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The Wisdom of Choosing Dick Cheney

By Gerald R. Ford and Bob Dole
The New York Times, Monday, July 31, 2000

The plain-spoken Harry Truman once defined an elder statesman as a politician who has been dead for 20 years. We don't presume to be anything other than politicians, albeit possessed of whatever perspective comes from lengthy service on Capitol Hill and in the national political arena.

We form a pretty balanced Republican ticket ourselves. We don't agree on every issue, but then, what two people do? We belong to a political party, not a cult. At the same time, neither of us regards pragmatism as a synonym for surrender. Throughout the campaign we have been encouraged by Gov. George W. Bush's vigorous outreach to audiences not always courted by Republicans in the past.

In this spirit, we are delighted by the selection of Dick Cheney to help implement Mr. Bush's inclusive vision. Ironically, the shrill reaction of some Democrats to the Cheney nomination only confirms the timeliness of Governor Bush's pledge to restore civility to Washington .

Polls are notoriously fickle, but we take heart from early opinion surveys that indicate widespread approval of the governor's choice. Equally important, we applaud the implicit rejection of the concerted campaign to demonize one of this country's most honorable public servants. Oddly enough, some of those who were quickest to rush to the microphones last week to indict Mr. Cheney for 20-year-old votes he cast as Wyoming 's congressman had in earlier times complimented his distinguished record of leadership in the Pentagon.

It was praise well deserved. As secretary of defense, Mr. Cheney successfully grappled with immensely difficult issues surrounding the post-cold war military, and waged a textbook campaign to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait . One might logically ask of these born-again critics whether a similar standard should be applied to Vice President Al Gore, whose House voting record on abortion and gun control was virtually identical to Mr. Cheney's.

All this calls to mind the political contortionist who bragged: "These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

The ultimate test of statesmanship lies in the ability to place the national interest above purely personal ones. Like Mr. Cheney, each of us served in the House as a prelude to higher office. While never forgetting where we came from, over the course of our careers, we were challenged to adopt broader views, develop new sensitivities, and see a complex world through unfamiliar eyes. Here, we submit, is one difference between statecraft and the political theater that has turned off so many voters.

So, while some media and political operatives might see the Gore campaign's rapid response to Mr. Cheney's nomination as cause for self-congratulation, it is just as likely that the dealers in "Operation Research" have outsmarted themselves.

Like Dick Cheney himself, most Americans evince a basic fairness. They know decency and character when they see it. They also recognize a manufactured controversy when it spills across their television screens. Political labels aside, such voters share a bipartisan disdain for the sterile name-calling that has crowded honest debate off the political stage. And debate, after all, is what a campaign should be all about. The honest airing of our differences, not the poisonous rhetoric that demeans even as it disillusions.

If experience counts for anything -- and it ought to -- the Bush-Cheney slate is one of the most abundantly qualified in memory. As the youngest ever White House chief of staff, Mr. Cheney displayed the qualities instinctively recognized by Governor Bush and most fair-minded voters: a towering intelligence and probity, razor-sharp judgment, and a seriousness of purpose that is the antithesis of modern political spin. Yet there is much more to Dick Cheney than his resume. We know him as a man of conviction, whose principles include respecting others with whom he differs. He has adversaries but no enemies.

Mr. Cheney also represents an unconventional choice, if only because of the transparent merit which motivated his selection. This alone makes him a refreshing alternative to the usual electoral calculations. He was selected less because he could help Governor Bush get elected than because he could help a president Bush govern. And to do so in a way that will help restore popular respect for tarnished institutions.

In another sense, largely unnoticed by the media to date, Mr. Bush's choice deserved high marks for boldness. Implicit in the Bush-Cheney pairing is an appeal not frequently heard at some recent G.O.P. conventions. Quite simply, the governor and the secretary are presenting themselves as leaders who are best equipped by outlook, training, and temperament to govern America in a time of exhilarating change and daunting challenges.

Republicans in 2000 want to be America 's governing party. In our view, the Bush-Cheney team represents a giant stride in that direction.

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