MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Vice President Cheney has been in the news this week for other reasons as well. With President Bush in Asia, Cheney has taken the lead in attacking administration critics, especially on the Iraq War. As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, Cheney does so at a time when his own credibility and standing have declined with the American public.
DON GONYEA reporting:
Dick Cheney has become the combative face of this administration. It's a role he seems to relish. From his first months in office, Cheney has been known for his unprecedented access to the president and his influence on policy. And after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he became perhaps the leading architect of an aggressive foreign policy. Cheney helped make the case for War and an Iraq without Saddam Hussein, as in this appearance in March of 2003 on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert.
(Soundbite of "Meet the Press")
Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Host, "Meet the Press"): Do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly and bloody battle with significant American casualties?
Vice President DICK CHENEY: I don't think it's likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe we will be greeted as liberators.
GONYEA: Cheney also promoted the notion of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda and talked in certain terms about Iraq's nuclear weapons program, although no evidence for either has been found. Back then, the administration was still enjoying high poll numbers following the previous year's attacks in New York and Washington. It's a different story today. A difficult war continues, and the president's approval ratings are at an all-time low; the vice president's are even lower. A recent CBS News poll found that only one American in five had a favorable view of Cheney personally.
Professor Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University says Cheney's poll numbers do limit his ability to help the administration in some ways.
Professor JOEL GOLDSTEIN (St. Louis University): The fact that the vice president's favorability ratings have plummeted to such an extent means that he's less effective as a spokesman to defend the administration's policies, and it also means that he's less credible in terms of criticizing those who would differ from the administration's policies.
GONYEA: And Goldstein said the involvement of Cheney's office in a CIA leak investigation means the vice president can't go on talk shows where he'll face questions about that investigation.
Prof. GOLDSTEIN: The vice president's audiences now seem to be to go on the Rush Limbaugh radio show or to speak to ultraconservative groups or to Republican Party events.
GONYEA: Two nights ago, Cheney spoke to the conservative Frontiers of Freedom Institute in Washington. He used the speech to attack Democratic critics of how the White House made the case for war.
(Soundbite of speech)
Vice Pres. CHENEY: The saddest part is that our people in uniform have been subjected to these cynical and pernicious falsehoods day in and day out. American soldiers and Marines are out there every day, and back home a few opportunists are suggesting they were sent into battle for a lie.
GONYEA: A day later, a pointed response came from an unexpected place, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Democrat and a Marine veteran of Korea and Vietnam. As the winner of two Purple Hearts, Murtha said the troops should begin coming home from Iraq now. When asked about Cheney's attack on war critics, Murtha had this to say about Cheney, who did not serve in the military.
Representative JOHN MURTHA (Democrat, Pennsylvania): I like guys who've never been there to criticize us who've been there. I like that. I like guys who got five deferments and never been and sent people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.
GONYEA: Cheney has to deal with other image problems as well. Most of what he does takes place in secrecy. He has taken on the job of fighting a congressional amendment to ban the torture of terrorism detainees. And there are new questions about his ties to big oil companies as he developed the administration's energy policy in the first term. There has been an air of controversy around him that only seems to grow. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.