You may have noticed in the vice presidential debate that Dick Cheney slid gingerly away from his challenger’s remarks about the Cheney congressional record.
“When (Cheney) was one of 435 members of the United States House,” Sen. John Edwards charged, “he was one of 10 to vote against Head Start, one of four to vote against banning plastic weapons that can pass through metal detectors. He voted against the Department of Education. He voted against funding for Meals on Wheels for seniors. He voted against a holiday for Martin Luther King. He voted against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa.”
Cheney took neither issue nor umbrage with Edwards’ critique. He couldn’t take issue because Edwards got the facts right. He couldn’t take umbrage because that would make him appear timid or equivocal about positions that matter dearly to his fellow rock-ribbed conservatives.
So the moment passed quickly during the Sept. 30 face-off in Cleveland. But Cheney’s record begs further inquiry because it shows where his passions are, where his heart is, where his thinking is and, from them, we can figure out why he insists on certain laws and policies. The record also helps us predict what he might insist on next. After all, Cheney is no run-of-the-mill adviser to the president; he is the puppet master.
Thus, the record from Richard Bruce Cheney’s seven terms as a Wyoming congressman:
Although Head Start is widely hailed as one of the most effective early childhood education programs because it levels the playing field between privileged and deprived children in time for first grade, Cheney routinely voted against funding the program. He also voted against the school lunch program (this was during the ketchup-is-a-vegetable Reagan years). On the other end of the educational spectrum, Cheney voted against college student loans.
On the civil rights front, Cheney not only voted against the “free Mandela” resolution, he had consistently voted against U.S. sanctions on the apartheid regime—the straw that eventually broke the camel’s back. Edwards did not mention this one, but Cheney also opposed school busing for desegregation. Likewise, he voted against the Equal Rights Amendment.
Cementing his reputation as a supremacist, the distinguished gentleman from Wyoming opposed HIV/AIDS funding, hate crimes legislation and fair housing measures. Cheney proved that he does not even care about clean air and water—he voted against legislation to protect both. Nor does he give a damn about the safety of average folks, judging from his record. In the House, Cheney didn’t just vote against the Brady Bill—imposing a waiting period for handgun purchases—he voted against a bill outlawing cop-killer bullets.
And this probably goes without saying: Cheney voted against any and everything protecting reproductive rights for women. He opposes abortion services even in the case of rape, incest and jeopardy for the mother’s life.
According to conventional wisdom, the vice presidential candidates are of peripheral interest and significance to a presidential candidacy. That man or woman may be one misfortune away from assuming the presidency, but such occasions have been so rare in our history that we still treat them as aberrations, not probabilities—an attitude for which Dan Quayle is no doubt grateful, for how else would he expect such lucky stars?
But, Dick Cheney has rewritten the book on the vice presidential role. At least for the current administration, the second in command holds remarkable power and influence. He may not care enough about his gay daughter’s rights to fight George W. Bush on a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but you can rest assured that when he does care fiercely about something, Bush will bend to Cheney’s will.
His record, therefore, is no distraction from the scandals and suspicions surrounding Halliburton, the oil services giant he used to head. Rather, his public service record is exceedingly germane. All of it, including his proposal to scrap certain defense weapons when he was secretary of defense under the first George Bush. The same weapons he now accuses Kerry of opposing recklessly.
This is no diversion from Halliburton. But, there is that too.