The Obama Vice-President Committee 'Controversy': Has the Press Forgotten About Cheney?

The new fuss over Barry Obama's choice as chair of his veep-selection committee shows that the U.S. media have already dropped Dick Cheney into the memory hole.

Sure, many people want to forget the two terms of our de facto president, but even the best reporters are ignoring history.

How can anyone forget Cheney? He has run the presidency — into the ground. Using 9/11 as an excuse, he has encased us in Iraq the way various mastodons got trapped in the La Brea tar pits. He has hastened the dismantling of New Deal protections for the common folk.

Cheney achieved this by his appointment eight years ago as the chair of George W. Bush's veep-selection committee. Who did Cheney, the ultimate D.C. insider, pick? Himself.

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Yet the banner headlines this morning, especially in the Washington Post, are that Obama's choice of James A. Johnson as chair of his veep-selection committee is controversial because of insider status and his lucrative consulting deals.

Wasn't Cheney the CEO of Halliburton before he was vice president? Didn't Vice President Cheney wind up making billions for Halliburton — which continued to pay him after he moved into the White House? (See my October 2005 post "Over a Barrel.")

This morning's Washington Post story "Obama's Choice of Insider Draws Fire: Republicans Assail Head of VP Vetting" doesn't even mention Cheney. One sentence would have been enough to at least jog people's memories and put this relative non-fuss over Johnson into context.

But normally excellent reporter Jonathan Weisman's story (co-authored with David S. Hilzenrath) blew it.

They had space to quote a GOP flack but they didn't even mention how Cheney came to rule the White House?

Of course, to even mention Cheney would have made today's A1 splash a relatively non-story, because Johnson is a piker compared with pre-veep Cheney, the classic insider.

The Post's first four paragraphs this morning:

Last month, Sen. Barack Obama turned to James A. Johnson, a former Fannie Mae chief executive and Washington insider since the Carter administration, to lead the vetting of potential running mates for the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee.

But four years earlier, as Johnson was angling for a job if Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) was elected president, Fannie Mae did some vetting of its own. Company executives had grown so worried about the lucrative consulting deal they had cut with their former CEO that they considered enlisting an outside investigator to comb through the deal "in light of issues that could come up during Senate confirmation . . . or White House review of the consulting contract," according to company documents unearthed by federal regulators.

For Republicans seeking to tarnish Obama's image as a squeaky-clean outsider hoping to clean up Washington -- not to mention divert attention from questions about lobbyists working in Sen. John McCain's campaign -- Obama's embrace of Johnson has been a gift.

"He's tagged himself as a different kind of politician," said Republican strategist Mark Corallo. "He's supposed to transcend party, transcend politics. He's exploited that more than anyone in recent memory, and it becomes demoralizing to all the starry-eyed Obamaphiles who are saying, 'I thought he was different.' "

Obama has proven that he's different. Bush has been eminently quotable as a malaprop waiting to happen. Obama is quotable in a far different way. For example, the Post notes:

[T]he questions surrounding Johnson's past suggest the difficulties Obama will face as his campaign expands from an underdog insurgency to a general-election operation. He has little choice but to pick up experienced political insiders -- and the baggage they bring with them.

"This is a game that can be played," Obama told reporters in St. Louis. "Everybody who is tangentially related to our campaign, I think, is going to have a whole host of relationships. I would have to hire the vetter to vet the vetters."

Juicy, eloquent, witty quote. John McCain, a skilled schmoozer with reporters, is the same way.

No matter who wins the presidency, he'll be a good quote, though not in the way Bush has been.

In the meantime, though, don't forget Cheney. He was a terrible quote most of the time because access to him was severely limited to staged events and he was too clever to accidentally put his foot in his mouth.

In his unguarded moments, however, Cheney was eminently quotable. Cheney's "fuck yourself" to Pat Leahy is particularly memorable — the Post itself wrote an unexpurgated story about that episode in June 2004:

A brief argument between Vice President Cheney and a senior Democratic senator led Cheney to utter a big-time obscenity on the Senate floor this week.

On [June 22, 2004], Cheney, serving in his role as president of the Senate, appeared in the chamber for a photo session. A chance meeting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, became an argument about Cheney's ties to Halliburton Co., an international energy services corporation, and President Bush's judicial nominees. The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice.

"Fuck yourself," said the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency.

Leahy's spokesman, David Carle, yesterday confirmed the brief but fierce exchange. "The vice president seemed to be taking personally the criticism that Senator Leahy and others have leveled against Halliburton's sole-source contracts in Iraq," Carle said.

More important — and more obscured by the passage of time — is Cheney's 1998 speech to a bunch of Amarillo oilmen. As I noted in August 2004:

Set the Wayback Machine to June 13, 1998, in Amarillo, Texas. As the CEO of Halliburton, Cheney spoke at the annual meeting of an influential group of oilmen, the Panhandle Producers and Royalty Owners Association.

Greg Rohloff, a business writer for the Amarillo Globe-News, covered the speech and wrote at the time that "the current hot spots for the major oil companies are the oil reserves in the Caspian Sea region." Rohloff's story continued:

The potential for this region turning as volatile as the Persian Gulf does not concern Cheney.

"You've got to go where the oil is," he said. "I don't worry about it a lot."

Almost exactly 10 years later, Cheney's attempt to grab the Caspian oil has failed miserably, and he has piled up 4,000 bodies in a futile grab for Iraq's oil.

The job of "worrying about it" has fallen to others.

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