Interview: Peter Baker, Author Of 'Days Of Fire'Peter Baker covered the George W. Bush administration for TheNew York Times. In his new book, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House, Baker takes a second look at those controversial years.
'Days Of Fire': The Evolution Of The Bush-Cheney White House
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney left office on Jan. 20, 2009, ending a consequential — and controversial — administration. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina were just some of the major events that challenged the administration.
Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, covered those events in real time. But he's now taken a second look at the administration and the relationship at its heart.
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House recounts the unique and evolving relationship between the president and vice president.
As Baker writes: "No two Americans in public office had collaborated to such lasting effect since Richard M. Nixon and Henry Kissinger." But, despite their accomplishments, "Their misjudgments and misadventures left them the most unpopular president and vice president in generations."
Baker's account details key moments in the controversial administration, and relies on hundreds of interviews, including a conversation with Cheney.
"Only after years later, when people are willing to sit down and be more candid and thoughtful," Baker tells NPR's Arun Rath, "are they willing to share further understanding of what was really happening behind the scenes."
On how the public viewed Vice President Cheney's role
"He was certainly the most influential vice president we'd ever seen to that point. But it kind of got distorted and oversimplified over time.
"It became a great punch line for Saturday Night Live and late-night comics. And I think we kind of [lost] the sort of nuance of what was really going on there.
"And, in fact, the reality, when you go back and look at it, is a much more interesting and dynamic relationship that changes and evolves over time."
On Cheney's reputation and outlook
"He definitely saw the world in grim terms. He had a very fatalistic outlook about the perils he saw to America that informed and shaped the policies that he recommended and pushed for President Bush. And he came to embrace this dark reputation. ...
"Literally, his staff bought him a Darth Vader mask, and he puts it on and they take a photo of it. And somewhere in the National Archives this photo exists, but it has never been released to the public. He tried to put [that detail] in his memoir, but Lynne Cheney [his wife] talked him out of it."
On how President Bush viewed the public perception of Cheney
"At first President Bush thought this was OK. When his aides would come to him and say, 'Look, we don't like that Cheney's getting so much attention ... at your expense.' He says, 'Look, this is good for me. You know, he takes arrows for me. This is helpful to me in a political sense.'
"And he felt that it was helpful to him in a policy sense, because he really did trust and rely on Vice President Cheney. But over time, he grew more sensitive toward it. He really started to bristle at this idea that he wasn't in charge.
"And Vice President Cheney, in fact, at one point says to him in 2003, 'Look, I'll drop off the ticket in 2004, if you want. If you want to have somebody else, I'll go graciously.'
"And Bush thinks about it, and he says he thinks about it, because it would show who was really in charge."