Enough, already. That's the reaction of many Republicans to Dick Cheney's surge of media appearances to defend the Bush administration, especially on national security issues. "I don't think anybody would call him and say, 'Shut up.' It wouldn't work," says a GOP strategist who formerly advised Ronald Reagan. "He obviously feels that his work as vice president is under attack. But he is not our best spokesman." The concern among Republican strategists is that the public will think Cheney is speaking for the GOP, and this won't be helpful because the former vice president remains an unpopular figure across the country. Another prominent GOP strategist says Cheney should lower his visibility and give younger party leaders a chance to take the spotlight.
Meanwhile, White House officials are pleased that the abrasive Cheney is drawing so much attention. "The former vice president has made his views pretty clear, and the president has made his views pretty clear," an Obama adviser said today. "We had a big debate on this during the campaign, and the president sees it as a debate that has been resolved because the American people spoke so clearly [in the election]."
Cheney's reasoning for going public has become a favorite topic on the political circuit in Washington. Some of those who know Cheney well say he is motivated by a desire to defend his legacy as a principal architect of George W. Bush's national security policies that are under attack from the Obama administration and congressional Democrats—especially the waterboarding of suspected terrorists that President Obama has defined as torture.
Cheney is said to genuinely believe that Obama is taking the wrong approach on national security, leaving America weaker. He is also angry that former Bush advisers may be prosecuted or face disbarment or legal censure because of the advice they gave internally to justify waterboarding. Cheney is described as deeply disappointed that President Bush didn't pardon Lewis Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, after Libby's conviction for misleading prosecutors trying to investigate leaks. (Bush did commute Libby's 30-month prison sentence.) And Cheney doesn't want other Bush advisers to be punished for, in his assessment, simply doing their jobs.
The former vice president stirred the pot Sunday in a CBS interview, arguing that "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding did not represent torture. The former vice president said that such methods were legal and that they generated important intelligence on terrorist activities. He argued that Obama's reversal of some of those policies made America less safe. Yesterday, in an interview on Fox News, Cheney repeated his criticisms. A week from tomorrow, Cheney is scheduled to address the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. His topic: "Keeping America Safe."