- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

I think it’s time to stop the sniping against Vice President Richard Cheney, the whispered advice heard in Washington that President Bush would be better off if he dropped Mr. Cheney from the ticket and put someone else in his place. There may have been a time when such advice had some relevance, part of normal political debate.

That time has long passed. Unless Mr. Cheney suffers some physical breakdown, highly unlikely, replacing him now would be a sign of White House panic and loss of nerve.

Let’s be very clear: Vice presidential candidates, with rare exceptions, do not affect the outcome of a national election. Voters go to the polls to elect a president, not a vice president. The only time in recent memory when a vice presidential candidate might have affected the outcome of an election was in 1940. That was the year of the so-called “guru letters” written by Henry A. Wallace, whom President Franklin Roosevelt, running for a third term, had forced upon a rebellious Democratic Convention as his running mate to replace John Garner.

Those letters, written by Wallace, contained weird mystical language. If made public during the 1940 campaign, they might well have secured the election of Wendell Willkie, FDR’s Republican opponent. The Republican Party obtained those letters and were ready to make them public when Willkie nixed the idea. He feared the Democrats might retaliate by exposing his longtime liaison with the colorful Irita Van Doren, then editor of the New York Herald Tribune Book Review.

FDR was re-elected, but he took no chances when he decided to run for a fourth term: He replaced Wallace with Harry Truman as his vice presidential candidate.

Mr. Cheney, 63, deserves support for his record as a public servant, as a leader of the Republican Party and as a successful businessman. Few can match that record, starting in 1969 when he served in the Nixon White House.

When Gerald Ford assumed the presidency in August 1974, Mr. Cheney became White House chief of staff. He returned to his home state of Wyoming when Jimmy Carter defeated Mr. Ford in 1976. Mr. Cheney then was elected as the state’s sole member of the House of Representatives. He was re-elected five times.

Appointed defense secretary by the elder President Bush, he served from March 1989 to January 1993. Had George Bush (President No. 41) listened to Mr. Cheney during the first Gulf war, Operation Desert Storm, his son George W. Bush (43) wouldn’t have had Saddam Hussein to deal with.

In 1991, Mr. Cheney approved a proposal by Assistant Defense Secretary Henry Rowen to make an “Inchon” assault on Baghdad. But for some reason, President Bush (41) ignored Mr. Cheney’s advice, and the biblical injunction about visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children came to pass a decade later with the second Gulf war and its dire consequences.

The best reason to keep Mr. Cheney on the ticket is that he will shine in the coming debate with Mr. Kerry’s vice presidential nominee, whoever he or she (Hillary Clinton?) is. And it’s going to be a dirty campaign, led by Mr. Kerry.

We’ve gotten a taste of Mr. Kerry’s smear language against President Bush and the Republican Party: “These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group of people I’ve ever seen.” Imagine if President Bush had used similar language against Mr. Kerry and the Democratic Party.

But it is not merely as a debater Mr. Cheney is invaluable as a vice presidential candidate. He has another asset: His wife, Lynne Cheney, has been leading the fight to rescue the American university from falling further into the hands of the academic left, whose votaries now rule the social sciences, especially history, on major American campuses.

As chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1986 to 1993, Mrs. Cheney published “American Memory,” a report warning about the failure of schools to transmit knowledge of the past to upcoming generations.

Mrs. Cheney wrote: “A system of education that fails to nurture memory of the past denies its students a great deal: the satisfactions of mature thought, an attachment to abiding concerns, a perspective on human existence.”

The Cheneys, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this year, are a remarkable team. All the more reason to ensure Vice President Cheney’s continued incumbency.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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