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Cheney's critics argue that his defense of Executive privilege is a smoke screen that masks a contempt for Congress, the media and, by extension, the public. Even some of his friends think he takes it too far. Cheney, says one, "has a kind of Father Knows Best attitude about government: We're in control, and we know what we're doing even if you don't." But Cheney is unapologetic in his view. In an appearance last February on the Tonight Show, not the usual forum for constitutional issues, he complained to Jay Leno about "a continual encroachment by Congress in the Executive Branch" and vowed, "The President and I are bound and determined not to allow that to happen on our watch."
4. Universal Adapter
Whether in Congress, the Pentagon or the White House, Cheney has made a career out of being the consummate No. 2, the trusted deputy or operations man who carries out his assignments with smooth efficiency. "You plug him in, and he works anywhere," says Mary Kay Hill, a longtime aide to former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, who worked with Cheney on Capitol Hill. "He just has a real good way of fitting in and working his environment."
Once Cheney got to Washington, his rise in politics was like a vertical blur. Representative Steiger, fatefully, made his young charge the point man for an informal group of new G.O.P. members that was trying to create a fresher, more appealing face for the Republican Party. It was nicknamed "Rummy's Raiders," after its leader, Illinois Representative Donald Rumsfeld. Cheney got to know the boisterous and driven former fighter pilot well enough that when Rumsfeld was tapped by President Richard Nixon to run the Office of Economic Opportunity, Cheney wrote him an unsolicited memo outlining how he should handle the job. Rumsfeld hired Cheney on the spot as his lieutenant.
Rumsfeld was ambitious, imagining himself in the Oval Office one day, and he saw in Cheney a loyal and effective aide but not a rival. When Nixon sent Rumsfeld to run the Cost of Living Council, Rumsfeld again brought Cheney along as his deputy. And when Ford took over for Nixon, appointing Rumsfeld chief of staff, Cheney was at Rumsfeld's side as No. 2; his Secret Service code name was, appropriately, "Backseat." Finally, in November 1975, after Rumsfeld was named Ford's Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney became the youngest White House chief of staff in history, at age 34.
Even as an elected official later on, Cheney found himself in the position of serving another. Cheney was or could have been his own man politically after being elected to Congress in 1978. He could have associated himself with some hot-button issue or authored a major piece of legislation bearing his name. Instead Cheney followed the same pattern in the House that had worked for him to date: he quietly made himself useful and then indispensable to the higher powers in his party. Bob Michel, the G.O.P. House leader, repaid Cheney's loyalty by making him his No. 2, the G.O.P. whip, in late 1988. When President Bush called Michel in March 1989 to say he was nominating Cheney to be Defense Secretary, Michel was distraught. "I said, 'Mr. President, you're taking my right arm,'" he recalls.
Nobody successfully serves as many masters as Cheney has without a disciplined code of loyalty. With his conservative instincts, he was an unnatural fit in the relatively moderate fOrd Administration. He was suspicious of Kissingerian detente, for example, preferring Reagan's muscular anticommunism, but he buried his own politics in service to the President. In the 1976 primary, he faithfully leaned on Republicans in Wyoming, which was fast becoming Reagan country, to stick with Ford, even if most of the delegation went against him.
Cheney occupied the right edge of the spectrum in the first bUsh Administration too. nAtional Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, President Bush, Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell and sEcretary Of State Jim Baker all viewed Cheney as the Administration's unreconstructed cold warrior at a time when the cold war was coming to an end. Cheney would voice his opinions internally even if he was usually overruled but the debate stopped there.