Part One is here.
There's experience and then there's experience.
There is no job like that of President of the United States, and there's no way to know if a particular candidate, no matter how good her resume is, will be good at the job of being President. Even having been a successful President in your first term isn't unconvincing evidence that you will continue to be successful in your second, because there's no way of predicting what sorts of national and international crises will suddenly loom up and overwhelm you and your Administration.
It's commonly thought, and for good reason, that being the governor of a state is about as good a preparation for the Presidency as you can get because it gives you the most amount of executive experience.
But governors don't have armies to maintain and command, they don't fight wars, they don't negotiate international treaties (although they do have to work the odd foreign trade deal), and while they do have to deal with stubborn and demanding state legislatures, fighting it out with your average assembleyman is nothing like having to outmaneuver a United States Senator who happens also to be the head of a powerful committee sitting on a bill you want passed.
When trying to pick a President all we can do is look at the candidates' resumes and try to extrapolate from what's there roughly how they might handle things once in the White House.
Their resumes are not just a list of past offices held. They include all the candidates have said and done in public, their speeches, their votes, their decisions on matter small and large, plus whatever can be learned of about their private conduct without intrusion into their personal lives, although sometimes their personal lives are a part of their public behavior.
Rudy Giuliani's personal life has become a public matter because he brought it onto the job himself.
Giuliani, JFK, and Bill Clinton are all notorious philanderers. The press ignored it in Kennedy's case. They tried to make it an issue in Clinton's and use his cheating on his wife to demonstrate his unreliability and dishonesty. The problem for them was they couldn't connect his private sins with his public deeds, and the American People decided that as long as it didn't interfere with his doing his job well, they didn't care. There is, though, a direct connection between Giuliani's personal misdeeds and his public deeds. He has demonstrated a willingness to misue his office and a tendency to exempt himself while on the job from rules he would force others to follow. This shows he's a would-be aristocrat of the morally laziest sort and for that reason his private life is an item on his resume and ought to be a disqualification for the Presidency.
Over the last hundred years, the President coming into office with the thinnest resume, after George W. Bush, was John Kennedy. He was a
two three-term Congressman [Editor's note: Thanks to Charles Sperling for the correction.] and a one and a half term Senator and had not particularly distinguished himself at either job. He himself joked that the reason he had to run for President when he did was that if he stayed in the Senate any longer he'd have become known as a poor Senator.
But there was still enough in his public behavior and in that part of his personal life that was open to the People to see that he was intelligent, hard-working (when he wasn't hospitalized, a part of his personal life that was open but never looked at very closely or the People would have known that he was a very sick man), capable, tough in the best sense of the word, and steady of mind and purpose when he was on the job.
It turned out he had another quality that indicated he would not only do well in office but thrive on the job. That quality is obvious in his biographies now, but I'm not sure how well it was recognized at the time. Kennedy liked to surround himself with very smart people who disagreed with each other and weren't afraid to disagree with him. He enjoyed listening to those smart people argue. It's this quality that saved us from World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis and which I believe made it highly unlikely, had he not been shot, that he would have made Lyndon Johnson's mistakes in Vietnam. Johnson, Kennedy's rival for the nomination in 1960 who had the better resume and was on paper by far the more obviously qualified to be President, did not like being argued with. His idea of a debate was to browbeat whoever he needed to go along with his plans. He ran out of office or marginalized those advisers he inherited from Kennedy who were most likely to disagree with him and stand-up to him, including Robert Kennedy.
Not that Bobby would have stuck around LBJ's White House very long anyway. They hated each other too much. The point is, though, that Bobby Kennedy was not afraid to disagree with and stand up to a President. It's what he was used to doing with his brother and it was one of the reasons JFK trusted him and relied on him so much and one of the reasons LBJ didn't.
George W. Bush does not like to surround himself with smart people. He likes to have around him people like Condoleeza Rice who are reputed to be smart because it flatters his vanity. But the real reason he likes Rice is that she's a yes-woman. Bush prefers the company of yes-persons and sycophants. He doesn't want to be argued with. He wants to be told what a brilliant and tough and decisive President he is. And it's this quality of his that has gifted the country with Shadow President Dick Cheney.
From the first, Cheney cut anyone who was smarter than him and who was likely to disagree with him in front of the President out of the decision-making process. This is one of the things the Washington Post series makes clear. Cheney has marginalized and driven from the White House anyone he's decided would get in his way. He has been careful to make sure that the President has no one as smart or tough-minded as himself to depend on. He has been especially careful to see that no one who might disagree with Dick Cheney gets or remains close to Bush, and Bush hasn't noticed because he has never wanted those sort of people around him.
I wonder if Bush will miss Condoleeza Rice. Apparently she's Cheney's next target. The two of them are fighting over what course the Administration should take in the Mideast and Rice appears to be losing simply because she can't get around the Vice-President.
In order for Cheney to manage this feat, to become the most powerful man in the executive branch---I know he thinks he's not in the executive branch, but that's another story---he's had to surround himself with people who will do his bidding without question, flunkeys and weasels and hatchetmen and idealogogues, regardless of how smart or capable they acutally are. He's surrounded himself with many mini-Dicks, (ha ha) who are quite happy to have their only effect on the governing of the country be a destructive one, as long as they get to share in the power and the spoils.
This is why I think it's unlikely that there could ever be a Democratic Dick Cheney. It would very hard for such a creature to collect enough Democratic henchmen and henchwomen who just don't give a damn if the government works.
You can't be a Democrat if you don't want the government to work.
A Dick Cheney needs a party that not only doesn't care if the government works but which actively wants to see it fail. A Dick Cheney is the perfect expression of contemporary Right Wing Conservativism. As Rob Farley says:
While some conservatives do view Cheney as a threat, most do not. In part this is because of the good things that Cheney brings; he does, after all, put red meat on the table, whether it's through shattering international law while torturing America's enemies or killing thousands of fish while supporting a few economically unviable Western ranchers. It's more, though, because the anti-statism in the modern Republican Party is less about a fear of the state than an utter contempt for government. Cheney's depredations don't bother conservatives because they don't think that fair play in government is possible. A good conservative should be waging a guerilla war against government, because the system itself is corrupt. If good governance and a competent bureaucracy have no (or even negative) value, then ruining them by ignoring law, precedent, and common sense is a positive good. Sure, Dick Cheney may break government by subverting the machinery for partisan ideological purposes, but since government itself is just a partisan ideological racket, who cares? We should get ours while the getting's good.
So could there ever be a Democratic Dick Cheney? Could there ever be a Democratic George W. Bush who would bring a Democratic Dick Cheney into power?
I don't think so, obviously. I think the Democrats' tendency to value competence and define competence in office as the ability to make the government work for the public good just makes it too unlikely that an empty suit like George W. Bush could become a Democratic governor of an important state or a U.S. Senator, let alone win the nomination for President. George Bush may have been attractive to many Republicans because he was a poor and weak governor. They might very well have seen his failures as successes. His ineffectiveness was proof of his effectiveness, so to speak. Democrats just do not think that way.
I believe that most Republicans don't think that way either. This is why the front-runners for the Republican nomination---except for Fred Thompson, and like I said in Part One, I'll get to him, but not until Part Three---are accomplished and competent men. And the thing about accomplished and competent men and women is that they like the feeling of accomplishing things. They like to get things done. This is one of the reasons that the last three supposedly conservative Presidents before George W. Bush sometimes acted like liberals. Nixon, Reagan, and George Herbert Walker Bush were handed a whole lot of problems when they took on the job and because they were accomplished and competent men they wanted to solve those problems, and it turned out that when a President of the United States sets out to solve a problem he uses the government to solve it---which is what liberalism advocates.
In order for there to be another Dick Cheney, then, there has to be another President who is not only an incompetent and feckless empty suit but who is content to be an incompetent and feckless empty suit. Such characters rarely rise in government beyond the office of town selectman.
Unless they become Congressmen. Lots of dumb and useless Congressmen. I don't know how that happens. But they usually stop there in the House.
I think Publius would disagree with me about whether or not there can be another Dick Cheney because he doesn't think there won't be another George W. Bush.
He doesn't see the Bush Presidency as a fluke of history. He sees it as an inevitable result of "deeper, more structural flaws in the American political system."
I'll have to deal with that in Part Three.