In an interview on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Vice President Cheney told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that he doesn’t care about the American public’s views on the war:
RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s [the Iraq war’s] not worth fighting.
RADDATZ So? You don’t care what the American people think?
CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.
Cheney was roundly criticized for his remarks. Even Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly said Cheney was being a “wise guy” and “dismissed the folks” with his comments. A poll released a couple of weeks later found that 81 percent of the American public believed that when making an “important decision,” government leaders “should pay attention to public opinion polls.”
During his speech at the National Press Club today, the moderator gave Cheney a chance to apologize. “Do you wish that you had answered that question differently?” she asked. “Does it matter if the public disagrees sharply with the wisdom of the war?” Cheney instead made up an excuse about his initial comments, claiming that Martha had never asked him a direct question:
MODERATOR: Do you wish you had answered that question differently? Does it matter if the public disagrees sharply with the wisdom of the war?
CHENEY: No, when I said, “So?” the point was, “What’s the question, Martha?” She made the statement; she didn’t ask question.
It’s doubtful that Cheney meant, “What’s the question, Martha?” As the original exchange highlights, when Raddatz did ask a direct question — “You don’t care what the American people think?” — Cheney flatly replied, “No.” He clearly doesn’t care what the American public thinks, no matter how it’s asked.
REPORTER: In an interview earlier this year about the troop surge, Martha Raddatz pointed out that recent polls show about two-thirds of Americans say the fight in Iraq is not worth it. Your answer was, “So?,” which you then amplified this way: “You cannot be blown off course by polls.” Do you wish you had answered that question differently? Does it matter if the public disagrees sharply with the wisdom of the war?
CHENEY: No, when I said “So?” the point was, “What’s the question, Martha?” She made the statement; she didn’t ask a question. I think the point is valid and it’s very important to remind people, and I try to reference that in my remarks today, that presidents have to make decisions that are oftentimes impossible. If they’re making the tough calls or if they’re addressing the difficult issues, they’re going to sooner or later be unpopular.
If your goal and objective is to be loved some 75 or 80 or 90 percent of the time, you’re in the wrong line of work. Presidents get paid to make those tough calls and tough decisions. I have worked for some like George Bush and Gerry Ford who did exactly that and the point made I made was talking with Martha is that you simply cannot be in position where you respond weekly or monthly or daily in the fluctuations in the polls in terms of what kind of policy you’re going to set.
You don’t want a president who’s going to govern that way. And you get to go vote every four years on who gets to be president. You have to got out to earn their right to be president and make those decisions. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why we have limited terms and go through that process every four years.