- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2000

George W. Bush has said over and over that his two most important considerations in selecting a running mate would be his (or her) qualifications to assume the presidency at a moment's notice and the extent to which a candidate's experience, political and otherwise, would help a president govern. "There's been the time in the past where people, competent people, said, 'Well, let's just pick the vice president," Mr. Bush recounted the other night to CNN's Larry King, in what was clearly a reference to the Democratic tickets of Kennedy-Johnson in 1960 and Mondale-Ferraro in 1984 and some Republican tickets as well. "Don't worry, we'll dump him once we get elected. In other words, use the person for the election vehicle. I'm not going to do that."

And, indeed, he has not. In naming Dick Cheney as his running mate, Mr. Bush demonstrated that he meant what he has been saying. Mr. Cheney is an excellent choice. He exquisitely meets Mr. Bush's two most important qualifications. Who can rationally argue that Mr. Cheney is not qualified to be the president of the United States? Mr. Cheney has had a distinguished, varied and successful career in both politics and private business, making him eminently valuable to Mr. Bush in running the government.

Mr. Cheney, 59, served as White House chief of staff under President Ford at 34 years old, the youngest chief of staff in history. Afterwards, he returned home to Wyoming, where he was elected six times to the U.S. House of Representatives. There, he compiled a strikingly conservative record working on behalf of the Reagan administration. After only his first term, his Republican colleagues elevated him to their fourth-ranking leadership position. At the end of his fifth term, he was elected minority whip, the second-ranking party position. Shortly afterwards, President Bush chose Mr. Cheney for defense secretary, a position in which he helped prepare, coordinate and manage the successful Persian Gulf War. He retired from government in 1993 and became an author and think tank scholar. Since 1995 he has been chief executive officer of Halliburton Co., a Dallas-based, oil-service and construction firm with more than $15 billion in annual sales and more than 100,000 employees. By any standard, an impressive resume.

Mr. Cheney's health raises legitimate questions. He has had three mild heart attacks, the last in 1988, after which he underwent quadruple bypass surgery. But cardiologists, his own and others, have offered assurances that Mr. Cheney should be able to withstand a rigorous campaign, and there is no reason to question the judgment of the professionals. Those who argue otherwise might accompany him on one of his overnight hikes in the mountains. Mr. Cheney leads a vigorous life, both physically and intellectually.

The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Cheney's extensive defense and foreign policy experience adds a sense of "gravitas" to Mr. Bush's candidacy. The view here is that this is true, but the positions Mr. Bush has enunciated on defense and foreign policy issues, from his endorsement of a sea-based missile defense system to his pledge to rebuild other military capabilities, reveal the Texas governor to have "gravitas" of his own, and it's worth recalling that Ronald Reagan was also a two-term governor with little foreign policy experience. He won the Cold War and peacefully dismembered the Evil Empire.

In the end, as the record amply confirms, Americans vote for the man at the top of the ticket. Lloyd Bentsen, one of the most well-received vice presidential candidates in recent decades, could not save Michael Dukakis in 1988; the widely disparaged vice presidential choice of Dan Quayle did not prevent the election of Mr. Bush's father.

Mr. Bush obviously believes he will be the next president. In selecting Mr. Cheney as his running mate, he did not seek an advantage in a particularly important state up for grabs Wyoming has all of three electoral votes. Nor did he look for help in attracting the votes of an important interest group not already his although conservatives should be impressed with Mr. Cheney's record. What Mr. Bush did was bring on board a man who, assuming Mr. Bush wins the presidency, will almost certainly make his biggest contributions after Mr. Bush enters the White House. In doing so, Mr. Bush has demonstrated how seriously he will pursue the mandate to govern he is seeking.

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