By Dan Froomkin
11:34 AM ET, 03/17/2009
Former vice president Dick Cheney didn't hold back on Sunday when asked what he thought of President Obama. Among other things, he accused Obama (without providing any supporting evidence) of making Americans less safe.
But did Cheney realize how much relish the White House would take in casting him as the face of the opposition?
Over the last several weeks, the White House has been delighted by right-wing talk show giant Rush Limbaugh's emergence as the unofficial spokesman for the Republican Party.
But, heck, Dick Cheney makes Rush Limbaugh look popular, not to mention easygoing.
Here's Press Secretary Robert Gibbs at yesterday's press briefing, responding to a question about Cheney's comments:
Gibbs; "Well, I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy -- (laughter) -- so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal. (Laughter.)
"I would say that the President has made quite clear that keeping the American people safe and secure is the job -- is the most serious job that he has each and every day."
Gibbs then offered his own pointed critique of Cheney's tenure: "I think the President saw over the past seven-plus years the delay in bringing the very people to justice that committed terrorist acts on this soil and on foreign soil...I think the American people will in this administration see those actors brought to the swift and certain justice that was not brought to them in the previous administration."
As for Cheney's thoughts on domestic policy, Gibbs said, "I think there are -- I think not taking economic advice from Dick Cheney would be maybe the best possible outcome of yesterday's interview."
Gibbs's comments seemed to take aback CBS White House correspondent Chip Reid, who returned to the subject later in the briefing:
Reid: "And could I ask you, when you referred to the former Vice President, that was a really hard-hitting, kind of a sarcastic response you had. This is a former Vice President of the United States. Is that -- is that the attitude? Is that the sanctioned tone for the former Vice President of the United States, from this White House?"
Gibbs replied: "Sometimes I ask for forgiveness rather than for permission, Chip. But no, I hope my sarcasm didn't mask the seriousness of the answer...-- that for seven-plus years the very perpetrators that the Vice President says he's concerned about weren't brought to justice."
Scott Wilson writes in The Washington Post: "Gibbs's comments reflected the administration's pique over Cheney's wide-ranging remarks made Sunday on CNN, his first televised interview since leaving office. The former vice president, deeply unpopular in opinion polls, accused the young administration of using the abysmal economy to push through a broad and liberal expansion of government and strongly defended Bush-era policies at home and abroad."
As for the interview that sparked the back-and-forth, Andrew Sullivan blogs for the Atlantic on CNN host John King's failure to ask Cheney about the newly-leaked International Red Cross report that unequivocally calls the treatment of terror suspects by Cheney and Bush torture. Sullivan concludes that "telling the truth - and confronting the powerful with it - ruins the aura of objectivity; and offends sources whom one needs for future scoops. It makes an interview unpleasant and confrontational, when both Cheney and King go out of their way to signal their familiarity and almost friendship with one another. King did ask some tough questions in this interview, but not the question that every historian will want to ask and that Cheney didn't want to answer."
And Arianna Huffington writes on her blog: "Each time King let Cheney get away with spouting gross inaccuracies and revisionist history, I kept thinking how different things would have been had [Comedy Central's Jon] Stewart been asking the questions. Stewart without the comedy and without the outrage -- just armed with the facts and the willingness to ask tough questions."