July 25, 2000
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This morning's New York Times declares in a news story -- not an editorial, a news story -- that by selecting Richard Cheney as his running mate, Governor George W. Bush "made a risk-free and respectable choice."
Hello? Agree or disagree with the choice of Mr. Cheney, it is certainly not risk-free. Here are some of the more obvious risks:
Mr. Cheney had a student deferment and then a parent deferment from military service during the Vietnam War, according to Colin Powell's memoir "My American Journey." Since Governor Bush was in the Air National Guard, the Cheney choice sets up Vice President Gore, who was in Vietnam, to pick another Vietnam veteran as his running mate. Then the Democrats would be running two Vietnam vets against two Republicans who did not serve in Indochina.
Mr. Cheney is the chief executive of a big oil-related company, Halliburton, that does business in all sorts of dictatorships. Press reports last year said that the company was even trying to get approval to operate in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Does Governor Bush really want months of press stories in which reporters probe every deal Halliburton ever made in every two-bit desert country? Picking an energy company executive as running mate also makes it harder for Governor Bush to attack Mr. Gore for Mr. Gore's own ties to Occidental Petroleum.
Mr. Cheney was on a committee for an Arab charity event in Washington that invited virtually the entire diplomatic corps but excluded Israeli representatives. After the Jewish weekly the Forward reported on the event earlier this year, other members of the event committee, including Hillary Clinton and Senator Daschle, publicly distanced themselves from the charity event and its policy of excluding Israel. Mr. Cheney declined to do so. This may only reinforce doubts about the Bush ticket among Jewish voters who still remember President Bush's record of defying the pro-Israel lobby.
Mr. Cheney's personality lacks personal warmth, at least according to one account. Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff while Mr. Cheney was defense secretary, writes that "He and I had never, in nearly four years, spent a single purely social hour together." And when General Powell went up to Mr. Cheney's office to say goodbye at the end of the Bush admistration, General Powell found only Mr. Cheney's secretary standing among boxes. "I was disappointed, even hurt, but not surprised," General Powell wrote. "The lone cowboy had gone off into the sunset without even a last 'So long.'"
Finally, the one risk that even the Times has taken note of, which is Mr. Cheney's heart. He had a bypass operation in 1988. Those bypasses are usually good for about 10 years, which presents the risk that his ticker starts acting up mid-campaign.
All of this is not to suggest there is a better choice out there for Governor Bush than Mr. Cheney, or even that he wouldn't be a fine vice president. It is to suggest, however, that the Times might share some of the Cheney drawbacks with its readers before the selection is officially announced, and that the words "risk-free" be avoided when describing the pick. In politics, almost nothing is risk free.
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