Cheney: Competence, Not Charisma

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After a moment of silence for the Concorde victims, George W. Bush got right to it: "I believe you're looking at the next vice president of the United States." The Austin crowd whooped and Richard P. Cheney smiled a shy smile.

"I didn't pick Dick Cheney because of Wyoming's three electoral votes," Bush quipped, taking a preemptive poke at Gore. Cheney got the nod, Bush said, because the longtime pol would make an able backup and "a valuable partner" in a Bush administration. Message: This guy will be a heavy hitter, not a potted plant. It's about competence, not charisma. Even his wife, Lynn Cheney, was welcomed as an education reformer.

Cheney himself was the picture of semi-jocular humility, and looking very much at ease in his new role as the quiet, smart guy to Bush's grinning front man. The former chief of staff, congressman, defense secretary and oilman didn't thrill folks with his speech, keeping it short and slightly aw-shucks, but showed no fear whatsoever. He did look a generation older than his running mate — the classic middle-aged white guy with a paunch — and no one mentioned Cheney's faulty ticker. For Bush, he's a throwback to another Washington, when men were tight-lipped and professional about things, when folks argued less and got more things done, when Republicans didn't use hair-dryers. At least that's the idea.

Democrats wasted little time in casting Cheney as an old-fogey conservative, a "nice man," in Barbara Boxer's words, who was nevertheless out of touch with mainstream American politics. Gore surrogates called Cheney a "blast from the past" and will take aim at Cheney's right-wing ideological footprint — while the new Bush ticket will do its best to smile and ignore such talk. They're grown-ups now.

In the back-and-forth recollections of their courtship — Bush beamed when he recalled the moment he realized "the person most qualified to be the vice presidential nominee was the man working by my side" — the two men sounded like they would live happily ever after.

George W. Bush calls this "renewing America's purpose," like the sign above him said. In selecting Cheney, he will face suspicions that he means merely to restore the Bush family's version of it.