MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block. Vice President Dick Cheney was the most powerful vice president this nation has ever had, but when he leaves office next week, will he leave the vice presidency stronger or weaker? That's the question NPR's Nina Totenberg explores in part two of her report on the Cheney legacy.
NINA TOTENBERG: Dick Cheney was, by all accounts, the closest thing this nation has had to a deputy president. On everything from the law of terrorism to energy and tax policy, he led the way for a new president. In the first term, driving policy and in the second term, when his influence waned, blocking policy changes. Prior to Cheney, it was President Carter's vice president, Walter Mondale, who was seen as the transformative figure. Vice presidential scholar, Joel Goldstein.
JOEL GOLDSTEIN: The Mondale vice presidency was really the big bang that transformed the office.
TOTENBERG: But Cheney got more than access to the president, access to all information the president saw and a mandate to be a troubleshooter throughout government. Former cabinet members, reporters and scholars all report that, at least in the first term, he framed the options the options for a president who disdained details. He sometimes suppressed information, not just from Congress and the press, but from key executive branch players and, on occasion, from the president himself. Former Vice President Mondale is bluntly dismissive of the Cheney model.
WALTER MONDALE: The problem is that they use the unique position of a vice president to go beyond the law and turned the vice presidency almost into government within government, beyond accountability to the Congress, or to the press and to the law.
TOTENBERG: Former Vice President Dan Quayle believes Cheney did the job a new and uncertain president wanted him to do. At least, until the president gained confidence in himself and perhaps, lost some of his confidence in Cheney.
DAN QUAYLE: It's what the president wants. It's not what the vice president wants.
TOTENBERG: Vice presidential scholar Goldstein points out that Cheney's goal was never to strengthen the vice presidency, but to strengthen the presidency - something Cheney was never shy about saying.
DICK CHENEY: Time after time, administrations have traded away the authority of the president to do his job. We're not going to do that in this administration.
TOTENBERG: Cheney's belief in a powerful presidency has been consistent throughout his career. Not so his belief in a powerful vice presidency. When he was defense secretary, he refused, amid an international crisis, to attend an emergency meeting called in the situation room by Vice President Dan Quayle, when the president was in the air, en route to a summit meeting. When Quayle relayed the president's orders, Cheney refused to carry them out, unless he heard them directly from the president himself. Most observers believe that Cheney's vice presidency was idiosyncratic - that without his persona, and President Bush's, his power won't be replicated in the future. Former Vice President Mondale isn't so sure.
MONDALE: Precedents are dangerous things. They're like leaving, as they say, the loaded pistol on the kitchen table. Somebody might pick it up and use it.
TOTENBERG: So, while Vice President-elect Biden has disdained the Cheney model, he might eventually look to some of the Cheney precedents to enhance his power. Biden, like Cheney, is anomalous in modern times in that, at 65, he likely is too old to be harboring presidential ambitions. When Cheney was picked, a lot of people thought that lack of ambition was a good thing, because Cheney wouldn't have a personal political stake in decisions. But vice presidential scholar Goldstein thinks that notion is backwards.
GOLDSTEIN: A vice president who doesn't have presidential ambitions is more likely to be able to be a freelancer, to say, I can pursue my own agenda, because I don't have to worry about getting the president's support down the line when I want to run for president.
TOTENBERG: The conundrum is well-illustrated by this exchange Cheney had with ABC's Martha Raddatz, who questioned him about Iraq.
(SOUNDBITE OF ABC NEWS INTERVIEW)
RADDATZ: Two-thirds of Americans say it's not worth fighting.
RADDATZ: So? You're not - you don't care what the American people think?
CHENEY: No, I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.
TOTENBERG: Again, Professor Goldstein.
GOLDSTEIN: We're in a democracy, and the premise is that public opinion matters a great deal and that public officials have a responsibility to try and develop support for their policies and to persuade the public and not really to just to take an attitude of, in effect, stiffing the public.
TOTENBERG: Nobody who knows Cheney disputes his skill, his hard work or his genuine belief that he acted in the best interests of the country. But most of his actions as vice president have remained secret. He even developed a new classification stamp for his office, quote, "Treat as Classified." Using that, he sought to keep secret even documents that were already public. So, it may be that his last legacy is a largely secret vice presidency, with documents from his office kept under seal for decades to come. Nina Totenberg NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.