Exclusive Interview: Cheney on Elections and Iraq

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Vice President Dick Cheney during an interview with TIME magazine.

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TIME: You might start spending a lot more time up there.

Cheney: No, I don't know about that. (Laughter.) But I enjoy the Congress very much. And at one time thought that's where I was going to spend my career. And so I've been able to do some good up there and pitch in and help whenever I can, whenever it makes sense. I'm an extra set of hands. But I don't see that the role has changed all that much.

TIME: Mr. Vice President, do you feel like you're less visible or more visible internally than you were when you all started on January 20, 2001?

Cheney: Probably less visible now. But when we started, and we went through that -- what was it, 35, 36-day recount period -- and then set up the transition, initially, I had a very visible role because the President asked me to come to Washington and set up the transition, and start that process. We didn't have anybody else on board in terms of any other Cabinet members. So they were all new as we brought them in. And there was, I think, understandably a higher profile when you've only got a few people running around. The administration is just getting formed.

Over time, though, I think everybody settled in pretty well. And there are some things I do that require a certain amount of visibility. Some of what I do, frankly, I do best in private in terms of people I talk with, sometimes negotiations on sensitive matters with members of Congress; the advice I give the President. So I don't talk a lot about the kind of advice I give the President, and sometimes the conversations I have with foreign leaders. I make my input quietly. I don't carry a high profile in the press.

On the other hand, if it's campaign time and I'm out doing 114 campaign events, then obviously that's going to generate a certain amount of visibility.

TIME: You and the President, this administration seems -- based on public opinion polls -- seem not to get the credit it deserves, certainly you probably feel that way, for the economy. Why is that? Is it the gas prices? Is it the housing bust? Is it Iraq?

Cheney: I think the economy is important, and important from the standpoint of public opinion, and public attitude. My belief is that it will have an impact on the election, and that, in fact, for most people things are pretty good. That doesn't mean it's perfect out there by any means. But I think back over all the years I've been involved in elections -- going back I guess, to the mid 60's - running, what, eight times as a candidate myself, and involved in a lot of others as staff capacity and so forth, I'm hard put to think of a time when the economy was in better shape than it is right now.

We're in one of the best economies that we've had in recent times. Employment is at an all-time record high. Home ownership is at an all-time record high. Productivity has been phenomenal. The stock market is just hitting new highs. Employment numbers are up again -- 6.6 million jobs in three years. There isn't any way you can look at the economy and not conclude that, in fact, things are going very well. And it's also I think testimony to the resilience of our economy the shocks that we've weathered over that period of time.

We have been at war. We've had to spend a lot of money on defense and homeland security. We did go through the aftermath of 9/11, which dealt a significant blow to the economy. We had a recession when we came in. We had Katrina that was one of the worst natural disasters in history.

And in spite of all that, the economy is ticking along at an all-time high. That's testimony, I think, to the basic fundamental resilience of our system to the entrepreneurial genius of the American people, to the free enterprise system and the extent to which markets work. And ours works very well and very ably, in spite of the body blows that have been delivered to it at various times. And I think also obviously some of it is due to good policy.

Now, do we get enough credit for that? I don't know. I suppose any public figure will tell you we never get the good credit we deserve and probably don't get all the criticism we deserve either. It balances out.

Gasoline prices have had a big impact, but now they're headed in the right direction. And I think that's to our benefit, as well, too. People when they go to the pump a couple times a week and fill up the tank, they see what the price of gasoline is, and that becomes a barometer against which they judge how things are doing. My dad used to be able to tell you the price of a gallon of gasoline at every single filling station in Casper, Wyoming. He knew it, and he always went to the low-cost operator. There's a lot of folks out there like that.

But, of course, gasoline prices are headed in the right direction. They've come down very significantly already. And so I think from the standpoint of the economy, when the American people ask themselves about how we've done, I think it's very good. And I also think if you look forward from the standpoint of policy to the extent that this election is going to have an impact, it is going to be policy. And I do think there's a fundamental difference between the parties on taxes. They know what our record is. They know what we believe. They've seen what we've done with tax policy, and the result it has achieved. And I think they know, as well, what the Democrats believe.

The Democrats didn't vote for those tax cuts that we put in place. They opposed them. And Charlie Rangel has indicated he's opposed to any extension of them at all. So I think it's a pretty clear choice, and I think in order for someone to vote Democratic for Congress this year, they have to say, yes, they're voting for a big tax increase because it will happen -- as I say without any action by the Congress at all because those tax provisions are sunsetted, and we have to extend them if we're going to keep those rates.

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