Two decades and a few heart attacks later, George W. Bush tapped Cheney to be the architect of his long-term energy policy, and after months of closed-door pondering with his task force and consultations with energy-industry lobbyists (including a luxurious half-hour chat with Kenneth Lay, CEO of Enron), the Hillary Clinton of energy emerged with 105 suggestions stretching over 170 pages.
And much like during the campaign when Cheney headed up Bush's vice-presidential selection team, the policy looks a lot like Dick Cheney.
"America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970s," the report stated. Cheney, removed from his Ford White House gig by Carter, remembers well how they played at home a sudden shortage of crude, soaring prices, bread lines at the pumps. And very bad politics for the president.
Cheney is the fragile but indefatigable John Henry of this White House, the hardest-working man on the ticket and the one man his president cannot do without. He's also a die-hard Western conservative who until he rejoined the government made a fortune at the top of oil-services firm Halliburton. And he's tackling the present crunch in energy really more of a crunch in cheap energy, which is not quite the same thing the best way he knows how: With more energy.
From tried-and-true sources, both politically and industrially. Big Coal won Bush-Cheney West Virginia and the November election; Big Oil and Big Energy (particularly Enron, who under Bush buddy Lay invested $1.3 million in Bush's presidential run and $461,000 in his gubernatorial efforts) got him that far. Cheney has looked around at the U.S. energy scene and decided that America's energy workhorses of the past two decades fossil fuels, and if you want cleaner air, nuclear plants have been recently over-burdened with regulation, and need to be unleashed.
Conservation? "A personal virtue," Cheney near-scoffed in a recent preview of his task force's opus. Efficiency? Cheney's report tosses $4 billion in tax credits for gas-pinching hybrid cars, and a handful of other initiatives meant to keep America getting more out of the power it has. But this is not a man who believes America is ready to don the proverbial sweater, not an America where only 25 percent of households are marrieds-with-children but 43 percent of the vehicles on the road are SUVs, pickups and minivans.
Dick Cheney may have flunked out Yale a couple of times, but he does not lack for brains. And his personal fuel pump may have been closed for repairs four times and counting, but he's not short on energy either. His younger friend the president gave him a familiar order tackle this, will you? and he has delivered again for Bush without upstaging him in the process. (The plan is now officially back in Bush's salesman hands.)
He's been sharp enough to practically guarantee bipartisan support for at least the spirit of his supply-side solution by bringing in Big Labor for a nice chat about all those jobs out on the pipelines and up on the transmission towers. And while Dick Cheney may not be progressive enough about energy for some people's tastes, no one can accuse him of not knowing anything about the subject.
But Cheney is also a walking, talking, lip-curling reminder of Bush's most-exposed flank. Republican pollsters are finding and Democrats are counting on it to be true that not only are Americans wary about a wholesale trampling of the environment, they strongly suspect that their current energy woes have a lot to do with profiteering energy companies that are making such a good buck in these days of economic slowdown.
And if red-blooded Americans dislike anything more than a president in a sweater, it's a president and a vice-president they figure is doing all the work who are congenitally cozy with the folks they think are deliberately putting them over a barrel.