

We had to destroy the village to save it.

The "starve the beast" folks aren't really so deluded to believe that deficits will force cutbacks.

They honestly feel that we need an Argentina style collapse to eviscerate the social safety net.

That's what is going on.

They are destroying the US to save it.

As to Iraq, never underestimate the power of self delusion. It's not just belief, it's a crusade.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff on March 2, 2004 08:29 PM

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"They honestly feel that we need an Argentina style collapse to eviscerate the social safety net."

Entirely possible. Olasky at UT would want the welfare state dissolved down through state and municipal levels. And I am not sure he looks kindly on corporate pension plans and corporate insurance.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on March 2, 2004 11:35 PM

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We had to destroy the village to save it.

The phrase does not originate with Lt. Calley. It was said in connection with combat at Ben Tre (actually town of 11,000) during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Peter Arnett relayed the quote from an unnamed officer. About one-third of the town was destroyed. The quote is usually given as "It became necessary to destroy it in order to save it".

Posted by: Roger Bigod on March 3, 2004 03:39 AM

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Brad,

Before commencing to critique the description of Cheney offered by Suskind and O'Neill, look back on your own record of comments regarding Bush administration motivation. By your own admission, you don't understand why they do what they do. Claiming that Cheney's behavior is not based on loyalty because you don't think his behavior is helpful to Bush doesn't carry much weight if you aren't able to assess what Bush motivates Bush insiders.

O'Neill surely has more insight into the workings of the Bush administration than you have, because he was in the room. If Cheney is dressed up in a black hat, that might be for personal or literary reasons, but that doesn't mean his basic motives are not what O'Neill says they are. We may get a closer look soon, when the Rashoman treatment gets underway in the aftermath of the Bush years.

Posted by: K Harris on March 3, 2004 04:54 AM

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My favorite metaphor is immune system collapse. These people were always evil, but knew that they had to operate under self-control, to succeed. By 2000, it was pretty clear that many of the checks and balances had broken down (see Krugman's columns during 2000, and his exasperation with media coverage; see the Daily Howler, or Media Whores Online). After the election, it was clear that they system was broken - if Clinton had gotten into office the way that Bush did, the GOP would have declared open and actual warfare, but the Democratic leadership did nothing. At that point they started to get outrageous. It was clear that the patient's immune system was largely gone.

Then came 9/11 - a massive shock on an already ill patient. At that point, most limits were off. The only thing that might save the country is that these guys' self-control actually collapsed at that point (see Scalia's famous speech dissing democracy) - if they had stayed frosty and collected, they might have done better.

Posted by: Barry on March 3, 2004 05:13 AM

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Cheney's an interesting case, particularly when you place his TV interviews up against those of Bush.

Bush has the "bad interview" reputation, and perhaps justly so. With Tim Russert, Bush effectively fudges his way through issues, evading questions and framing answers in out-of-context fashion. Yet I don't think you necessarily catch him saying blatantly erroneous things, or flat-out lies. You do catch him saying ridiculous things...

Cheney, by contrast, has a history of making absolutely false statements. Wasn't it Cheney who, on Meet the Press back in 2002, said "They have reconstituted their nuclear weapons program"? Not "we believe" or "evidence suggests", but "they have." He's made the same ridiculous statement in public forum in recent months. His recent statement about jobs and economic recovery is just another incident in an established trend.

Yet, Cheney goes over much better, I think, than Bush does. He's more comfortable in one-on-one situations. He makes these outlandish statements with absolutely assuredness; this wins over the people who watch the interview but don't follow the news enough to place the proclamations in context. I think those of us who follow politics pretty closely react far more negatively to Cheney than those who do not follow closely; we are in a position to know he's wrong or dishonest, while others just think he comes across as reasonable and sincere.

It's interesting that people wonder if Cheney will be a drag on the 2004 Republican ticket, given that presumably the vast majority of voters out there fall into the insufficiently-informed-to-spot-Cheney's-errors/lies camp. I know perfectly intelligent people who like Cheney just fine because they don't know he's incorrect, dishonest, and profitting handsomely from war.

Posted by: Ethan on March 3, 2004 06:40 AM

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I love that one about how since everyone is going to be so rich in 2100, we don't have to make any sacrifices on their behalf now - just party away like there's no tomorrow.

Isn't that kind of like all those folks who used to say - I don't need to stop smoking because by the time I get cancer, they'll have discovered a cure. I used to hear that one back in the sixties and, guess what, the timing was a bit off.

Posted by: wvmcl on March 3, 2004 07:44 AM

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"Jeez, Brad. If only they'd been careful to keep a long-run budget surplus, passed a real stimulus program, made noises about how Kyoto is a joke but global warming does need to be controlled, and not worked quite as hard to fracture our alliances over Iraq--they'd be golden, they'd be unbeatable."

Jeez, Brad--if they'd done all that, they'd be the Gore Administration.

Posted by: rea on March 3, 2004 07:45 AM

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By all accounts, Bush was a centrist Governor of Texas, working well with the Democrats. And his loss in the 2000 popular vote would have dictated similarly. Had he moved to the middle, 2004 would not be in doubt. But he went hard right with arrogance and secrecy that I presume is Cheney's doing. Maybe Cheney is tone-deaf and not in fact very bright.

Posted by: BobNJ on March 3, 2004 08:03 AM

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While we are deconstructing Cheney Speak, folks might want to look at the quote Josh Marshall has up at
Out of the Mouths of Babes

Does the VP really believe that 'keeping the job growth' that we have had is a Good Thing??? Or is that a part of the problem of no longer knowing where one's moral compass is???

Posted by: drieux on March 3, 2004 08:11 AM

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Posted by BobNJ:

"By all accounts, Bush was a centrist Governor of Texas, working well with the Democrats. And his loss in the 2000 popular vote would have dictated similarly. Had he moved to the middle, 2004 would not be in doubt. But he went hard right with arrogance and secrecy that I presume is Cheney's doing. Maybe Cheney is tone-deaf and not in fact very bright."

I only read a few of Molly Ivins' columns, be she didn't seem to think that he was too centrist. The only 'centrist' thing that he did, by her lights (IIRC) was to keep the fundies well fed with raw meat, but to make sure that the fundies never got in the way of pork for his business cronies.

Remember, a Democrat in Texas might well be a Republican in the US :) And (again, IIRC) at one point in Bush's campaign for president, he had a picture taken with a bunch of the Texas Legislature, both GOP and Dem, to show his bipartisanship. Only it turned out later that a bunch of Democrats were locked out of the Legislature building for that shoot, because they belonged to the set who were not 'in' with Bush.


Posted by: Barry on March 3, 2004 08:35 AM

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Brad,

I believe O'Neill wasn't in the innermost cliques.
He saw things he didn't like,
and decided to guess the source of the things he disagreed with were not the (I hear completely) charming President, himself.

"Cheney, the Enforcer," rolls off the lips.

Posted by: JSN on March 3, 2004 08:42 AM

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I think Cheney's first loyalty isn't to Bush, or the neocon agenda. It's to that folding leather thing he carries in his pocket.

Haliburton forever!

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on March 3, 2004 09:31 AM

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Has anyone considered that Cheney also has a bad case of CEO disease?

As we know, a CEO can never be wrong, can never be criticized, and can never be argued with.

Add into the mix the guy's lack of intellectual ability and his desire to aid his donors by destroying the social fabric of the country and I think you have reasons for his actions.

Posted by: Mark on March 3, 2004 10:19 AM

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"For I think nearly everybody believes that Richard Cheney has not served George W. Bush well."

Republicans respect and admire Richard Cheney. Democrats, the reverse. What is hard to understand? Cheney actually deflects considerable criticism from Bush, but Cheney is not the President and never gives Bush a moment of concern on competing for sway.

Posted by: anne on March 3, 2004 11:41 AM

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George Bush is the person who matters. Not Richard Cheney!

Posted by: anne on March 3, 2004 11:51 AM

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"George Bush is the person who matters. Not Richard Cheney!"
Really?

Posted by: Pikono-Klast on March 3, 2004 12:12 PM

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Right, the person we will vote for or hopefully against is George Bush. The responsibility for the awful decisions of this Adminsitration rest with George Buch. The buck stops there!

Posted by: lise on March 3, 2004 12:44 PM

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I knew both Cheney and Rumsfeld in the 92nd and 93rd Congresses, 1970-72, when I was a subcommittee staffer on House Special Education. This was chaired by Rep. John Brademas (D. Indiana), who was a Rhodes Scholar, third in seniority, a Depuuty Speaker, Chair of the House Administration Committee, and other odds and ends, so I rather got around.

Both Cheney and Rumsfeld were visibly blunderers. Rumsfeld was a nitwit, and Cheney just off in space someplace. In their rather different ways they were both utterly incompetent at everything they did.

Thus I was totally unsurprised that Cheney almost bankrupted Halliburton through an absent-minded lack of due diligence over Dresser's asbestos albatross. Similarly Rumsfeld's total misunderstanding of the governance of Iraq was simply his normal operating style as I had always known it.

The only thing wrong with Brad's frequent use of the term "clown show" is that clown shows are at least amusing.

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones on March 3, 2004 01:06 PM

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"The classical Roman ‘Virtue’ of leaders consisted of: honesty, being big-hearted and truth-loving. The ‘Virtu’ of Macchiavelli had another definition as Macchiavelli found that the primary objective of the leader was the continuance of the state. The leader was allowed to breach these ‘moral rules’ if this was necessary to guarantee the continuance of the state. ‘Virtu’ entailed: power, pride, bravery, guts and being relentless."
The question is:Who is Macchiavelli?

Posted by: Lemming on March 3, 2004 01:14 PM

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By all accounts, Bush was a centrist Governor of Texas, working well with the Democrats.

I have not one but two smartass responses to that.

(a) "...both of them."

(b) Texas Democrats land slightly to the right of California Republicans, don't they?

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft on March 3, 2004 02:14 PM

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"Republicans respect and admire Richard Cheney. Democrats, the reverse. What is hard to understand?"

My father, a lifelong Republican who has never voted Democrat, now is very suspicious of Cheney and places a lot of his disatisfaction with the Bush administration at Cheney's feet. To most Republicans, Cheney has been a cipher whom they assumed, from his demeanor, was quite competent. Now that that's in doubt, they have no personal loyalty to him; while they still think well of Bush. Cheney is definitely a liability in this upcoming election. But he was a relative liability in 2000—he didn't make the ticket stronger in any way; and I think his selfish, bad advice to Bush in that case tells us *everything* we need to know about Cheney. Similarly, that Bush was stupid and beholden enough to Cheney to take his self-recomendation, *also* tells us everything we need to know about Bush.

Cheney is easily the most malicious and self-interested VP we've had since Agnew. Unlike Agnew, however, he wields real power in this administration.

Nominally, Bush is the ultimate power in this administration, and for that reason in some sense he inevitably is so. But among the various factions that clamor for Bush's attention, Cheney's is by far the most consistently influential and decisive.

Black Hats are rarely aware that they're Black Hats, and more often than not they don't act like Black Hats, either. But a few do, and Cheney is one of them. I believe Suskind's portrayal of Cheney because it's in keeping with everything else I've seen of Cheney.

Dick Cheney is an evil man.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on March 3, 2004 02:50 PM

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See, I told you needed to own that DVD.

Posted by: KevinNYC on March 3, 2004 02:56 PM

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"I love that one about how since everyone is going to be so rich in 2100, we don't have to make any sacrifices on their behalf now - just party away like there's no tomorrow."

Do you expect people in Africa to sacrifice for the benefit of us in the U.S.?

I'm guessing your answer is, "no."

The average person in the U.S. today will likely have an income in comparison to the average person in the world in 2100 as the average person in Africa today is to the average person in the U.S. By my calculation, the average annual per capita GDP in the world in 2100 will be $1,700,000. That's in YEAR 2000 dollars, not year 2100. That's more than 40 times the per capita GDP in the U.S. in 2000. (See my December 2003 blog posts for details.)

"Isn't that kind of like all those folks who used to say - I don't need to stop smoking because by the time I get cancer, they'll have discovered a cure."

To equate the amount of global warming that will happen in 2100 to cancer is a joke. And a pretty sick one to anyone who has any experience with cancer.

Posted by: Mark Bahner on March 3, 2004 07:17 PM

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I just want to know who is going to play the John Wayne character and do the right thing.

Posted by: sw on March 4, 2004 06:36 AM

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"my calculations"... Oh christ that inspires confidence doesn't it. But then brainless engineers aren't a particularly scarce commodity.

Posted by: SW on March 4, 2004 06:38 AM

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Maybe people are getting a little nervous about George Bush's job assignments. Maybe George Bush will have to consider another close personal candidate for Vice President- HIS MOM!!

Posted by: woodturtle on March 4, 2004 07:56 AM

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Any discussion about Cheney's character and behavior has to cover the possibility of "pumphead" syndrome. Some "heart by-pass" patients experience a 20% loss in cognitive ability. Cheney has had 4 "by-pass" surgeries.

Here is a link to a Duke University study
http://heartdisease.about.com/cs/bypasssurgery/a/pumphead.htm

I apologize Brad if this point offends you, hopefully I have stated my point in an acceptable manner this time.

Posted by: David E on March 4, 2004 11:10 AM

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I think that the loyalty issue is certainly part of the equation. As Posted by David Lloyd-Jones at March 3, 2004 01:06 PM provides some good detail, Cheney has a record as a bad decision maker. In government, you can either get ahead through merit or "loyalty". Since he has little history of merit and makes a lot of mistakes, he clearly understood early how important loyalty is. Compound this with control freak tendencies and there you have it. A man like Cheney probably operates best when he has someone to provide him with direction. I read somewhere that he earned his due attending to gofer duties in the Ford? WH. That is probably all the man is good for.

Posted by: Bubb Rubb on March 4, 2004 02:25 PM

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One of Cheney's ex-speechwriters says, "No pumphead syndrome here. The guy was still really sharp even though he had had multiple bypasses."

Posted by: Brad DeLong on March 4, 2004 02:36 PM

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I hesistate to pass this on, but there is a theory out there that Cheney acts in the way he does because he is the respresentative in the White House of satanic Annunaki Lizards from the fourth dimension. No really.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=icke+cheney+lizard

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