Archive for Thursday, July 27, 2000

Choice of Chaney ties Bush campaign to father’s past

July 27, 2000


— Keep in mind that car ad, "This isn't your father's Oldsmobile." You may see George W. Bush doing his spin on the auto TV commercial.

Let's go to the tape ...

Cheney would be a deferential second banana no leaks, no public sniping, part of the Oval Office wallpaper.

Bush the Younger: "Honest, folks, this won't be my father's administration. We're breaking with the past. Tell 'em, Dad."

Bush the Elder: "Son, I'm outta here, hands off. This is a new, fresh start. Yes, sir, folks, this boy is on his own."

That pitch would be a tough sell.

With the unveiling of Dick Cheney as his running mate, Dubya places his political fate for better or worse in the shadow of his ex-president father.

Anyone who doubts the "Father Knows Best" scenario that Bush Senior counseled Bush Junior and subtly campaigned for Cheney is naive about the Bush clan's tight-knit clubbiness.

Without being privy to father-son conversations, I can guess at the dialogue ...

Senior: "George, pick somebody who won't hurt you. No problems to pop up later. Get a guy you can depend on when the going's rough. Wouldn't hurt to have someone with gray in his hair, who knows how Washington works, who's been in a crisis maybe dull, but mature."

Junior: "But Dad, you picked Dan Quayle."

Senior: "Uh, that makes my case."

Junior: "Well, Colin Powell turned me down and John McCain's playing games and the rest of these guys, I dunno ..."

Senior: (whispering) "Cheney, son. Take a look at Dick."

After all, Bush Senior has been chummy with Dick Cheney through his reincarnations Jerry Ford's chief of staff, congressman, secretary of defense in the Gulf War. He's Cheney's No. 1 fan.

No surprise when Bush Junior fretted about Cheney's three heart attacks and multiple bypass, Bush Senior had Dr. Denton Cooley, his heart-surgeon friend, offer reassurance.

OK, nothing sinister about an ex-presidential poppa nudging his son's veep pick. But George Senior's role revives nagging doubts about Dubya's maturity, independence and readiness for the Big Job.

At the first sign of trouble, will Dubya make a nervous call to the Bush compound: "Dad, the bad guys" North Korea, Iraq or Iran "are on the move. Quick, what do I do?" (Bush Senior: "Ask Dick.")

Bush & Co. are on solid ground defending Cheney's attributes: experienced, decent, conservative, level-headed, smart, plays well with others. All true.

Cheney would be a deferential second banana no leaks, no public sniping, part of the Oval Office wallpaper.

But I'm skeptical when Cheney's lauded as a "safe" choice.

Unlike Powell, McCain or Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge, Cheney brings zero electricity to the GOP ticket. No big-state boost, no appeal to vital independent voters.

The problem is generational is Bush signaling that his millennial presidency would be a U-turn into the past?

Who among the old Bush gang makes the next comeback? After Cheney, will Dubya bring back Jim Baker, Dick Darman, Brent Scowcroft, Nicholas Brady, John Sununu, Marlin Fitzwater?

Sure, Bush Senior is nostalgically popular (74 percent). But with Cheney at his side, Dubya reignites memories of the early 1990s sour economy and lost jobs that lost his father the White House.

Dubya must be sensitive to charges he's his daddy's puppet although his biography shows he's followed Bush Senior slavishly from Yale to jet pilot to Texas oil. After George Senior in the 2000 primaries was videotaped gushing, "This boy will never let you down," he discreetly vanished.

Maybe Dubya should emulate John Quincy Adams (1824), who kept his ex-presidential father, John, out of the limelight in Braintree, Mass., dashing off prickly letters of advice. Confine George Senior to e-mail.

True, Dick Cheney's no disaster as a running mate. He shows Dubya is serious about governing. Cheney wins instant approval of the Republican right. He's scandal-free. His gravitas and resume gives Dubya solidity.

But when Republicans mob Philadelphia to trumpet their slogans for the future, Bush seems to hit reverse gear Cheney has a whiff of the attic, a dusty artifact from Nixon/Reagan/Bush eras.

Doesn't matter how many medical experts assure us about Cheney's health just as they did about Bill Bradley's arrhythmia. Cheney's heart attacks and age (59) reinforce the image of a Golden Oldie resurrected. "The heart issue," warns pollster John Zogby, "is a big deal."

Predictably, Al Gore will remind us that Bush and Cheney are Texas oilmen. If gas or fuel prices climb, they'll be targeted as the "All for Oil" ticket or "Texaco Tandem." Cheney, who made $1.92 million a year from Halliburton Corp., can cash his oil-equipment stock for $45 million.

Is this what Dubya needed in a running mate a rich, aging oil CEO with heart problems and zero campaign magnetism?

Yep, Dick Cheney is your father's Oldsmobile. Nice, quiet, comfortable ride.

But when Dubya hits the accelerator, where's the zoom?

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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