Cheney's political dowry


WHY WOULD George W. Bush choose a nondescript oil executive with little charisma and a political base in vote-poor Wyoming to be his running mate?

Because Richard B. Cheney shores up Governor Bush's conservative base. Because he's got a resume that strengthens the Bush ticket where the governor is weak. Because he should reassure voters about the Republican team's ability, if elected, to run the country.

Mr. Cheney, 59, is an ideal No. 2. His record in Washington as a political insider -- chief of staff under President Gerald Ford, high-ranking congressman for 12 years and defense secretary under George Bush the elder -- reeks of competence but also of loyalty.

He was a popular and pragmatic politician on Capitol Hill. As defense chief, he proved an aggressive leader, especially in the Persian Gulf war.

Mr. Cheney bridges the generation gap between Mr. Bush and those who supported his father's campaign.

Still, Mr. Cheney could have some questions to answer. He was a down-the-line conservative in Congress with a near-perfect voting record in ratings compiled by conservative interest groups.

He voted against abortion rights, gun control and the equal rights amendment. Inexcusably, he was a staunch defender of Ronald Reagan during the Iran-contra scandal.

Mr. Cheney decried the lack of a military build-up under Jimmy Carter, supported the enlarged defense budget in the Reagan years and continued to worry about military preparedness after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Yet this defense hawk, who presided over the Persian Gulf war, was a Vietnam-era draft-dodger, not unlike President Clinton, who received five deferments during the Southeast Asia conflict. How will he reconcile this during the upcoming campaign?

In a close race, a running mate can make a difference. On balance, Mr. Cheney's expertise in foreign affairs and the military, in congressional relations and in managing the White House, should be a decided plus for Republicans.

Mr. Bush has put the pressure on presumptive Democratic nominee Al Gore -- who should know as well as anyone the importance of the No. 2 job.

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