- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2000

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney was supposedly George W. Bush's "safe" pick for vice president. But the Gore campaign makes him sound awfully scary a conservative extremist in the fine tradition of Atilla the Hun.
The evidence? Mr. Cheney amassed an "extremely conservative" record as a Wyoming congressman from 1979 to 1989. Just what were his wicked endeavors? He voted against poor children, women and minorities (translation from liberalese: He opposed dubious government programs, such as food stamps, which arguably do the poor more harm than good.) He also voted against the Equal Rights Amendment and busing for integration in 1979 about two decades before even some NAACP leaders publicly expressed second thoughts. But the real trump card is Mr. Cheney's unabashed opposition to abortion. Mr. Cheney repeatedly voted against federal funds for abortion and even voted to declare the fetus a person from the moment of conception. Controversial stuff, no doubt. How could anyone possibly take these extremist stances?
Just ask Al Gore. Back in his days as a congressman and senator, when he answered to Tennessee voters, not the hodgepodge of fractious interest groups which maintain a choke hold on the national Democratic Party, Mr. Gore cast many key votes on abortion and other important issues alongside Mr. Cheney.
The New York Daily News reports that when the two men served together in Congress in the 1980s, they even voted to allow individual silent prayer in public schools. It's well to note that this seemingly innocuous measure, which the full House rejected, was a key litmus test for advocacy groups on both sides of the cultural divide. Liberals suggested it would turn the public schools into one big monastery. To religious-minded conservatives it was an entirely reasonable accommodation for people of faith. In any event, the similarity between the Cheney-Gore voting records could prove the most embarrassing comparison for the vice president since it was discovered that passages of Mr. Gore's environmental screed, "Earth in the Balance," bore an uncanny resemblance to the Unabomber's manifesto.
But why is yet another manifestation of Clinton-Gore hypocrisy noteworthy? It is part and parcel of the longtime Democratic campaign to depict the GOP as beholden to extremists a tired refrain the Democrats is sounding throughout the GOP convention. The reality, of course, is that on many issues the GOP is closer to the mainstream than the Democrats. No wonder the Dems often obscure their true stances.
In the 1970s, Marian Wright Edelman founded the Children's Defense Fund because toddlers provide a more sympathetic rationale for government handouts than their usually fertile and unemployed mothers. More recently, Mr. Clinton's band of New Democrats are not for quotas, just flexible affirmative action goals. The difference between the two, of course, usually proves illusory.
Messrs. Cheney and Gore held the same views on abortion. Between 1979 and 1984, they repeatedly voted for measures that barred almost all abortion coverage by either Medicaid or federal employee health plans. The Hyde amendment only allowed Medicaid funds for abortions necessary to save the mother's life. But in 1985, which just happened to be three years before his first presidential bid, then-Sen. Gore voted to allow federal funding of abortion. Mr. Cheney however, did not. Even so, around the same time, both men voted to relax some federal gun control measures, according to the Daily News.
Over the years, though, they parted company on some important issues. In 1979, Mr. Gore voted to establish the Department of Education, over the objection of Mr. Cheney and other conservatives. In 1982, Mr. Gore supported, but Mr. Cheney opposed, a measure to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from forcing states to do vehicle emissions testing.
Still, there's enough common ground to render the Gore camp's charge of extremism against Mr. Cheney awfully problematic. What a mess. Didn't someone in the Gore campaign anticipate the extremist charge could backfire? If you thought explaining a fund-raiser is not a fund-raiser was difficult, consider the current predicament.
If Mr. Cheney an extremist then so is Mr. Gore. If he's not an extremist then the veep needs another way to demonize Mr. Cheney (who, after all, looks about as ferocious as the afternoon shift manager at the Holiday Inn).
The other tack is to suggest that Mr. Gore has seen the light on issues he once misunderstood. Forget about those youthful indiscretions. But that kind of red meat for the left can't help but alienate more moderate Democrats.
What to do? What to do?
Does even Mr. Gore, a master of situational ethics, have enough chutzpah to fall back on Barry Goldwater's famous ethos "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice"?
He would do well to drop the matter. Mr. Cheney's votes might have once seemed fodder for his liberal adversaries. Instead, all the times he sided with conservatives now provide a mechanism to pre-empt the Democrats' latest foray into the politics of personal destruction.

Evan Gahr writes often for The American Spectator.

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