New York Review of Books. The question of Dick Cheney's limitless desire for power may never be answered. The man is simply a Shakespearean villain. Dick Cheney makes Iago look like a lightweight.
Cheney's ruling passion appears to be a love of presidential power. Go under the surface a little and this reveals itself as something more mysterious: a ceaseless desire of power after power. It is a quality of the will that seems accidentally tied to an office, a country, or a given system of political arrangements.
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Office of Legal Council who fought hard against encroachments on the laws by Cheney and his assistant David Addington, remarked later with consternation and a shade of awe: "Cheney is not subtle, and he has never hidden the ball. The amazing thing is that he does what he says. Relentlessness is a quality I saw in him and Addington that I never saw before in my life." Yet there is nothing particularly American about Cheney's idea of government, just as there is nothing particularly constitutional about his view of the law; and no more broadly characterizing adjective, such as "Christian," will cover his ideas of right and wrong.
"Government," writes Gellman, "collected information on a scale that potentially touched every American"; and presumably it still does, since in June 2008 Congress handed the President a nerveless compromise allowing minimal oversight of the renewable sweeps of electronic communications. The structure of the intelligence agencies and departments since that scandal has brought them even closer to Cheney. The cooperative attitude of Hayden at the NSA got him a job as head of the CIA; and the new position of director of national intelligence was shifted from John Negroponte to someone more nearly a protégé: Michael McConnell, a subordinate of Cheney's at Defense in the administration of George H.W. Bush.
About none of these actions has Cheney ever been called, by a subpoena from Congress or an urgent demand from the press, to answer questions regarding the extent and legality of his innovations. It is as if people do not think of asking him. Why not? The reluctance shows a tremendous failure of nerve, from the point of view of democracy and public life. But there is a logic to the sense of futility that inhibits so many citizens who have been turned into spectators. It comes from the dynamic of the co-presidency itself, to which the press has grown acclimatized. Bush is the front man, and is known as such. He takes questions. If he answers them badly, still he is there for us to see. To address Cheney separately would be to challenge the supremacy of the President—a breach of etiquette that itself supposes a lack of the evidence that would justify the challenge.