GOP inner circles are buzzing with the rumor that President Bush is planning to drop Dick Cheney from his reelection ticket and replace him with 9/11 action hero Rudy Giuliani.
As one firmly committed to making sure Bush doesn't get another four years in office, all I can say to this is: Please, Mr. President, say it ain't so!
Cheney is the Democrats' best -- though sorely underutilized -- weapon. A loose-lipped loose cannon, he threatens to torpedo the Bushie ship of state every time he half-opens his mouth. If only we start paying attention.
Perhaps sensing that Broadway Rudy is warming up in the bullpen, Cheney has begun upping his public profile. After rarely venturing out of his secure, undisclosed location -- aka Republican fundraisers -- he has given a rash of high-profile interviews over the past month.
And thank god for that: The Most Powerful No. 2 in History just can't help telling it like he sees it, and the way he sees it is very, very frightening.
Take his recent, evidence-be-damned assertions regarding Iraqi WMD and a Saddam/al-Qaida connection.
While even Rummy, Condi and Wolfowitz, the administration's true believers, are splitting verbal hairs trying to back away from their apocalyptic prewar claims -- "Did I say 500 tons of sarin and 25,000 liters of anthrax? I meant 'weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.'" -- Cheney has reloaded and is firing away with both barrels.
To his hawkish eyes, a lone pair of souped-up flatbed trucks are "conclusive evidence" of Saddam's WMD, and a memo the Pentagon has labeled "inaccurate" provides, according to Cheney, "overwhelming evidence" that the former Butcher of Baghdad and Osama bin Laden had "an established relationship."
You want conclusive, overwhelming evidence? How's this? Captured 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has told U.S. interrogators that bin Laden had rejected the idea of working with Saddam; documents found in Saddam's spider hole show he had warned his supporters to be wary of teaming up with foreign enemies of America; and former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay has told the world that Iraq didn't have any WMD at the time we invaded.
Not good enough for our man Dick. Like a flat-earther who has sailed around the world 10 times but keeps waiting to topple off the edge, Cheney has got his story and he's sticking to it.
He even continues to serve up that thoroughly moldy chestnut about head hijacker Mohammed Atta hooking up with an Iraqi spy in Prague, despite the fact that the FBI has long since concluded that Atta was actually tooling around Florida in a rental car at the time of the alleged meeting.
In a new biography of Tony Blair, an aide to the British prime minister accuses Cheney of having "waged a guerrilla war against" Blair's attempts to seek U.N. approval of the invasion of Iraq, and calls the vice president "a visceral unilateralist."
He's also a visceral corporate apologist.
Remember when the idea of having a CEO vice president was a campaign selling point?
Now we see that the only thing being sold is the public good. Exhibit A is the way Cheney's corporate cronies at Halliburton have benefited from having a friend in the very highest places.
In the blink of an eye and the toppling of a statue, the company has gone from facing looming losses to scoring billions in no-bid and no-ceiling contracts tied to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
As for the rest of us, we've been rewarded with a company that squanders our tax dollars at every turn.
The latest outrage came with this week's revelation that Halliburton has consistently overbilled the Pentagon for meals at Camp Arifjan, a U.S. military base in Kuwait. According to auditors, the Pentagon paid the company $16 million for nearly 4 million meals that were never served. And Camp Arifjan is just one of over 50 dining facilities in Kuwait and Iraq the company serves. Maybe Halliburton can steal a page from McDonald's playbook and put up a giant golden H outside their mess halls, with a sign keeping tabs on the number of meals they billed taxpayers for but didn't actually provide: "Over 4 Million Never Served!" And they can add a kicker to those "Halliburton, proud to serve our troops" TV spots they've been running: "... and even prouder of the money we rake in by not serving them!"
This phantom-food fiasco comes fast on the heels of news that two Halliburton employees had pocketed over $6 million in kickbacks from a Kuwaiti subcontractor -- which had followed fast on the heels of accusations the company had overcharged the government more than $100 million for gasoline.
Pardon me for bringing this up, but shouldn't that be three strikes and you're out? Instead, we get yet another example of how there are two sets of rules in our country -- one for the elites (and the former companies of the elites) and one for everybody else. When caught with its hand in the taxpayer-funded cookie jar, Halliburton doesn't get tossed in the brig for life; it merely apologizes, pays back the money it pilfered, and goes on to win another hefty cost-plus contract.
Despite this avalanche of sleazy profiteering and corporate misconduct, Cheney stubbornly insists on defending his erstwhile company -- from which he still receives a hefty deferred salary ($162,392 in 2002), and in which he still holds 433,333 stock options. "They get unfairly maligned," he said late last month, "simply because of their past association with me."
No, they get maligned because they can't seem to keep themselves from gouging American taxpayers. It makes one wonder what the company would have to do for Cheney to feel criticism of Halliburton was justified -- cater John Kerry's victory party?
If Cheney's relationship with Halliburton represents the evils of crony capitalism, then his relationship with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia epitomizes the evils of crony democracy.
It's not just that Cheney and Scalia had dinner and went on a duck-hunting trip together while the Supreme Court was being asked to overturn a lower court's decision requiring Cheney to reveal the names of his energy task force members. It's that these guys can't, for the life of them, see why anybody would have a problem with this overly cozy state of affairs.
Why bother with "justice for all" when you've got hunting buddies who don't give a flying duck about fairness, impartiality or the public's right to know?
On the upside, this behavior turns a blazing spotlight on the defining traits of the Bush White House: secrecy and arrogance.
"I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned," said Scalia, responding to questions about the propriety of a sitting judge rubbing elbows -- and blowing small game birds out of the air -- with a named party and material witness in a case he's about to hear. That ranks right up there with Justin Timberlake's claim that the boob shot seen 'round the world was due to a "wardrobe malfunction."
For all these reasons and more, everyone who wants to see Bush back home in Crawford come January 2005 should rush right out to their local Bush reelection campaign office and start the chant: "Ho, ho ... hey, hey ... Dick Cheney's got to stay!"