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Jewish World Review July 27, 2000 / 24 Tamuz, 5760

George Will

George Will
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. . . Both Radical and Reassuring -- GEORGE W. BUSH burnished his credentials as presidential material by making a vice presidential selection sure to elicit the judgment that his running mate is more qualified than he is to be president. That judgment was predictable because it is indisputable. It speaks well of Bush's character and confidence that he does not care.

Two years ago, probably at least a plurality among thoughtful Republicans believed that Dick Cheney would be the best president the party could produce in this cycle. But you cannot steal first base, and you cannot become president without the political strengths, including family assets, that Bush brought in crushing abundance to the nomination contest.

Now, in the first decision he has made with much of the country actually paying attention (perhaps paying attention for the last time until after the Olympics end on Oct. 1), Bush has done something simultaneously reassuring and radical. The choice of Cheney reassuringly confirms the impression that Bush (like Reagan) is someone who recognizes quality, and is comfortable around people more experienced and, in their areas of expertise, more able than he. The choice of Cheney is radical because of the rarity--can you think of a comparable one?--of a vice presidential selection based so much on merit.

Gore, in the whatever-it-takes spirit that has caused him to adopt serial identities (Alpha Male Al, Earth Tones Al, Populist Al, etc.), may make a purely tactical choice, picking a running mate entirely for the difficulty it causes Bush in the quest for 270 electoral votes. Bush seems convinced that California, which has one-fifth of 270 votes (54), and which his father in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996 did not seriously contest, is winnable. Gore cannot get to 270 without California, so he might try to take it out of play by picking Gov. Gray Davis, the only man on the planet so programmed he makes Gore seem the soul of authenticity. Or if Gore's polls show Florida (25 electoral votes) winnable, he may pick Sen. (and former governor) Bob Graham, thereby making Bush burn up resources (time, money) that could better be spent in the "Jersey City to Kansas City" belt where the election is apt to be decided.

Either choice would be, like the chooser, crashingly conventional. And either would underscore the novelty of Bush's choice, the first ever of a running mate whose state (Wyoming, which Bush could not lose if he tried to) has the minimum three electoral votes.

Bush is, and will be until the polls close on Nov. 7, a somewhat vulnerable candidate because there still hovers over him a cloud of the country's gathered doubts about his gravitas. These doubts can be drawn down like a cloudburst of acid rain by minor mistakes that the media will eagerly magnify. But if there can be derivative gravitas--seriousness by association--these doubts have been lessened by Bush's choice of Cheney.

During the Reagan and Bush administrations Cheney's wife, Lynne, was a superb chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, where she was an astringent critic of the dumbing down and political corruption of culture, especially in higher education. But her husband's demeanor--that of a librarian in need of a nap--will complicate Al Gore's only authentic campaign style--fright-mongering about Bush's candidacy being a vehicle for various extremisms.

Furthermore, Bush's choice of Cheney should give Gore pause if, as has been depressingly (because plausibly) reported, he is seriously contemplating trying to purchase Illinois' 22 electoral votes by offering to put Dick Durbin, that state's comprehensively undistinguished senator, a heartbeat away from Lincoln's chair. C-Span viewers know Durbin as an indefatigably partisan debater, and so he is, perhaps, a born vice presidential nominee. But Gore cannot relish the thought of the contrast between Durbin and Cheney on the same stage.

By anointing Cheney this week, Bush drained his convention of the only drama contemporary conventions have. Long ago, when extravagant political rhetoric was in season, a convention was an occasion for a party to loosen its corset and ladle on praise of the nominee. A convention presented its hero as the master of the tides and cause of bumper crops--a complex man of many layers, like an artichoke, with a scrumptious heart. Such bloviation has gone out of fashion, so perhaps we will be spared attempts to portray Bush as other than what his choice of Cheney confirms that he is--a competent, decisive executive who has risen in the family trade (politics), and who has a gift for finding good help.

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