Cheney’s heir

CHENEY’S HEIR…. This week’s debate featured plenty of what we’ve come to expect from debates: soundbites, quips, evasive answers, etc. But there was arguably a little news, too, when Sarah Palin shed some light on her perspective about Dick Cheney and the power of the vice presidency.

Palin said she’s “thankful the Constitution would allow a bit more authority given to the vice president if that vice president so chose to exert it.” Soon after, in response to a question about which branch of government the vice presidency belongs to, Palin said she sees the Constitution giving the Office of the Vice President “flexibility” — she used the word twice — and added, “[W]e’ll do what we have to do to administer very appropriately the plans that are needed for this nation.”

In an interview with Fox News yesterday, Palin again touted the “flexibility” given to the Vice President under the Constitution, and said the VP even has added “authority if that vice president so chose to use it.” It wasn’t entirely clear who or what that “authority” would be applied to.

Given Palin’s remarks, it seems that she considers Dick Cheney something of a role model.

It is hard to tell from Ms. Palin’s remarks whether she understands how profoundly Dick Cheney has reshaped the vice presidency — as part of a larger drive to free the executive branch from all checks and balances. Nor did she seem to understand how much damage that has done to American democracy.

Mr. Cheney has shown what can happen when a vice president — a position that is easy to lampoon and overlook — is given free rein by the president and does not care about trampling on the Constitution. […]

The Constitution does not state or imply any flexibility in the office of vice president. It gives the vice president no legislative responsibilities other than casting a tie-breaking vote in the Senate when needed and no executive powers at all. The vice president’s constitutional role is to be ready to serve if the president dies or becomes incapacitated.

Any president deserves a vice president who will be a sound adviser and trustworthy supporter. But the American people also deserve and need a vice president who understands and respects the balance of power — and the limits of his or her own power. That is fundamental to our democracy.

So far, Ms. Palin has it exactly, frighteningly wrong.

Funny, that last sentence seems to apply to so much of what Palin has to say.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.