Cheney v. Bush: At first meeting since they left office, hot coffee is on the menu. How bitter were the beans?
The bipartisan summit at Blair House today is garnering a lot of media and public attention. Billed as either the last hope for healthcare reform or as marvelous political theater (complete with high-level negotiations over the shape of the table and the menu for lunch), the six-hour marathon brings Democrats and Republicans, President Obama and congressional leaders, together to try to find common ground.
But arguably the more interesting attempt to bridge differences will take place elsewhere in Washington, out of public view, over coffee. For the first time since they left office on Jan. 20, 2009, former President George W. Bush meets with former Vice President Dick Cheney.
They have a lot to talk about.
Since they left the White House, Bush has become a model former president, for the most part staying out of view, careful not to offer gratuitous advice from the sidelines to....
...his successor. "I'm not going to spend my time criticizing him," he said during an early speech in Calgary, Canada. "There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence."
Cheney has felt no such compunction. Accusing the Obama administration of making the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks by banning waterboarding and making plans to close Guantanamo Bay, he predicted only last week that Obama would be a one-term president.
Another cause for friction is that Cheney is the case of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative whose identity was leaked by players in the Bush administration in an attempt to discredit her husband, a vocal critic of the Iraq war. Convicted of perjury and obstruction, Cheney's chief of staff and alter ego Scooter Libby never served in jail because Bush commuted his sentence. But Cheney pushed Bush hard in the last days of his presidency to grant Libby a full pardon, arguing as he had during the trial that he did not want anyone to "sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder."
With both men writing their memoirs, some scores will likely be settled at the bookstores. Cheney, often decried by liberals as the Darth Vader of American politics, is reportedly planning to criticize Bush for "going soft" in his second term, bending to public opinion, anathema to a person of Cheney's fierce adherence to the "never apologize, never explain" school of politics.
But Bush is likely to be more content to let his record speak for itself. In his last years in office he was fond of noting that an accurate assessment of his presidency would not be written in his lifetime. And lately, as Obama struggles to enact healthcare and other signature initiatives that are running into Republican barriers, Bush may have the private satisfaction of knowing that even the darling of the intelligentsia was discovering that the presidency was not as easy as it looked.
Recently drivers along I-35 near Wyoming, Minn., were stunned or perhaps amused last month to see a new billboard with a huge photo of the 43rd president. Purchased by a group of small business owners in the Twin Cities area who were worried about increased federal spending and stubborn unemployment rates, the billboard asked, "Miss me yet?"
No word yet on any fireworks coming from Cheney's suburban Virginia home where he and Bush are meeting for coffee. But aides say Cheney, recovering from his fifth heart attack in 32 years, will not attend Friday's breakfast reunion of the Bush-Cheney Alumni Assn., an opportunity for veterans of the administration to wax nostalgic about their achievements -- and maybe even their differences.
-- Johanna Neuman
Both Photo Credits: Associated Press