Campaigning Cheney

Cheney has emerged from his 'secure location' to stump for Bush. Is that good news?

Last week, vice-president Dick Cheney made more headlines than the Bush re-election team could have wished for when he told Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont to go "f--- yourself." Democrats are looking forward to hearing more from Cheney in the weeks ahead and, if the recent past is any indication, they will get their wish. Generally known as a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, Cheney has been uncharestically out and about these days. Since April, Cheney has made campaign stops in 23 states, stumping and fundraising for the president and local candidates. So much for the 'secure location.'

Republicans are hoping that Cheney will mobilize the conservative base, remind swing voters that the economy might be rebounding, and emphasise Bush's resolve in the war on terror. And be the campaign's ideological attack dog. As the veep put it in one recent speech: "These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds, saying one thing one day and another the next… We need a commander in chief of clear vision and steady determination."

But at a time when Bush's approval ratings have been the lowest of his entire presidency, when most voters disagree with the Iraq policy which Cheney orchestrated, and when Halliburton has become synonymous taxpayer rip-off, the vice-president's increasingly visible role in the campaign may do Bush more harm than good. And some are wondering if the vice president has what it takes to handle life on the campaign trail. As political scientist Michael Nelson told the Los Angles Times: "I can't even form a mental picture of Dick Cheney on a bus."

Bush's ratings are nothing to boast about these days, but he is still in a better shape than Cheney. According to the latest Battleground poll, 45 percent of the voters have a favorable view of Cheney compared to Bush's 52 percent; 46 percent view both men unfavorably. The Mother Jones poll conducted last month revealed similar numbers.

For the Democrats, Cheney is the embodiment of the cronyism, warmongering, deceit, and arrogance that has characterized the Bush presidency. He has been arguably one of the most powerful vice presidents in U.S. history and was key in the decision to invade Iraq. In the run-up to the war, Cheney adamantly insisted that there was a cooperative relationship between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and that the Iraqi leader possessed weapons of mass destruction -- claims accepted by the American public. What's more, even after the bi-partisan 9/11 commission concluded that the allegations of the Al-Qaeda-Hussein relationship had no basis in fact, Cheney has refused to admit that he was wrong. And of course, the vice-president still holds out hope that the ever-elusive WMDs will be found, just as promised in the bogus intel. As former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal argues in the London Guardian:

Bush's executive branch has been concentrated in Cheney. He has been as powerful as Quayle was irrelevant. It was Cheney who said to UN weapons inspector Hans Blix as he embarked on his mission to Iraq: 'We will not hesitate to discredit you'; Cheney who personally tried to force the CIA to give credence to Ahmed Chalabi's fabricated and false evidence on WMD; Cheney who, along with Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld (to whom he was deputy in the Nixon White House), undermined Secretary of State Colin Powell at every turn; and it is Cheney who is the neo-conservatives' godfather.

In 2000, Cheney's foreign policy experience combined with an expectation that he would be an activist vice-president aided Bush, who was criticized for being a political novice with no background in foreign policy. Today, however, Cheney's activism -- particularly in matters of foreign policy – is shaping up to be a liability. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 60 percent of the voters disapprove of Bush's Iraq policy and 52 percent are unhappy with the way the president has conducted the "war on terror." For Bush, who is running as a "war president," this is some devastating news.

Seeing that the war on terrorism is loosing some of its electoral power, the White House is putting the spotlight on the recent job growth. As Cheney, speaking in the swing state of Kentucky, put it: "There's a simple reason for our growing prosperity…The Bush tax relief is working." But with 45 percent of the voters blaming the administration for job losses and Bill Clinton's book tour reminding us all of a not-so-distant time of balanced budgets, job growth, and runaway growth, Cheney's words ring hollow.

And speaking of Cheney's way with words … his now infamous outburst, which his office termed as a "frank exchange of views," was brought on by Leahy's accusations that Halliburton -- the company Cheney headed after serving as George H. Bush's chief of state and before becoming vice-president -- has engaged in wartime profiteering in Iraq. That's a charge the Pentagon itself seems ready to support. According to the Defense Department's own findings, Halliburton has dumped up to $61 million in gasoline overcharges alone on taxpayers. What's more, the company has had a way of winning lucrative Iraqi contracts with little or no competition. As Kerry's spokesman Phil Singer told the Los Angeles Times : "Cheney is a key part of the argument against George Bush…He exemplifies the poor policy decisions and troubling ties to corporate America that have come to characterize this administration."

Meanwhile, the vice president's corporate ties are making him quite a hit on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's web-reality show "Republican Survivor." Cheney has so far outwitted John Ashcroft and DeLay, with Ann Coulter, Katherine Harris, and boss Bush left to go…