Saturday, August 27, 2011

Letter Man

Dick "Dick" Cheney had a letter that he kept in a safe in his office. It was a resignation letter, kept there in case he should become incapacitated while he was in office. "I did it because I was concerned that--for a couple of reasons," Cheney told Jamie Gangel in an interview for NBC's "Dateline." "One was my own health situation. The possibility that I might have a heart attack or a stroke that would be incapacitating. And there is no mechanism for getting rid of a vice president who can't function." The most obvious reaction to this news? At what point was Dick capacitated while in office?
Then there is the history question: What Vice Presidents have left the office before their term was up? Prior to ratification of the Twenty-fifth Amendment in 1967, no provision existed for filling a vacancy in the office of Vice President. As a result, the Vice Presidency was left vacant sixteen times, sometimes for nearly four years, until the next ensuing election and inauguration: eight times due to the death of the sitting president, resulting in the Vice Presidents becoming President; seven times due to the death of the sitting Vice President; and once due to the resignation of Vice President John C. Calhoun to become a senator. You might remember when Spiro Agnew resigned just ahead of pleading no contest to tax fraud. His boss, Richard Nixon read his own letter to a national television audience just a few months later. Gerald Ford filled in for Spiro, and when Nixon took a powder, Nelson Rockefeller took Ford's spot as Vice President. What comfort can be taken for that clean succession of power is left to the reader. It was Dwight Eisenhower who gave Nixon his first taste of power back when he had his heart attack and left young Dick Nixon to run things as he encountered health issues over the course of his administration, including a heart attack.
Which brings us back to Dick "Dick" Cheney. Surprising as it was for us all to imagine that he had a heart at all, it was this piece of hardware that made him write his fail-safe letter. Perhaps he was unfamiliar with the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. In the event of a vacancy, the President nominates someone to take his place. I can only assume that the puppetmaster was unsure of his puppet's ability to nominate someone to pull his own strings. All that being said, doesn't it make you just the tiniest bit curious about what else was in that safe?

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