I have to disagree with Kevin Drum. I don’t find it even mildly surprising that Dick Cheney was spying on his White House colleagues. Disgusting, yes. Surprising, no. It’s part of his fundamentally totalitarian mind-set.
What I do find surprising is Condoleeza Rice’s passivity in the face of this interference in her communication with her own staff. Anyone with an ounce of self-respect would have gone to Bush and said, “This stops from right now or I’m out the door.”
A threat to resign over a major policy disagreement is dangerous. First, it damages relationships. Using a threat to resign to force an issue to come out your way is about the most un-collegial thing you can do, and even it it works, the folks on the other side of the disagreement — who won the argument but had to back down in the face of your threat — are likely to remember, not gratefully. Second, it might not work; maybe the boss values the policy more than he values your services.
But a threat to resign over this sort of official-personal affront is a different story. Precisely because it’s personal to you but not to the others, it’s a fully credible threat, and their threat to stuck to the insult and let you resign isn’t credible. And because it’s personal, letting you get away with it doesn’t mean ceding you the right to block any substantive decision by threatening to resign, so it’s not nearly as much of an affront to your co-workers.
The classic case here is George Schultz, who forced Ronald Reagan to back down from an already-signed Executive Order requiring cabinet officials to submit to polygraph examinations as part of leak investigations by saying he’d walk out rather than take one. Would Bush really have let Rice resign rather than telling Cheney to respect her privacy? Somehow, I don’t think so.
Update A reader points out that Kevin called the story “pathological,” “telling,” and “astonishing,” but not “surprising.” I guess it’s hard to surprise Kevin these days. Astonishment, of course, is something entirely different.