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Cheney: 'On the big issues, I think we got it right'

With eight days to go until the election, NBC's Jamie Gangel talked to Vice President Dick Cheney in this exclusive interview.
/ Source: TODAY

In this exclusive interview, the “Today” show’s national correspondent Jamie Gangel sat down with Vice President Dick Cheney, who is considered to be one of the most powerful vice presidents in history. She caught up with him and wife Lynne as they stopped for a rare day off at the vice president's residence in Washington. With just eight days to go, the vice president is campaigning flat-out. His job is to energize the Republican base — translation, go after John Kerry.

Jamie Gangel: Out on the trail, you are seen as the attack dog against John Kerry.

Vice President Cheney: No, you don't really believe that, do you?

Gangel: In fact, you've suggested we're more likely to be attacked by terrorists if Kerry wins. Do you really believe that?

Cheney said during the campaign: “I think if you look at John Kerry's record, 20 years in the United States Senate, and even before that, he gives no indication that he would in fact pursue that kind of aggressive strategy against terrorists that the president will.”

Gangel: You don’t think he's serious enough? You don't think he's tough enough?

Cheney: He said the other day in the New York Times that he wants to get terrorism back to a point where it's just a nuisance, like illegal gambling or prostitution. Those were his words.

Gangel: And you think —

Cheney: And —

Gangel: that —

Cheney: I think that's nuts. You know I ask myself, "Well, when was the — terrorism ever just a nuisance?" Was it when they hit the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and we lost 241 Marines? Or maybe when they took down Pan Am 103 over Scotland in 1988. Was it a nuisance then? I don't think so. I don't think there's a time ever when terrorism is just a nuisance. And I think a man who has it in his mind that there's some acceptable level of terrorism out there that we can accept, that we can manage to, isn't the man to be commander in chief. I don't think he gets it.

Gangel: The flip side is that people say you are fear-mongering. That you are going out there trying to win this election by scaring people.

Cheney: Well, I'm speaking the truth. There isn't anything I just said to you that's not fact, except my opinion that he won't do it. But that's based on his record.

Gangel: Are you trying to scare people?

Cheney: I'm trying to have a debate here about what I think is a very serious proposition. We're not doing our jobs if we don't say to the American people, "Look, this is a global conflict." What am I supposed to do, run around the country saying, "Don't worry about it. Everything's fine. There's no threat." That would be outrageous for me to do that.

Gangel: This morning the Washington Post has endorsed John Kerry and said about President Bush that he exaggerated intelligence, alienated allies and failed to prepare for postwar Iraq. Your reaction?

Cheney: I'm not surprised. I don't deem the Post a friendly paper, nor do we expect their endorsement.

Gangel: You know [that] the criticism that the administration has not admitted when mistakes were made has resonated with some voters.

Cheney: Well, Jamie, I don't think we were wrong. On the big issues, I think we got it right, as the president himself has said. If I go back and look at what we did in Afghanistan, I think we got it pretty right and did exactly the right thing. In Iraq, we're dealing with a situation somewhat different, but again, I think we did exactly the right thing.

Gangel: Right before the war, on “Meet the Press” you said, "We will be greeted as liberators." Were you wrong?

Cheney: Jamie, just because it's tough and because it's difficult and because force was required doesn't mean that it wasn't the right thing to do. And the Iraqis I've talked to, virtually to a man, all reiterate that gratitude they feel to the United States for what we did.

Gangel: Did you think securing the peace would be this hard? Did you think the aftermath would be this difficult?

Cheney: I think we — a couple of things, I would argue that I underestimated, that I think others did too, the amount of damage that had been done by Saddam Hussein to the infrastructure in Iraq. The devastation that he had wrought inside his own country was greater than we expected. I also think that the trauma, the psychological effect of 30 years of oppression on the Iraqi people was greater than I had anticipated. We clearly have an ongoing insurgency there, but I don't see widespread support for that. 

Win or lose, this is Dick Cheney's last campaign, and his family has been with him throughout. His wife, Lynne, joined us to talk about what it’s been like for their family.

Gangel: The Cheney that has made the most news this past week has been your daughter Mary, because both John Kerry and John Edwards brought her up.

Sixty-four percent of Americans polled said they thought that was inappropriate. Vice President Cheney, do you believe it was calculated on their part for political reasons?

Cheney: Well, that was the suspicion after they both brought it up, and Mary Beth Cahill, the campaign chairman, immediately after the debate where John Kerry mentioned it on television. Said Mary was fair game.  So fair game, that's descriptive of an issue, not the — well ...

Lynne Cheney: Not our dear and wonderful daughter.

Gangel: How did you react when you heard John Kerry say that, and how did Mary react to it?

Lynne Cheney: Well, I think my reaction was pretty obvious, because I was scheduled to be on television and I expressed my anger. But I think it's really time for us, you know in talking about our family, to talk about our family in terms of everything they do. And I have wonderful, smart, honorable, bright daughters and terrific grandchildren.

Gangel: Do you think John Kerry should apologize?

Vice President Cheney: No. I think the matter's behind us now and we've moved on.

Gangel: From here to election day you will be on the road.  John Kerry is bringing out Bill Clinton and Al Gore. I understand your campaign has Arnold Schwarzenegger —

Vice President Cheney: That's right.

Gangel: In Ohio, who do you like, Elvis or the Terminator?

Cheney: We'll take the Terminator.

Gangel: Give me a prediction for November 2?

Cheney: Fifty two, 47, Bush.

Gangel: Give me a prediction for the World Series? 

Cheney: Boy, well, I'm going to stay out of that one. That could affect votes.

Gangel: Senator Kerry is out there saying that there's going to be voter fraud, that you're going to try to suppress African American voting, privatize Social Security, and you're going to bring back the draft. A January surprise. You say?

Cheney: Not true. Anybody who's been associated with the all-volunteer force, as I was when I was Secretary of Defense, knows we've got the best military in the world today. And nobody wants to go back to the draft. It makes no sense.

Social Security, they trot that out every two years. As long as I've been in politics, when you get down to the end of the stage, end of the campaign, if the Democrats are in trouble, then they say, "Well, if you elect Republicans, you're going to hurt Social Security." Not true. It's not going to happen.

With respect to voter fraud, the things that concern me is I see a lot of evidence on the other side that in fact they are trying to make these charges that somehow we're doing something to suppress the vote.  We're not. 

As for the other big campaign issue, Iraq, Cheney insisted that, despite criticism of the war, the policy was correct. And he dismissed reports that the upcoming elections in Iraq could end up with Islamic fundamentalists in power.

Gangel: How will you feel if in the end that’s where Iraq goes?

Cheney: Well, Jamie, you can come up with all kind of speculative what ifs and possibilities here. I will tell you, once again, that a government in Iraq that has been elected and is representative of the Iraqi people is going to be far preferable to what was there before.

Gangel: Even if —

Cheney: And —

Gangel: Islamic —

Cheney: even —

Gangel: — fundamentalists?

Cheney: Whatever it is, the Iraqi people will make that choice and that's an important proposition. But the bottom line is the world is a far safer, more sane and more secure place that Saddam Hussein is in jail instead of in his palace in Baghdad.

Gangel: After 9/11, your administration had record-high approval ratings — 90 percent. You're almost at half that now. You have a polarized electorate, a virtual dead heat. How did you lose so much goodwill?

Cheney: Jamie, being President of the United States, governing the nation, as George Bush has said on a number of occasions, isn't about maintaining your stature in the polls. If that's your objective, you're probably not the right person to hold that job. If you're simply going to play for the polls, there're a lot of ways to do that, but probably you are neglecting your responsibilities as president. George Bush would never do that. He doesn't govern by the polls. And he shouldn't.

Gangel: This is your last campaign. What has it been like out there?

Lynne Cheney: You know, we've come to that part of the campaign where everyone's paying attention.  And, well, and it's a little nostalgic knowing it's our last campaign. But it's been wonderful. Yesterday was just beautiful.

Vice President Cheney: That's the other thing that happens now. Is people come out. They're there because they want to be there. They're interested.  And so many of them say thank you or "we're praying for you," or "God bless you," and —

Lynne Cheney: And that's true.

Vice President Cheney: It's a kind of enforcement or reward mechanism you never get in Washington. Nobody ever says thank you in Washington.  But out on the campaign trail a lot of people do it. And that makes it all worthwhile.