Add It All Up, and Cheney Is a Good Choice

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How do we spin Dick Cheney?

A pro-Bush interpretation says the choice of Cheney sends a signal of interesting self-confidence. Cheney is the choice of a candidate focused not on running for president but on governing after he wins. Cheney serves no ideological or geographic function on the ticket. But in the basic constitutional way, he is an ideal vice president — a manifestly able man qualified to be interim president should something happen to President George W. Bush.

An anti-Bush interpretation says the choice is too safe, and may even emanate from the candidate's father — Dad sending along his old vizier to keep the kid out of trouble.

  • Pro-Bush: The choice of Cheney strengthens the argument that even though George W. himself may not be widely experienced or knowledgeable, he has the good judgment to select sound people to work with him. This is a solid, low-anxiety choice (no devious political calculations in the decision, no faction-pleasing, no cunning) that reflects well upon W.'s leadership quality.

  • Anti-Bush: George W. didn't have the courage to select a controversial running mate, like the pro-choice governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, or the popular loose-cannon independent, John McCain.

  • Sympathetic to Bush: The choice plays the generational theme with subtlety. Cheney, an unflashy choice, is, first of all, a grownup. He adds maturity to the Republican ticket without making George W. Bush himself seem immature. (If W. does not seem an entirely persuasive grownup himself, by the way, it is startling to remember that , at 54, he is more than a decade older than John Kennedy was in 1960). Cheney signs on as a slightly older retainer, but not as a father figure — he's only 59 — who might make the presidential candidate seem callow. He is what a vice president ought to be — first-rate standby equipment.

    Yet Cheney is also a connection to the past, to Bush the Father's administration. The choice means to suggest a reassuring continuity that was interrupted for eight years by the (it is to be inferred) adolescent regime of Bill Clinton. Prince W., running with one of his father's old chamberlains, gambles on the attraction of the logic of restoration — the reassertion of a disrupted order.

  • Unsympathetic to Bush: One of the reasons that Bush the Elder lost in 1992 is that his administration was intellectually sclerotic — after 12 years in power, the Republican White House not only had no new ideas, it scarcely had a capacity to think at all. The presidency had become a Republican entitlement, a fat city country club. Who wants a restoration of that? Both Gore and Bush invite dynastic metaphors: Gore represents continuation of the House of Clinton. In choosing Cheney, W. implies the restoration of the House of the Georges, the status quo ante, a return to the land as it was before the time of Gennifer Flowers and Monica Lewinsky, though without the recession that ousted Bush the Father. Bush's choice of Cheney thus gives to the dynastic implication a light flavoring of revenge, of vindication.

    On the whole, I think Cheney is a smart choice for Bush.

    Too dull? A virtue, I'd say. See maturity, above. Cheney does have the disadvantage of not being John McCain. On the other hand, he has the virtue of not being John McCain.

    Cheney carries no cumbersome baggage. He does not distract attention from the top of the ticket but rather augments it solidly. He keeps the Republican conservatives happy without offending the moderates. He does raise the question of whether a man a heartbeat away from the presidency should be expected to have an entirely reliable heart. Cheney has had three infarctions. But they were a long time ago.

    One of the curious charms of Cheney is that he is not, as vice presidential choices sometimes are, a question mark. George W.'s father in 1988 gambled on what he hoped would be an attractive unknown, Dan Quayle.

    A little too much is made of running mate choices anyway. The best thing about Dick Cheney is that he puts the vice presidency into perspective by being neither intriguing nor upsetting. You don't want your spare tire to be too fascinating. And you don't want him to be in business for himself.

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