Sunday, December 6, 2009

When Bush saved America from Cheney

I mentioned in a previous post my fascination with those odd little moments during the Bush administration when the president emerged as the voice of moderation, saving the country from a terrible action by the federal government. I heard about another such moment during this NPR interview with D. A. Henderson. Henderson was one of the physicians with whom the White House consulted when considering whether to immunize the entire country for smallpox shortly after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks of 2001.

As Henderson explains, he and his colleagues advised the White House that it would be a mistake to immunize. The threat of a weaponized smallpox attack was probably not great, and mass immunization would kill an unacceptable number of Americans (roughly one per million immunized). But then he hears that the immunization is going to happen anyway, at the insistence of Vice President Cheney, and he is called to show up at the press conference announcing this policy decision. But once he arrives for the press conference, he finds out it has been canceled at the last minute.

And as we were later to learn - what happened? Why did we not have this program? And I was told later, and it became evident, that the president had intervened and said, we will not.


I had been with the president up to Pittsburgh - this is George W. Bush. He'd given a speech. And flying back, he's - we spent an hour talking about biological weapons and what we are doing and that sort of thing. And we talked about the vaccination and how would we stop an outbreak and what was the danger or the risk. And he took no notes, just sat in front of the big desk in front of Air Force One, and I didn't see him again for probably five, six months. And it was during this time that, apparently, he'd decided to overrule the vice president. So, very interesting.

Read that second-to-last sentence again. "He'd decided to overrule the vice president." We saw that same sort of thing when Bush rejected Cheney's urgings to deploy the military domestically and when Bush parted with Cheney over warrantless wiretapping. I don't purport to be a presidential historian, but I can't think of a similar relationship between a president and his vice president. Presidents may seek the advice of their vice presidents, but only during the Bush administration did the vice president lay down the law, with the president occasionally coming in to overrule him.

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