Sunday, July 30, 2000

Cheney's health beside the point in Bush dynasty

        We can't quite understand the fuss this week over the health of Richard Cheney, the former defense secretary who is now George W. Bush's running mate.

        We heard some perfectly reasonable people question whether a 59-year-old man who has had three mild heart attacks and quadruple bypass surgery was fit to be vice president of the United States.

        How fit do you have to be to be vice president?

        Anyone who could fog a mirror would do the trick.

        There is only one constitutional duty of the office — presiding over the Senate — and vice presidents delegate that chore nearly all of the time.

        Now, the trick is, vice presidents have this annoying habit of becoming presidents — five of the last 10 presidents have had that job.

        So, presumably, if you are president, you would like your vice president to be physically and mentally able to take over should you not make it through your four years.

        And, if your vice president is a particularly good pal of yours — as Al Gore is to Bill Clinton — you want him to be fit and ready to run for president himself when you are through.

        George W. Bush picked his running mate with the full knowledge of what his father went through 12 years ago. Bush the Elder tapped a tow-headed little fellow from Indiana to be vice president.

        The choice of Dan Quayle accomplished two things. First, it created vast new opportunities in the field of late-night comedy writing. Secondly, it convinced many Americans of the wisdom of dropping to their knees every night to pray for the health of the president.

        Bush the Younger wasn't going down that road. He has his own problem with that gravitas thing, so he needed a grown-up on the ticket.

        A sensible, balding, four- eyed, somewhat pudgy guy in a suit who can spell and won't pick fights with fictional TV characters, such as some vice presidents we could name. That's what Dubya needed, and that's what he got.

        The Democrats immediately started shooting at Mr. Cheney's voting record in Congress, citing his strong anti-abortion stance and his anti-environment, pro-business record.

        Note that you did not hear Mr. Gore himself popping off much about this. Mr. Gore, of course, used to be in Congress, too, and he was not always the pro-choice tree-hugger whom Democrats have grown to love.

        Pro-choice tree-huggers, you see, don't often get elected in Tennessee.

        But regardless of what the Democrats say about Mr. Cheney's voting record, the Bush campaign will continue to paint the choice as one that is not about politics but about governing — that Mr. Bush decided Mr. Cheney was the man in the party best prepared to become president should need be.

        Mr. Bush no doubt believes that, but that is probably not the only reason Mr. Cheney was cho sen.

        Dubya was not about to pick a running mate who would sit in the vice president's chair for eight years and then up and run for president.

        There are Bushes still to come.

        The scenario is this:

        Dubya serves for eight years. They get out the chisels and start carving a spot on Mount Rushmore. Then brother Jeb, governor of Florida, gets his eight years. Move over Teddy; there's more chiseling to be done. Then, what the heck, eight years for Jeb's boy, George P. Find a new mountainside in the Black Hills.

        Dick Cheney, with his heart attacks and bypasses and lifetime membership in the Bush Fan Club, is not going to mess up that plan.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics. He can be reached at (513) 768-8388 or via e-mail at

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