Friday, June 29, 2007

The Unitary Shadow-Executive.

The indispensable Marty Lederman:
[F]or all practical purposes the [Office of the Vice President] is the Bush Administration, and its views become the official views of the Administration, no matter what others in the Administration think. Call it the Unitary Shadow-Executive.
He then picks up where we previously left off:
A couple of days ago, I asked the befuddling question left unanswered by Gellman and Becker: Why? After all, there are extremists and hard-liners in every Administration, and they are often at the table, and even influential. But the internal Executive branch process is designed to ensure that multiple perspectives are considered, and therefore the most extreme and most uncompromising positions rarely prevail. In this Administration, the OVP almost invariably wins. Indeed, the VP wins after cutting everyone else out of the loop altogether. And everyone else is incredulous at this radical departure from the ordinary modes of decision making. (I know from experience that this was so at OLC early in the Administration, and not only among us Clinton holdovers -- and we know from Becker/Gellman and others that it was also true at DoD, State, CIA, NSC, etc.) And yet the pattern continues apace, even to this very day, with David Addington apparently feeling free to simply ignore the ordinary methods by which an Administration typically arives at a legal interpretation.

Part of the explanation is, of course, that Addington and Cheney win because they are unrelenting. Everyone else in D.C., i.e., the other players in the Executive branch, have gotten to where they are today by learning to compromise and negotiate, to play the give and take of institutional decision making. These guys, however, don't give an inch, while everyone else is still in the reality-based community that they know and love. In most institutions, such stubborness and unwillingness to compromise would lead to marginalization. But in this one, the Vice President and Addington simply wear people out -- no one relishes the fight, and so they simply give up. Victory by attrition and intimidation. (It also helps, of course, that Rumsfeld, Cambone, Gonzales, Flannigan and Miers were complicit . . . .)

But a larger part of the explanation is simply that Cheney always wins because, for some reason, the President has decided that that is how it should be. Which only clarifies that the real question is why the President allows this to happen.
Publius offers an answer:
The reason Cheney’s Office got to dominate the executive branch is because we -- America -- elected a neophyte who lacked the experience, knowledge, and judgment to be president. . . . Our nation’s political machinery elevated a grossly inexperienced and ignorant man to the Oval Office. The entirely predictable result is that he would be forced to rely on someone else to make the decisions he wasn’t able or willing to make. . . .

It’s pretty simple. When you elect someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, you’re essentially electing someone else to be president. Kerry and Gore had their flaws, but they would have been the Deciders. They certainly would not have tolerated a lawless, out-of-control operation such as Cheney’s Office. At the very least, they would have, you know, been aware of the debates and had some pre-existing knowledge to inform their judgment. Bush, by contrast, was simply no match for Cheney and Rumsfeld’s decades of experience. Thus, the failure that is Cheney is not merely an individual failure on the part of Bush. Cheney is an institutional failure -- a failure of our political system. That’s the key to understand. The rise of Cheney is itself an indictment of our political institutions and culture.
Or, as Walt Kelly put it:

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