Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. By Peter Baker. New York: Doubleday, 2013. 800 pp.
According to common belief, Vice President Dick Cheney, if not in charge of the presidency of George W. Bush, was an equal, or almost equal, partner. That widespread perception provided a ready source of material for political comedians but apparently, and understandably, annoyed one president of the United States.
Peter Baker is not the first to expose as fallacious the judgment that Cheney ran the administration, but this book about the Bush-Cheney White House years goes beyond any other independent work in presenting evidence to debunk that conventional, but mistaken, notion. Baker provides a detailed and credible account of Cheney as a very influential, yet not controlling, presence during the Bush presidency. Baker suggests that Cheney was "unquestionably the most influential vice president in American history," a status he achieved through his "mastery of how Washington worked" and his relationship with Bush (p. 6). Cheney knew how to circumvent normal processes to shape policy on occasions but more often, Baker claims, persuaded Bush to do things the president was predisposed to do (pp. 6-7, 653).
Baker's book is distinctive in several respects. It covers the entire Bush presidency and the Bush-Cheney relationship, which it explores over a quarter century, from their likely first meeting in 1987 through 2012. Its principal focus, appropriately, is on the period beginning with Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, when Cheney directed the search for, and then served as, Bush's running mate, through their eight years together in the White House. Whereas Barton Gellman's insightful book about Cheney (Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency [New York: Penguin, 2008}) used case studies to explore his subject, Baker presents the Bush-Cheney relationship chronologically. And Baker's book draws from the author's seemingly comprehensive study of memoirs and other books written about the Bush presidency as well as from Baker's impressive list of nearly 400 interviews with subjects, including Cheney and many members of the Bush cabinet and White House staff. Baker's book devotes little time to Cheney's political or diplomatic work but, rather, focuses on the role to which Cheney gave priority, presidential advisor, a topic the subtitle implies.
Baker's book is consistent with earlier accounts (Gellman 2008; Joel K. Goldstein, "Cheney, Vice Presidential...