What is the role of the vice-president? If you really want the official definition, you can get it from the US Senate’s website. This might take a little while to sift through, so I’ll paraphrase as best possible from the section entitled Vice-Presidential Duties: The Vice-President acts a tie-breaker when the Senate is equally divided. If the President is unable to serve, the Vice-President takes over.

There’s got to be more. What does the Vice-President do when he goes to work each day? What is his day to day purpose?

In the opening of Frontline: Cheney’s Law, there was a retelling of a little encounter between Dan Qualye (Vice-President under George H.W. Bush) and Dick Cheney. Apparently, Qualye said to Cheney, “You’re going to have to go to a lot of fund-raisers, corporate events, and pressing palm ceremonies, stuff that the President doesn’t want to do.” Cheney just looked at Qualye and laughed, communicating “I don’t think so.” According to Frontline, Cheney believes that the Vice-President’s primary job is to ensure and protect the power of the President.

So what power does the President possess? Britannica online has a nice little summary. There’s a lot of information there, but I’ll boil down the two points that I’ll touch on today.

1. The President is responsible for upholding the laws of the Constitution.
This responsibility alone can be a pretty dicey area, considering how open to interpretation some sections of the Constitution remain. Add in the fact that there are so many amendments to this document, amendments to amendments… that this duty alone is quite a handful.

2. The President is Commander in Chief.
As I understand this, it means that the President has the power to mobilize the military. What he does not possess is the power to declare war. (There’s not going to be a hyperlink for ‘declaration of war’. If you can find a concrete definition of “declaration of war”, especially if it shows the differences between that and “mobilizing the military”, please drop a comment.) Only Congress can declare war.

So, to get back to Cheney, if he believes that his primary job is to ensure and protect the power of the Presidency, he believes that he should help his commander mobilize the military if the need arises, and he should assist in upholding Constitutional law. Right? Sounds reasonable?

Here is where the magic on interpretation comes in: What if the President is at odds with Congress? What if the President interprets a law in one respect, Congress another? What happens if the President mobilizes the military, but Congress does not feel he should and will not sign a formal declaration of war?

A few years ago, I saw a documentary called The Trials of Henry Kissinger. An interesting statement was something along the lines of, “Kissinger is a person that believes that power should be placed in the hands of those smart and strong enough to lead.” Imagine a President with the same mentality (not that running for President doesn’t involve an incredible self-fortitude). If you think about the course of the war in Iraq, the issues about prison detainment and human right violation, I think you can boil down the President’s feelings with the two duties listed above. Ultimately, he believes that he is working within the bounds of the Constitution, for the good of the nation, and as Commander in Chief, he believes he is doing his duly elected duty. Right?

The Frontline piece and a NPR interview with Lou Dubose, author of Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency, both mention the use (and possible overuse) of signing statements by George Bush. The signing statement is a sort of Presidential mulligan. Bush can sign a law, but he also adds a signing statement. This statement, in effect, says “I signed this law, but I don’t really believe it and it doesn’t really need to be followed.” WHAT?!?!? It seems a little crazy, but that’s the gist. Add this power to someone that believes he is working for the greater good, despite what everyone else around him is saying. Sounds like autonomy, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, depending on his interpretation of Duty 1, this is both his right and his duty.

Remember the issue with the definition of torture? What constitutes torture? A famous Bush signing statement was on Congress’s expanded definition of torture. There’s Duty 2. He is the Commander in Chief. He will tell the military what constitutes torture and what does not.

So why is this article about Cheney?

Let’s face it. George Bush has failed at every business venture he has undertaken. If you watch the documentary Journeys with George about the campaign trail with Bush during the 2000 election, he comes across as a bloody annoying human being. According to his Yale transcript, he’s not a dummy, but he’s certainly no genius. He likes to party. He may even be a poor sport. None of this screams LEADER OF MEN.

On the other hand, take a look through Dick Cheny’s political history. Sure, he also liked to have a few drinks and go for a ride, but that might be how he and GB bonded. Keep in mind that it’s Dick Cheney’s personal lawyer, David Addington who found the power of signing statements and brought it to Bush’s attention.

Who do you think is really running the White House?

Additional Links:
Differences between military tribunal and civilian trial