A lot of ink gets spilled about elected officials "rising above politics" and "doing the right thing" despite the polls. JFK's Profiles in Courage was all about unpopular but correct political choices made by US Senators. I admit to being a sucker, from time to time, for someone who will just do what he believes, polls be damned.
We now have someone who is doing just that and the results turn out to be scary as hell: Dick Cheney.
John Dickerson makes the case that the fact that Dick Cheney isn't running for President in 2008 and thus doesn't have to worry about the polls is letting Cheney run wild:
Just because Cheney lacks a personal political ambition doesn't mean he's lacked a personal ideological agenda. He has been able to pursue that agenda without compromise. He followed his determined ideas for strengthening the executive branch and America's place in the world with no fear of political damage. Since he didn't need Congress or the press as much as he might have if he were a potential candidate, Cheney dismissed them almost the minute he came back to Washington. His energy task force operated in secret and told no one about its operations. Congress and outside groups sued to gain access and lost. When it came time for war, he stepped up his calls for executive authority, endorsing detention and interrogation policies that became the focus of international condemnation. His overly dire predictions about Saddam Hussein's weapons and optimistic ones about the progress of the Iraq war undermined his credibility.
Some really bad stuff can come from a guy who doesn't worry about voters. That's why we have a basic principal that democracy is better than dictatorship. The President has given a few speeches on the matter himself. Voters, as a general rule, will punish bad behavior. No accountability leads to...well...torture:
Despite his lowered standing, Bush knows he can keep using Cheney for unpopular assignments because in theory, his approval ratings can drop to zero and Cheney won't balk. So, Cheney has taken up opposition to John McCain's amendment that would restrict "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of American military prisoners. The president can't argue the case directly, and he certainly can't argue it in public, so he lets Cheney do his dirty work for him.