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Cheney takes on Greenspan book

Times Staff Writer

Faced with criticism from hard-hitting books -- and there have been plenty -- the White House has developed a five-word response: “We don’t do book reviews.”

It’s the sort of boilerplate retort that can serve whether the critic is former Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, former White House counter-terrorism advisor Richard A. Clarke or, more recently, a former assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith, writing about the Justice Department.

But this week, when the criticism came from a particularly unusual source -- former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan -- and went to the heart of President Bush’s legacy, the boilerplate would not do.

Instead, Vice President Dick Cheney wrote an essay for the opinion pages of Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal, delivering what he called “gentle reminders of the Bush record” to counter the complaints of “my longtime friend Alan Greenspan” -- who, he noted, “credits me in his book for my ‘intensity’ and ‘sphinxlike calm.’ ”

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Underlining their close connection, the vice president referred to Greenspan by his first name seven times in the nine-paragraph article.

There was this: “Alan’s general notion that the federal government is too big and spends too much money -- we’ve agreed on that point since we both worked in the Ford administration more than 30 years ago.”

And this: “Alan has long argued, correctly, that fiscal discipline is a long-term obligation requiring honesty and a willingness to make tough choices.”

What started all this was the recent publication of Greenspan’s memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” and the accompanying publicity interviews, in which the economist whose words have moved markets argued that the Bush administration, populated with old friends, had strayed from conventional Republican economic policy: It ignored deficits, spending restraints, opposition to regulation and, perhaps above all, obeisance to small government, Greenspan contended.

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But any suggestion that Greenspan’s account was evidence of new splintering in the GOP -- and that Cheney’s response only worsened the split -- might be overdoing it, according to the explanation offered by the vice president’s office.

“Dr. Greenspan wrote a book, and the vice president felt a need to set the record straight,” said Megan M. Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Cheney. “The vice president and Dr. Greenspan have been friends for 30 years, so it’s appropriate for him to write a response to a book in which Dr. Greenspan raises some issues with the administration.”

Besides, said another White House official, who requested anonymity when discussing what amounted to a political family feud, Cheney “was a witness to a lot of the discussions” and so he spoke up, even though “he doesn’t normally do this.”

Whether on Wall Street or Pennsylvania Avenue, no voice carries more weight on economic matters in the United States than that of Greenspan, his status as a “former” notwithstanding. And even though Greenspan has expressed admiration for President Clinton’s acumen on economic matters, his GOP sympathies are well established.

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So the vice president’s tenor in responding to “Alan” was far from the gruff, blunt demeanor of his public image -- characteristics he exhibited when, according to O’Neill’s memoir, he short-circuited the then-Treasury secretary’s warning in late 2002 that new tax cuts under consideration would be potentially dangerous, given rising deficits and accumulating debt.

Cheney, O’Neill wrote, cut him off with these words: “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter. We won the midterms. This is our due.”

But in the Wall Street Journal, Cheney adopted a more measured manner saying that Bush had been fiscally responsible and that the cost of fighting terrorism and meeting other important priorities had forced the president to accept higher spending.

And by stimulating economic growth, he wrote, the tax cuts that critics say contributed to the record budget deficit had “increased federal tax receipts -- up by nearly 15% in fiscal year 2005 alone, nearly 12% in fiscal year 2006, and projected to rise nearly 7% in the fiscal year that will end this month.”

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“I’ve known Alan for years, and I believe he was a great chairman of the Federal Reserve Board,” Cheney wrote. “But I think his assessment is off the mark.”

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james.gerstenzang@latimes.com


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