OK, Al — If It's Cheney, Who Do You Love?

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Al Gore's chameleon skin must be breaking out. Now that George W. Bush has announced Tuesday that Dick Cheney is to be his presidential life partner — and he is striking a squinty, horizonward-gaze sort of pose — he will give Al Gore all the choices he can dream of. Maybe more choices than Al Gore is comfortable with.

He can wait two weeks at least, let the Cheney introduction play out in the press and watch Philadelphia on cable TV. See who salutes, and measure the bounce that the Bush-Cheney ticket — a dreamy promise of a return to the Bush family's salad days — gets in the polls. Average is 6-10 percent, anything more or less will throw Gore into a paroxysm of calculation.

But it shouldn't. Gore is looking through his sights at a ticket that is defiantly not improved, just rounded out a bit. The Bush camp is saying that George W. Bush is enough, and that the Cheney choice just puts a slight emphasis on the Bush part of the ticket. That emphasis may turn some people off; it will inspire others. Some it will bore.

So Gore has an opportunity to make his own statement against a gray backdrop. He'll have the spotlight, and he'll have to show us his moves. He can match greybeards with George Mitchell; he can gamble on Florida with Bob Graham; he can clone his better self with Evan Bayh. He could even get weird with Warren Christopher. He'd be risking it with a woman, because this is still a country that elects men to its highest office. Would he drop a bomb like Jesse Ventura, thinking he could harness him? Maybe he'll convince natty banker Robert Rubin to live off his book deal for a few years.

But does anyone with a better job really want to work for Al Gore for what could be eight years and change? We can barely stand to look at him now, not with any aesthetic pleasure. This person would be a heartbeat away from Al's own quickening pulse. This person would have to think that was a good thing.

Rubin might like the profile a little, but he wouldn't have much tinkering to do as veep. He'd be miserable sitting on his hands. Evan Bayh would be thrilled, and Bob Graham would be pleased as punch — how much do senators really do anyway? Either gives Gore a shot at a state he'd love to steal, and he could be offering voters the future, not the past. It would be a Gore-owned ticket, a sign he is the top man now, and then Gore could at least know what America really thought of him.

But Gore doesn't like that idea — it's too personal. He doesn't care which of the many faces of Gore gets elected, as long as one of them does. The danger for him now is that he'll have too long to think: more than a week until the GOP lovefest lets out, more than two until Los Angeles. That's his window, and he'll be tempted to jump in as soon as he can. But with the Bush announcement more of a thud than a bang, Gore can also take his time, wait until the week before L.A., and step up into the spotlight as the Al Gore he truly is.

That brave man would be truly deserving of consideration, standing tall with his own vice president at his side. But somehow, it just doesn't sound like the Al Gore we know.