- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

George W. Bush's decision to choose Dick Cheney as his running mate says as much about Mr. Bush's self-confidence as it does about the breadth and depth of Mr. Cheney's experience in government.
This was not a decision based on electoral votes (Mr. Cheney's home state of Wyoming has only three) or some regional, political strategy (Mr. Bush has the Western mountain and plains states locked up). Nor was it one that sought out a charismatic campaigner. Mr. Cheney has won six House elections, but he is not known for his oratory.
Instead, this was a mature decision based on governing and choosing the most knowledgeable political partner Mr. Bush could find who has experience in several critical areas that Mr. Bush does not.
By choosing Cheney, Mr. Bush is saying, "I believe that I am going to be the next president of the United States and in that job I am going to need someone who could easily be president himself, who knows national security and foreign policy, who knows Congress, who has had executive experience." In many ways, Mr. Cheney has much more experience than Mr. Bush, though this is not meant to suggest Mr. Bush has not shown a high level of executive ability as governor of one of the nation's largest states.
But when you add up Mr. Cheney's career as White House chief of staff under President Ford, as a member of Congress who rapidly climbed the ranks to his party's No. 2 leadership post, and as defense secretary under President Bush with responsibility for running the Persian Gulf war surely this is statecraft experience on the world stage that is at a far higher level than Mr. Bush has experienced in his career.
This choice tells us a great deal about Mr. Bush personally about his own inner confidence in who he is and his lack of political ego. Mr. Bush has no trouble running with someone who has this kind of exalted experience in three pivotal spheres of influence in Washington.
Both men have achieved political power in their careers: Mr. Bush, becoming the first governor to win two consecutive terms in Texas, has clinched the presidential nomination. Mr. Cheney, however, has had the broader experience of running the White House, overseeing the military, helping to lead one of the two branches of Congress, and now heading up one of the largest oil services companies in the world.
Yet they find themselves compatible with one another and can relate to each other as equals.
Several factors went into Mr. Bush's decision. One is certainly the influence of his father, who worked with Mr. Cheney to win the Persian Gulf war. No one knows defense and foreign policy better than Mr. Cheney, the senior Bush undoubtedly told him. He will be invaluable to you in a national security crisis and you will have a crisis in your presidency.
Mr. Bush talked privately to many people about his choice of running mate, but those who worked with Mr. Cheney in his many tours of duty told him this is someone "who doesn't make mistakes."
There were many names he had considered, but none of them brought the breadth of governing experience to the job that Mr. Cheney did. And none was as fully prepared to step into the presidency if necessary.
Another critical factor is Mr. Bush's feeling that the political undercurrents of the country suggest the electorate is looking for something different in this election. The voters do not want another attack campaign. They have had eight years of that with Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
This election, Mr. Bush thinks, is going to be won by a team that signals a sense of purpose about changing the partisan, poisonous atmosphere in Washington. And Mr. Cheney, who gets along with just about everybody, sends that signal.
When Don Rumsfeld was Mr. Ford's chief of staff and Mr. Cheney was his deputy, Mr. Rumsfeld often sent his top aide out to soothe feelings that the abrasive Mr. Rumsfeld had raked over. "Dick has natural good judgment and instincts. There's a nice tempo in his manner. He's very easy for people to get along with," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
His former House colleagues still talk about and marvel over how he was able to rack up a staunchly conservative voting record in the 1980s, while his political rhetoric came across as low key, moderate and reasonable. "Cheney's voting record was slightly more conservative than mine, but his style was not as confrontational," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told me.
"He was serious and thoughtful and would temper our exuberance when we got too wild," Mr. Gingrich said about the heady days when they were all Reagan Revolutionaries.
Clearly, Mr. Cheney is an unorthodox choice in the telegenic communications era we are in. Mr. Bush is obviously breaking some new political ground here in his choice of running mate. But I think his instincts are good and that he has chosen wisely. We will know soon enough whether the voters think so too.


Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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