- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

If George W. Bush actually chooses Dick Cheney, that giant sucking sound he'll hear across the land will be the sound of a lot of air fleeing his balloon.

Not from revulsion at Mr. Cheney, a good man. He's solid, loyal, kind and true. Just the man you might want to put on the board down at the bank. He might even make a good vice president of the United States.

But George W. has raised expectations higher than solid, loyal, kind and true. He said of his choice: "Your eyes will light up with excitement."

With all due respect, an overweight retread from his daddy's administration, an exile from an oil-company boardroom with three heart attacks and bypass surgery, is not likely to make anyone's eyes light up with excitement. Maybe he can keep some eyes from closing in sleep, but George W. had better not count on that, either.

Fair or not, and it isn't, the Democrats would beat that ticket over the head with the health issue from here to November. Tom Eagleton wasn't nuts, either, but George McGovern knew he had to kick him off the ticket as soon as he heard about the shock treatments. Nor was Dan Quayle dumb, but he never struggled free of the label pinned on him by the Democrats and by the same media which have been waiting for just the right time and place for a late-summer ambush of George W.

Politics is not a Republican sport. Golf and tennis are the country-club sports. Politics is a contact sport. You would search a long time to find a Republican linebacker or free safety in the NFL. Little Republican boys are not taught from birth the thrill of ripping a rival's head off and stuffing it down his throat. Think James Carville. (Lee Atwater grew up a Democrat.)

Some naive Republicans inspect the medical reports on Mr. Cheney, and armed with the reassurance of his doctors, imagine that the issue has been put to rest. They forget that politics is perception, not reality, and underestimate as usual the venom the media reserve for Republican candidates. George W. no doubt mistakes the easy amiability of the reporters and pundits over these past few weeks for success in neutralizing that venom. But the graveyards of Washington are full of Republicans who thought they could hustle the assassins at The Washington Post.

Karl Rove, the governor's top consultant, insists that Mr. Cheney's health wouldn't be an issue. A candidate's handlers can do a lot of things (which is why they're not the sort of men you would want to marry your daughters), but the one thing they can't do is determine what the issues are in a presidential campaign. Campaigns take on lives of their own, and nobody controls them. Nobody ought to know that better than Mr. Rove.

Ergo, the Cheney speculation has to be about something other than Dick Cheney. The Democrats are probably correct that it began as a contrived diversion from the eleventh-hour boomlet for John McCain, a boomlet put together by aides and boomers suddenly without a candidate. If there's anything more pathetic in Washington than a man without a country it's a man without a candidate.

George W. has either set up a marvelous surprise for us, or a trap for himself. That's why there was such a frenzy yesterday for Colin Powell. The general could make eyes light up the American landscape would suddenly resemble one vast coast-to-coast pinball machine. Al Gore and the Democrats would, overnight, be as appetizing as day-old pizza. Al could choose Barney Frank or Hillary Clinton or Miss Tipper's poodle for all the rest of the country could care.

The disappointment of the right-to-life lobby would be swamped by the enthusiasm of everyone else, including most conservatives (who could take comfort in the fact that George H.W. Bush was never mistaken for conservative before Ronald Reagan chose him as his running mate two decades ago). The governor would get all the dignity, gravitas and bearing the ticket could accommodate from the man who lives the values of duty, honor, country that Republicans pay such tribute. Let's see how the Democrats and the snipers of the media would spend venom on that ticket.

The general sent aides out late yesterday with the usual disclaimers, but without the Sherman ("I will not run if nominated and I will not serve if elected"). He would never say never if George W. asks. Generals don't say no when duty calls.

Unfortunately for George W., this is the expectation against which he will have to present, come to that, Dick Cheney or John Danforth. Or Fred Thompson or Frank Keating. Or Bill Frist or Tom Ridge or even Mike Huckabee. He might as well give us a dog named Spot.

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