WASHINGTON -- The joke's on Vice President Dick Cheney. Apparently, around the White House, they're OK with that.
As he launched into a health-care speech Wednesday, President Bush warmed up his audience with a nod to Halloween, at Cheney's expense.
''This morning I was with the vice president,'' Bush told a gathering of grocery manufacturers. ''I was asking him what costume he was planning. He said, 'Well, I'm already wearing it.' Then he mumbled something about the dark side of the force.''
Ah yes, that old Darth Vader line. Used to be that only Cheney's critics called him that, not his boss. Or his wife. Or Cheney himself.
''Most of you knew me long before anyone called me Darth Vader,'' Cheney said in a speech at The Washington Institute last week. ''I've been asked if that nickname bothers me, and the answer is, no. After all, Darth Vader is one of the nicer things I've been called recently.''
Darth Vader is the heavy-breathing villain of the Star Wars movies _ a reference to Cheney's terse manner and sometimes gloomy view of world affairs.
Cheney's wife, Lynne, went even further in her appearance on ''The Daily Show'' earlier in October. She showed up with a Darth Vader doll.
''It's a special present for you,'' she told the show's host, Jon Stewart, who has been known to skewer the vice president. ''It's an old family heirloom.''
That's three times this month that the White House have embraced the label.
So what is this? Some Jedi mind trick?
Cheney's spokeswoman, Lea Anne McBride, said the vice president has always had a good sense of humor. He's made his share of self-deprecating references to his Darth Vader reputation over the years. It just so happens that they seem to be piling up during this season of ghoulish costumes.
It is also hunting season, another time when Cheney takes a ribbing. He made headlines this week just for going hunting at a secluded Hudson Valley gun club in New York. The outing inevitably evoked memories of 2006, when Cheney accidentally shot his friend while quail hunting.
Asked why Cheney seems fine with the Darth Vader tag, McBride said: ''If it brings some levity to politics, he's fine being the target.''
Clearly. The Cheneys put both their dogs in costumes for Halloween. One got to be Superman. The other? Darth Vader.
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