No-Trace Cheney

One of Dick Cheney's legacies -- and there have been so many -- is that when he does something like end-runs the president on a tax cut or overrides the Endangered Species Act, he leaves no evidence that he had anything to do with it.
Sue Ellen Wooldridge, the 19th-ranking Interior Department official, arrived at her desk in Room 6140 a few months after Inauguration Day 2001. A phone message awaited her.

"This is Dick Cheney," said the man on her voice mail, Wooldridge recalled in an interview. "I understand you are the person handling this Klamath situation. Please call me at -- hmm, I guess I don't know my own number. I'm over at the White House."

Wooldridge wrote off the message as a prank. It was not. Cheney had reached far down the chain of command, on so unexpected a point of vice presidential concern, because he had spotted a political threat arriving on Wooldridge's desk.

In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake.

Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in.

First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers.

Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Characteristically, Cheney left no tracks.

The Klamath case is one of many in which the vice president took on a decisive role to undercut long-standing environmental regulations for the benefit of business.
The thing I don't get about this case is why does Mr. Cheney feel as if he has to be so secretive about it? It's common knowledge that he and the business community don't like environmental protection laws -- which is ironic, since they're supposed to be "conservatives" and the idea behind the laws is to "conserve" the land. If Mr. Cheney and his big-business friends can make a legitimate case as to why the irrigation should have gone ahead -- that the farmland was more important than the fish -- let them make the case. But all this sneaking around automatically makes you wonder if they know they're doing something that is underhanded.

It also makes you wonder why someone like Dick Cheney, who seems so enamored of secrecy and back-room dealings, would choose to make a career in public service? It can't be the money; he probably made more in a month at Halliburton than he does in a year as the Veep, so it has to be the power trip. No corporate executive, no matter how much money they make, can pick up the phone and overturn a federal law to his friends' benefit and kill off a lot of fish in the process. The very nature of government is -- or at the least it should be -- that it is open to public inspection and scrutiny. Certainly there are things that need to be kept secret in terms of national security, but our form of democracy thrives best when it's done out in the open and honest disagreements between positions can be discussed, debated, and dealt with. Mr. Cheney, however, is like Dracula; he can't stand to be out in the light for fear of disappearing in a puff of smoke.

Cross-posted from Bark Bark Woof Woof.

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