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Cheney: The Fourth Branch?

Lots of people in this country have two jobs to help make ends meet. Last week, Dick Cheney — maybe to demonstrate that he's just an "ordinary American" — claimed that he had two distinct jobs: One was the Vice President of the United States and the other was the President of the Senate. Yeah, I know. It's not really the same as a teacher who sells insurance on the side.

In the past, when he has been asked to comply with various congressional requests and orders, Cheney has claimed executive privilege because he's the Vice President. But last week, he claimed he wasn't a member the executive branch of the government, but was a member of the legislative branch. That was because he's the president of the Senate, and therefore he felt he wasn't subject to the presidential order giving the National Archives' Information Security Oversight Office the right to make sure that Cheney and his office have demonstrated proper security safeguards. By the end of the week, he was back claiming that he was actually the vice president, and therefore could claim executive privilege once again as he rejected demands from Congress about information regarding the firing of U.S. attorneys. How does he keep track of which job he's going to claim he has each day? Does he put on a different tie?

As opposed to the millions of Americans who have more than one job, the vice president didn't do this so he could make an extra buck. He went back and forth with these claims just so he could avoid complying with Congress and the law. That doesn't seem like proper behavior no matter which job you want to consider him having, does it?

Maybe he thinks he's a Superhero with two identities. He's Senate Boy and then he changes into Veep Man — both of whom have amazing powers not found in the Constitution. It's as if he's trying to exist in a fourth branch of the government — Cheneyland.

It's gotten a bit silly, as it's become more outrageous. With a straight face, White House press secretary Dana Perino came up with an ingenious defense for Cheney claiming to be a member of the Legislative branch, not the Executive. She said his paycheck came from the Senate. So what? Does anyone think that he lists his occupation on his income tax form as "President of the Senate" rather than "Vice President of the United States?" When his aides make a reservation for him at a fancy restaurant, do you think they make it for the "President of the Senate?" When he ran for office, was the campaign, "Vote for George Bush for President and Dick Cheney for President of the Senate?"

Cheney's dance was an amazingly nimble one. But the fact that he had the audacity to try this Wyoming two-step was not nearly as startling to me as the fact that he got away with it.

Oh sure, his Democratic foes cried "foul." But the American people didn't rise up and say, "Enough already." And why didn't his Republican colleagues say, "Come on, Dick, now you've gone too far?"

That's who really should be upset with this gambit — the Republicans. The foolishness of acting this way and not cooperating with Congress and not making things public makes people suspicious. If you refuse to be open about things over and over again, the public doesn't feel that you're doing this because the office demands that kind of secrecy. After you act this way repeatedly, the public starts thinking that whatever you don't want to tell us must be pretty bad. They suspect that you must have some horrible secrets that you don't want us to know.

And this conclusion by the public might very well be wrong. Generally, cover-ups and refusals to be open end up being much worse than the thing that is being kept secret. But by not being more open, he's just contributing to the erosion of credibility of this administration. So, you'd think that some big Republicans — hey, maybe even the president — would tell Dick Cheney to knock it off.

And I think he should, too. While I'm sure it was fun for him to pretend he had two different jobs, it's time for him to accept that the one he's got is a pretty good one.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver

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