- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

For the last four months, I have probably averaged two or three conversations a day with the smartest pols in town on the question of vice presidential selections. Dick Cheney's name was never seriously mentioned until last weekend. Mr. Cheney had never appeared on any media outlet's version of its vaunted "short list." I guess they were all too short to have room for the right answer.
It is said that the vice presidential selection is the first important decision of the nominee worthy of scrutiny. But before we get to judging Gov. George W. Bush, we should judge ourselves: We in the political class are approximately 0 for 7,000 on vice presidential selection no one in town got it right. In a triumph of hope over journalism, CBS news was reporting a possible Colin Powell selection even after Mr. Cheney had changed his residence, sold stock in his company, released positive medical records and the Bush campaign had repeatedly refused to deny the Cheney story.
All the aspirants on the short lists longed for privacy, but were forced into gracious concession comments. Elizabeth Drew, one of the most persistent and merciless investigative reporters in town, could be found on cable television warning Mr. Cheney of the full scrutiny of his business dealings that would soon be upon him. Democratic strategists were quoted, on background, grudgingly conceding that Mr. Cheney is a smart, vastly experienced, able, honest, good citizen. They had trouble conjuring up, even wanly, opprobrious charges against this ultimate Washington gentleman.
Predictably, the most puerile words could be found Monday night, as MSNBC reported the view from the Gore camp: "Gore aides say Gore plans to take advantage of the fact that he can wait for Bush'/s pick and then try to top it." The Associated Press reported that "Al Gore said he will keep his VP selection process private to draw contrast with the highly publicized search for rival George W. Bush … 'I've handled the process differently than the Bush campaign has handled theirs. I've kept it private, and I hope dignified…' "
Mr. Gore's words had all the maturity and dignity of a school yard taunt. Had Mr. Bush gone for a gaudier selection Colin Powell or Sen. McCain; or a more calculated selection PennsylvaniaGov. Tom Ridge or Elizabeth Dole Mr. Gore's words would not have stood out so much. But Mr. Bush's selection of Mr. Cheney was so singularly mature, and good governance-oriented, that it left Mr. Gore's jamming, game-playing words conspicuous for their immaturity and pettiness.
Mr. Gore would have to go to Mount Rushmore to find someone with whom he could "one up" Mr. Cheney. Even the idea of one-upmanship in a vice presidential selection suddenly sounds foolish. By lowering the political calculation and raising the governing calculation in his selection method, Mr. Bush may have changed the rules of the game. As one reflects on vice presidential selections over the last half-century, it is hard to find a single selection that had so little political calculus as did Mr. Bush's Cheney decision unless sheer competence and integrity, against all experience, should be judged a political plus.
There is something pre-modern about the Cheney choice. I mean that in the best way. Mr. Bush hasn't chosen a vice president who looks like America, or whose ethnic or religious demography fills some lacuna in a cynical political jigsaw puzzle. Mr. Bush hasn't even selected his presumed political successor. Mr. Cheney's three heart attacks two decades ago might give the public pause if he were president. But the danger of the speaker of the House being only a heartbeat away from the vice presidency is not likely to terrify many American voters.
No, Mr. Bush, apparently, has picked a guy whom he judges to be the person most qualified to be vice president. Mr. Bush wasn't being ingenious, he was being ingenuous, and thereby, after eight years of President Clinton, caught Washington off-guard.
I talked to one political reporter who immediately had two conflicting theories about the selection: Either it showed that Mr. Bush was cocky, and figured he didn't need any help getting elected, or it showed that Mr. Bush was a timorous puppet, being run by his father and his father's executants.
But, beyond such strained demonizing of Mr. Bush, there is a perplexing quality to Mr. Cheney. His place in time is elusive. Although he is only five years older than Mr. Clinton, he was White House chief of staff a quarter-century ago. He was a senior member of the Republican team that successfully fought off Ronald Reagan in the 1976 presidential primary.
He was at the pinnacle of Washington power a half-decade before Mr. Reagan was elected president. Thus, he is very much a pre-Reagan Republican and not just chronologically. But he is, even now, 10 years younger than Mr. Reagan was 20 years ago, on assuming office. And, years after Mr. Reagan retired, Mr. Cheney was leading the Reagan-built U.S. military in war. Has there ever been a vice presidential nominee who was so pre-eminent through so many twists and turns of political fashion for a quarter-century before his nomination?

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