The Green Papers Commentary

Richard B. Cheney as the Republican vice-presidential candidate
Tuesday, July 25, 2000

"The Green Papers" Staff

Picture this scenario, if you will: the presidential candidate has had political experience as a Governor of one of the larger of the American States; he is running his campaign for the Presidency very much as a "Washington outsider". Yet, to offset any charges leveled by his opponents as to his lack of experience in the ways of "inside the Beltway", he chooses- as his vice-presidential candidate- a man who knows Washington very well: the new running mate is a bit of a policy wonk with some experience in elective politics by having served for a time in Congress but with most of his practical political experience due to his having served previous Republican Administrations in various appointive positions. Yet the running mate is not someone who will detract significantly from the presidential candidate's own "it's time for a change"/"throw the bums out" message.

Former Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney's role as George W. Bush's running mate? No. Try Governor Bush's own father's resume as he first ran with Ronald Reagan twenty years ago! In short, the Texas Governor has picked, as his running mate, someone who brings to his campaign- albeit in a somewhat variant manner- what George Bush the father once brought to the campaigns of "the Gipper". And this appears to be no accident.

I want to note up front that I do not think the choice of Dick Cheney hurts the Bush campaign in any significant way. The only possible negative of the "sound bite" variety might- down the road- be the issue of Cheney's health, only because of his history of heart problems. But this is highly unlikely: Cheney had the same health issues when he was first appointed Secretary of Defense in the Administration of George Bush the father, clearly a highly taxing job (especially when considering that the Gulf War was fought under his watch) and he survived nearly a full four-year term in that rather demanding Cabinet position.

If Cheney were the presidential candidate, it would almost certainly be a much different story, but- for the most part- very little attention has ever been paid to the health of the possible VICE-President: Alben Barkley was elected Vice-President in the Truman victory of 1948 at the age of nearly 71 at a time when that would have been more impressive, given the state of medical technology, than it is today (Barkley would live long enough, in fact, to die once again a Senator from Kentucky); Lyndon Johnson already had had a history of heart attack when he was chosen Vice-President by John F. Kennedy in 1960. Not to be overly ghoulish about it, but both these examples also predated the 25th Amendment which allows for the filling of a vacancy in the Vice Presidency in the course of a Presidential Administration; it is quite possible that the health question, in Cheney's case, is a moot one: or, at least, it SHOULD be!

The only possible long-term negative Cheney might have is that we really don't know just how he will perform on the stump, especially if the race tightens near the end and the vice-presidential candidate has to go into that traditional, but unfortunate, "attack dog" mode; it is one thing to campaign for the at-large House seat from Wyoming a few times, quite another to do the grueling criss-crossing of the country and seemingly endless public speaking jaunts required in the heat of a Fall Presidential Campaign. A Bush (I guess we can now say "Bush/Cheney") supporter shouldn't worry too much about Mr. Cheney's heart; such a supporter should, however, be a tad concerned about Cheney's potential campaign demeanor. But the traditional acceptance speech of the vice-presidential nominee near the end of next week's Convention should give all of us one the first clues about whether or not this will be a potential problem come the Fall.

It is true that Dick Cheney is not the "Ka-POW! sha-ZAMM!!" choice that, say, a Colin Powell would have been: yet, in many ways, Cheney is Colin Powell without the uniform and all those stars and medals. Besides the obvious fact that both were high-up leaders of the "Desert Storm" military campaign- Cheney the civilian equivalent to Powell's military position- Cheney is, like Powell, not unacceptable to the Hard Right of the GOP while, at the same time, not someone who scares the living heebie-jeebies out of the more moderate wing of the Party. In terms of uniting the Republicans, who have- in the last few presidential election cycles-been forced to learn just what it was like to be a Democrat in the century ending with Our Nation's Bicentennial (that is, if you are going to have a "Big Tent", you'd better hire some fairly big bouncers!), Cheney is- by any measure- a good, solid choice.

Yet, at the same time, Cheney is the SAFE choice, the innocuous (though only in the positive sense of that term) choice. No one can point the finger at Governor Bush and waggle it over his choice of running mate the way many could at the Texan's father as regards one J. Danforth Quayle; if the choice of a running mate be viewed (fairly or no) as the first "window" into the decision-making portions of the presidential candidate's mind, no one can truly say that this clearly shows the Texas Governor's inadequacies in that department. By the same token, however, the Bush campaign cannot so easily trot Cheney out as a symbol of George W. Bush's decisiveNESS: this, in the end, turned out not to be a hard decision for the Texan (no matter how hard the selection process leading up to it might have been). We will all now have to wait until the Fall Campaign heats up to get our first real glimpses into how Governor Bush can (or cannot) make hard decisions on the national stage, regardless of his record as Texas' chief executive.

Then again, perhaps our focusing on the Vice-Presidency and who the presidential nominee chooses as his running mate is more than a bit overrated. The negative view- even by many Republicans- of the choice of Dan Quayle didn't hurt George Bush the father much at all as he ran for the White House in the receding shadow of Ronald Reagan in 1988 (though once Reagan's shadow had completely receded four years later, Quayle might have been one- but only one, and a relatively small one at that- of the factors that helped thwart President Bush's re-election bid); on the other hand, Jack Kemp- by all accounts an intelligent and articulate man who could not be accused, the way Quayle was (again, fairly or no), of often lacking political savvy and even good old common sense- did not help Bob Dole in the least in the Kansan's effort to win a job in the Oval Office four years ago.

In the end, there is a singular irony: Dick Cheney was Governor Bush's point man in the vice-presidential running mate selection process; he started out the searcher and ended up becoming the searched for! Obviously, Governor Bush chose Cheney primarily (or, at least, one would hope!) because he became comfortable working with him as the search for a running mate went on: ticket balancing and geographical political considerations be damned!! What does this "running mate choice based on comfort level" remind one of? Another Governor, Bill Clinton, eight years ago choosing a Senator from the State next door... some guy named Al Gore! How ironic!!

And speaking of Al Gore: now the ball is squarely in the Vice-President's court and it will be very interesting to see how the Democratic nominee-presumptive responds. The conventional wisdom was that both presidential nominees should pick someone from the Middle Atlantic into Great Lakes "Rust Belt" which will be one of the key Electoral Vote battlegrounds come the General Election (as if it is hardly ever thus!): this was why we heard the names of such Republicans as Ohio Senator George Voinovich and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge and why we have also heard (and continue to hear) the names of such Democrats as Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as potential members of their respective Parties' National tickets. But now the Texas Governor has- as has actually proven to be much more common when it comes to selection of a running mate- bucked that very conventional wisdom with HIS choice.

That salient fact opens a potential opportunity- as well as a potential minefield- for the Vice President: Al Gore no longer has to follow the conventional wisdom (assuming- as we do not yet know- he was going to all along anyway)... but, on the down side, Al Gore no longer has to follow the conventional wisdom. Put another way, Gore will- over the next few days and weeks- be under great pressure from among many elements (primarily among special interest groups) within the Democratic Party to make the "Ka-POW! Sha-ZAMM!!" choice George W. Bush did NOT make (though to be honest with all of you reading this, I do not see a Democratic equivalent of, say, a Colin Powell out there right now... which actually might be to the Vice-President's advantage and keep him from going TOO "over the top" regarding his own choice of vice-presidential candidate): that is, the Vice-President will be pressed (and hard, too!) to choose a woman, an ethnic minority, a religious minority as his running mate: something seemingly symbolic of the message "Dick Cheney's old GOP guard... we Democrats are for change".

But whomsoever he chooses, it is Al Gore's turn in the unrelenting, unforgiving glare of the so-called "VeepStakes" and- as with the Texas Governor- whom the Vice-President DOES choose will be a first sign (symbolic though it may be) as to his own decision-making ability. Only once the Democratic vice-presidential candidate becomes known will we be able to make the comparisons needed to fully assess George W. Bush's choice of Dick Cheney: as a result, it is still a bit premature- as well as more than a little unfair (to both major parties' nominee-presumptives)- to discuss the impact of the Republican vice-presidential candidacy of Richard Bruce Cheney on Election 2000 much further than I already have.

I will, instead, close this Commentary with a few words about some misinformation which was passed around by many in the mainstream media as we watched the slow, but now- apparently- inexorable, choice of Dick Cheney as Governor Bush's running mate over this past weekend: the first stirrings of a faint notion that Cheney was, in fact, a likely choice as the GOP vice-presidential candidate came when it was widely reported that the former Defense Secretary had changed his voter registration back to Wyoming from his most recent residence in Texas (which- of course- is also George W. Bush's home state) "in order to avoid the Constitutional prohibition against two candidates on the National ticket being from the same State".

Since it is one of the missions of "The Green Papers" not only to educate those who access the site about even the most arcane (perhaps, at times, admittedly trivial) aspects of the American Political Process but to clarify and, if necessary, correct misinterpretations and misunderstandings regarding the all-important "rules of the game" (recall that- as per the site's "Mission Statement"- we do feel that Politics IS Sport!), let me just say- if only for the record- that NO SUCH CONSTITUTIONAL PROHIBITION EXISTS!!

The opening phrase of the 12th Amendment reads as follows:

"The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves..."

Since- besides "themselves"- the only other words in plural in that phrase are "Electors" and "states" and "states"- as entities- cannot "vote by ballot", I must assume that the word "themselves" refers to "The Electors": that is, the members of the so-called "Electoral College" casting a state's "Electoral Vote". This provision only prohibits the Electoral Vote from a State which is the residence of both the presidential and vice-presidential candidates (should they both be from the same State) casting their state's Electoral Vote for both candidates- it does NOT prohibit the candidates themselves from being from the same State!

If Dick Cheney had NOT changed his voter registration back to Wyoming and remained a Texas voter and then the Bush/Cheney ticket went on to carry the Lone Star State come November's General Election, the 32 Electoral Votes from Texas could go to Bush but would have to go to some person other than Cheney for Vice-President (one must assume that, given the fact that the White House is the BIG prize, Electors faced with such a dilemma would, in fact, cast their State's Electoral Vote for their Party's presidential nominee rather than his running mate): but there is no prohibition whatsoever in the U.S. Constitution which would prevent, say, Connecticut (should Governor Bush end up winning his native State in this hypothetical) from casting its Electoral Vote for two Texans!!

Of course, it IS true that there were good, practical political considerations to be taken into account when Cheney finally changed his voter registration late last week: having a National ticket with both candidates from the same State is, after all, a rather risky gamble. Given the scenario outlined in the previous paragraph (Cheney remaining legally a Texan), what if George W. Bush were only to win- let's say, just to throw out a number- 283 Electoral Votes (just 13 more than the "magic number" of 270 needed to be elected President or Vice-President)? a Texan Cheney would then be denied outright election as Vice-President (without Texas' 32 Electoral Votes, Cheney would be stopped at 251: 19 shy of the necessary 270): the choice of Vice-President would thereupon devolve upon the newly-elected Senate, where which Party would be in control of that body come the following January could become even MORE of an issue than it otherwise would be!

There will, I imagine, be many of you reading this piece who will say to yourselves: "So what? Since it is too risky for a National ticket to represent only one State and, therefore, no major party (or even major Third Party!) ticket will do it even IF the Constitution allows it- aren't the previous two paragraphs merely 'beating a dead horse'?!". But that's not the point. Rather, the point is that it is the job of the media to inform and, yes- at least to some extent, educate their readers, viewers and listeners: if most of the talking heads I saw and most of the news articles I had read over the past weekend had said: "Although the Constitution doesn't forbid it, there are practical reasons why Dick Cheney would have to change his voter registration in order to become Governor Bush's running mate", I would have no complaint and these last few paragraphs of this Commentary would have been totally unnecessary. Yet they DIDN'T say that: and, assuming that not having the ability to actually read the 12th Amendment was not an issue here, saving print space and air time has, once more, proven- in more than a few cases over this past weekend- to have been more expedient than dealing with messy points of fact along with correcting misimpressions about the American Political System among the public.

Since last February, when "The Green Papers" was at the height of its popularity (obviously due to the great interest in the Presidential Primaries generated primarily by John McCain's month-long, but ultimately failed, challenge to the inevitability of the nomination of George W. Bush), I have been interviewed more than a few times by various media (mostly web-based operations but- in some cases- regular print and broadcast outlets) and, inevitably, questions are asked of me regarding the purposes of "The Green Papers". I have been asked many times just why Tony Roza and I have even bothered to set up this web site: sadly, I have to tell those who have so inquired that the mainstream media, which- in many cases- they themselves represent, have so often failed to do their job to the utmost; I regret to have had to inform them that sites like "The Green Papers" are necessary in order to pick up their slack.

We, too, have made our mistakes and almost certainly we will continue to make them: but we have always made a major effort to correct what we have wrong on our site when so informed of such errors by, from and through reliable sources and, wherever possible, we have tried to avoid such errors in the first place: moreover, we have- more often than not- openly admitted our errors at the appropriate places on our site. But we certainly would not have told our users that there is, indeed, something in the United States Constitution that is not, in fact, there! That much is fundamental, basic research!!

Sure, the point I have made in these last closing paragraphs is a small one- of little import in the greater scheme of the entire Election 2000 process. I know that. However, this one small point is symptomatic of an even greater disease: for a misinformed public is an easily misled public. Do the vast majority of Americans (or, for that matter, non-Americans who regularly access this site) even care about the minutiae of the 12th Amendment I quoted earlier? Probably not. But it is not the job of journalists to ASSUME that! Precisely the opposite: it is the job of reporters and their editors to NOT so assume!! Yes, there IS such a thing as "News Judgment": when the New York Times- to take one very famous example- says, in its well-known motto, that it contains "All the News That's Fit to Print", someone in that paper's Editorial Department has to decide just what IS "fit to print". Such judgment, however, has to be utilized wisely: last weekend- on an admittedly small scale- was proof that such news judgment often is not so wisely utilized.

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