Are They Losing It?

By MAUREEN DOWD

The New York Times

June 27, 2004

WASHINGTON - One thing you've got to say for Dick Cheney: No one will ever again dismiss the vice presidency as a pitcher of warm spit. Mr. Major League Potty Mouth has shown that, with obsequiousness to the president and obtuseness to the facts, a vice president can run the world. Right into the ground.

This week, it's not just Democrats who are questioning whether Vice is losing it. Now, even some in the White House are saying it's bizarre that he chose a class photo-op on the Senate floor to suggest that Senator Patrick Leahy do something that you won't even find described in Bill Clinton's "My Life."

While Democratic lawmakers delayed final passage of a defense spending bill so they could mingle with Michael Moore, the once sweat-free Bushies were acting jangly.

First Vice chewed out The Times for accurately reporting that the 9/11 commission said there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam and Al Qaeda. Then Paul Wolfowitz called the reporters risking their lives in Iraq craven rumormongers. Then came Mr. Cheney's F-word. (Not Fox, the other one.)

Finally, President Bush got agitated when an Irish TV interviewer said most of the Irish found the world more dangerous now than before the Iraq invasion. "First of all, most of Europe supported the decision in Iraq," Mr. Bush declared. (It's all in how you define "Europe.")

Even as Tom Daschle proposed bipartisan family retreats to heal the harsh mood, even as the Senate passed the "Defense of Decency Act," Mr. Cheney profanely laced into Mr. Leahy for criticizing Halliburton's getting no-bid contracts.

"I felt better afterwards," he told Neil Cavuto during a no-bid interview with Fox News. Hey, if it feels good, Dick, do it.

He said he had no regrets about his "little floor debate in the United States Senate." He didn't want to go along with Mr. Leahy's attitude that "everything's peaches and cream" when the Democrat had just been jawing about Halliburton war profiteering. Peaches and cream have never been on the Bush-Cheney menu, only brimstone and gall.

By playing on the insecurities of an inexperienced leader, Mr. Cheney has managed to change W. from a sunny, open, bipartisan, uniter-not-a-divider, non-nation-builder into a crabby, secretive, partisan, divider-not-a-uniter, inept imperialist. Vice is bounding around the country, talking to his usual circumscribed audiences of conservatives, right-wing think tanks and Fox News anchors. No need to burrow in the bunker when you've turned America into one.

As they used to say about the Soviet Union, the defensive Bush imperialists have to keep expanding because they're encircled. Mr. Cheney's gloomy, scary, contentious world view has fueled a more gloomy, scary, contentious world.

After disastrously dividing the world into the strong (Bush hawks) and the weak (everyone else), Vice turned his coarseness into another macho, tough-guy moment against a Democrat considered a pill by many Republicans. "I think a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue," he preened.

The conservatives defending Mr. Cheney are largely the same crowd that went off the deep end because of a glimpse of breast on the Super Bowl, demanding everything from fines to new regulations to protect red states from blue language.

Mr. Cheney's foul outburst was not as bad as his foul reasoning. On Fox, he again belabored his obsession with "links" between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Exhibiting WASP chutzpah, this time he used The Times to bolster his faux case.

But the Thom Shanker story he cited said only that in the mid-1990's, Iraq agreed to rebroadcast anti-Saudi propaganda and that a request from Osama "to begin joint operations against foreign forces in Saudi Arabia went unanswered."

Rebroadcast anti-Saudi propaganda? As a threat to U.S. security, that's right up there with Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities."

Mr. Cheney assured Fox's anxious viewers that he would stay on the ticket and in the White House until January '09. (No four letter words, dear Democrats.) Vice said of W., "he knows I'm there to serve him."

Mr. Bush must have missed that classic "Twilight Zone" episode where the aliens arrive with a book entitled, "To Serve Man." It turns out to be a cookbook.

E-mail: liberties@nytimes.com