That is the simple but compelling explanation offered by one of Josh Marshall’s readers for the transformation in Dick Cheney’s personality that many political observers have noted:
Dick Cheney acted as George W. Bush’s Vice President in ways he did not as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff or Defense Secretary under the elder George Bush because George W. Bush was not Ford and was not the elder Bush. I don’t really think the matter is any more complicated than that.
During the younger Bush’s first term especially, Cheney operated in ways that suggested he really didn’t think his nominal boss was … up to the job. He treated associates not directly useful to him with contempt and disregard for their roles in the government — something Ford would have discouraged and the elder Bush would have as well. George W. Bush barely noticed it, though he may understand it now.
Neither of the earlier Presidents Cheney served were giants. They were both career government men, sensitive about the prerogatives of their office and aware that their own success in public life was due to how well they worked within the rules, not how creatively they broke them. They also, in fairness to Cheney, did not experience anything like 9/11. Cheney earned his reputation for being smarter, shrewder and harder-working than most of the people he worked with in government. During the second Bush administration he had few checks on his authority, and after 9/11 especially felt an imperative to fill the vacuum left by his President’s limited interest in the details of government.
Cheney could not have been Cheney if Bush had not been Bush.
Matthew Yglesias pretty much agrees, and he offers some tangible evidence of how radical Cheney’s views on power were long before Bush junior took office:
… But I think the preponderance of the evidence suggests that he didn’t really change that much. The 1992 Defense Planning Guidance was a pretty radical document. It came out of an office Dick Cheney supervised, and was most directly done by Paul Wolfowitz working with some other neocon subordinates who came back in the W. Bush DOD. But when it leaked, the president disavowed it.
By 2001, Cheney had acquired a more powerful position and he had a new boss who was dumber and less moral than his father. But on top of that, the United States had grown accustomed to a world in which there was little objective constraint on its power, and then 9/11 made the public much more receptive to military aggression than it had previously been. Put that together with the fact that Cheney’s baseline views had long tended toward the militaristic and slightly insane, and it doesn’t seem so mysterious.