Over the past month both parties have been putting the finishing touches to their campaigns and as I write the Democrats are about to unveil their message for the fall. The line-ups are complete
with Bush-Cheney versus Gore-Lieberman, and the campaigns are revving up to kick into first gear for the final stage. At last the end is in sight
of what has seemed such a long campaign, and, most importantly, voters will hopefully be listening.
For months pundits have been speculating over the selection of the vice-presidential candidates, with the political gossip sheets carrying sections on the ‘veepstakes’. Such talk is known as ‘inside baseball’ – a discussion that is
only of interest to the politicos. The veepstakes are often conversations focusing on lists of lesser-known politicians for a traditionally powerless position. Al Gore has been something of an exception as a vice president with real input into
the Clinton Administration’s policies.
While the talk of vice-presidential candidates gives politicos a chance to showcase their skills in punditry, its importance to the outcome of the election may be overestimated. Since John Kennedy selected Lyndon Johnson, people have talked
about balancing the ticket, in that case geographically, or politically. This school of thought sees the running mate as bringing to the table the qualities the presidential candidate lacks – the balancing part. Yet when Bill Clinton chose Al
Gore, he enhanced, rather than balanced, the President’s positions – both were centrist New Democrats from southern states. While the running mate can sometimes have an impact on the race, as Johnson did, don’t assume this to be the norm.
Bush Plays ‘Safe’ But Steps To The Right
As the sweepstakes and gossip went on, George W. Bush asked one of his father’s trusted aides, Dick Cheney, to oversee and vet the selection process for the vice-presidential candidate. Cheney’s job was to interview and evaluate all the
potential running mates for their suitability. After searching through all the Republican’s rising stars, safest hands, and elder statesmen, Cheney found one man whose talents stood head and shoulders above the rest – himself. Bush must be
thankful that such an independent third party handled the selection process so objectively.
After all the speculation, what do the polls say Cheney will do for Bush’s chances? Absolutely nothing. That’s right, there’s nothing to suggest that Cheney’s appearance on the ticket will either win or lose any votes for the GOP. That’s what the commentators over here describe as a ‘safe’ choice. Like Bush, Cheney has been based in Texas and will register as a resident of Wyoming to fulfill the constitutional requirement that the
president and vice president don’t come from the same state. Cheney also has strong ties to the oil industry, where Bush and his father made their fortunes.
Despite this, there are ways that Cheney’s selection balances the Bush ticket. While no one can be entirely sure where Bush’s political heart lies, Cheney brings clarity to the ticket. As soon as his selection was announced, Democrats
pounced on his voting record. Between 1978 and his appointment as Defense Secretary in 1989, he sat in the House of Representatives. In this decade, Cheney voted against the creation of the Department of
Education, voted against Head Start (the early education program), and voted against the Clean Water Act (a landmark piece of environmental legislation supported by most Republicans). Such a record puts Cheney to the right of Ronald Reagan and
Newt Gingrich, a far cry from the compassionate conservatism Bush has been promising.
Bush’s choice of Cheney sends out a clear message of loyalty to the GOP’s hardcore. And if this is who he picks for vice president, think who he will pick for the Supreme Court – a decision that could well result in Roe v. Wade being
overturned, and give states the constitutional authority to ban abortions.
The choice of Cheney is also significant in reinforcing Bush’s image as a daddy’s boy. Cheney was a senior member of President Bush’s Cabinet. With Bush Jr. being portrayed as boyish and immature, his choice of running mate adds a
grownup to the ticket. Yet it does provide a genuine advantage by bringing his experience to the table. While the GOP has invested much in marketing their candidate as someone brought up outside Washington, he has a serious vulnerability in
having one of the thinnest political resumes of a presidential candidate – a weakness counterbalanced by Cheney who served as President Ford’s Chief of Staff back in the mid-seventies.
Cheney’s selection also raises questions of the candidate’s health. Cheney has already suffered three heart attacks, and there is some speculation as to whether he is up to the pressures of high office.
In short, the choice of Cheney is safe. He is known by his party, well respected, and has a proven track record. On the downside he is a throwback to the Bush Administration’s past, his health is questionable and most importantly he sends
out a clear signal that Bush’s sympathies lie with the right wing core of the Republicans.