Pawlenty Can Become a Worthy Successor to Cheney

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This past week has not been kind to the legacy of Dick Cheney. First, we were treated to Cheney’s bizarre assertion that because the vice president has some executive branch duties and some legislative branch duties, that he is therefore responsible to neither. That Cheney has previously and repeatedly asserted executive privilege was icing on the cake.

Opinion: Pawlenty Can Become a Worthy Successor to Cheney

This claim was mocked mercilessly by House Majority Leader Rahm Emmanuel, D-Ill., who drew up a chart listing the four branches of government: executive, legislative, judicial and Dick Cheney. Emmanuel later drew up an amendment to strip funding for Cheney’s office from the executive branch appropriations bill, saying, “The vice president has a choice to make. If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive branch funding, he cannot ignore executive branch rules.”

The end of the week brought us a Washington Post series looking at Cheney’s outsized influence in the Bush administration, including how Cheney maneuvered around any possible objections (such as, say, the secretary of state and national security adviser) in order to secure for America the right to torture and use extraordinary rendition against anyone the president wanted to.

That Dick Cheney is a secretive, manipulative man is hardly even news at this point, of course. Though his depravity can still shock, he is still the man who shot someone in the face, then hid out for a day, finally forcing the woman who owned the ranch he was hunting at to speak for him. He seeks to avoid accountability wherever he can, and he sees even good Republicans like Condoleeza Rice as too ideologically impure to work with.

He will go down as the most influential vice president in American history, but it’s doubtful his influence will be viewed as anything but malign.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the man who would succeed Cheney at the Naval Observatory is working hard to prove that he is up to Cheney standards when it comes to blame-shifting and cronyism.

Tim Pawlenty has been actively campaigning for vice president since 2004. He will almost certainly be the No. 2 man on the ticket should John McCain get the endorsement, and even if McCain fails, Pawlenty remains a reasonably popular governor in a purple state. He’ll be on any sane nominee’s short list.

Pawlenty worked overtime last week to show that he’s up to Dick Cheney standards.

The first hint that Pawlenty was up to the task was the news that Pawlenty’s Commissioner of Health Dianne Mandernach had suppressed information about the deaths of 35 Minnesota miners for more than a year. Those deaths, it turns out, were caused by asbestos-related cancer.

The delay suited business interests by keeping other miners who might be at risk from getting to a doctor and, more important (to business at least), from getting to a lawyer.

Mandernach, of course, got her job because she was willing to misrepresent abortion-related health risks, so it’s not surprising that she was also able to hide information about miners’ deaths. But still, the revelation that the state was lying about those deaths for a year would seem to be a firing offense, wouldn’t it?

Of course not! Mandernach apologized, and Pawlenty backed her up, saying that lying about health issues was not a firing offense for a health commissioner. Accountability, schmaccountability. Heckuva job, Dianne!

Pawlenty followed up this demonstration of his ability to avoid accountability with a demonstration that he’s perfectly willing to install partisan hacks wherever he can, whenever he can. The Minnesota State University Student Association recommended two candidates to Pawlenty for appointment as a student MnSCU trustee. One was a liberal, so he can be discounted straightaway, but the other was Adam Weigold, a student at Metro State, College Republican, and someone described by Hal Kimball as “highly qualified.”

Now, I don’t think anyone would begrudge Pawlenty picking a highly qualified conservative over a highly qualified liberal. Pawlenty is, in fact, a Republican. But it takes a certain Cheney-like genius to pass over a highly qualified Republican for an unqualified conservative zealot, and that’s exactly what Pawlenty appears ready to do. Pawlenty is evidently planning to bypass the MSUSA-endorsed candidates for Luke Hellier, who has not, to date, set foot in a MnSCU classroom. He has, however, served as political director for Michele Bachmann and interned with Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

What those have to do with serving as MnSCU trustee — a position heavy on education policy and light on abortion — is beside the point. Hellier is a perfect, Cheneyesque pick for the office, a right-winger nonpareil. Any additional qualifications or knowledge of the job would simply slow him down.

Most humans would not turn to Dick Cheney as an example of leadership. But in the GOP of today, ideological purity and secrecy is more valued than competence and accountability. Tim Pawlenty has decided what side of that balance he wants to be on. And doubtless that will endear him to the rapidly vanishing pool of dead-enders and Bush backers all the more.