Cheney: The un-Clinton

By W. James Antle III
web posted July 31, 2000

Conservatives should stop whining about Dick Cheney's manifest lack of charisma and be happy to have one orthodox, thoroughly un-Clintonized Republican on the ticket.

Yes, it would have been bolder had George W. Bush selected a woman- including Lynne Cheney, his running mate's wife – or a minority. Rep. John Kasich of Ohio or former actor Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee might have been more exciting. Sen. John McCain would have garnered more favorable press. Alan Keyes would have been more conservative.

But after nearly eight years of Bill Clinton exuding empathy from his every pore, is it not nice to have a Republican candidate who does not wish to feel our pain as lustily as a White House intern? Particularly since Gov. Bush is not that sort of Republican.

Though he has thankfully avoided being Clintonized in his treatment of taxes, abortion, national health care and free enterprise, the GOP's nominee is in many respects a Clintonized Republican. His compassionate conservatism at times ventures too far beyond his father's "kinder, gentler nation" to perpetuate Clinton's reduction of state affairs into the more lugubrious days of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Witness in the Republican platform tributes to bilingual education and oh-so-compassionate Jimmy Carter's Cabinet-level agency which so compassionately promotes it. See the convention that tries oh so hard to prove its love for the disabled and the downtrodden and the disenfranchised that one actually expected Hillary "Politics of Meaning" Rodham herself to make a nonpartisan guest appearance for a laying on of hands. Or at the very least Elizabeth Dole's 1996 Oprah impression writ large.

Hear in the nominee's speeches endless recitations of how truly compassionate he is, how full of empathy for mere mortals, how soft and fluffy his conservatism is. In these matters, Bush leaves no Clintonian stone unturned.

Dick Cheney doesn't have any use for this sort of pabulum. He didn't vote to ban plastic guns because the ban was constructed in fantasy land, applying to gun then in existence or likely to be invented. That is why even the National Rifle Association supported it. Only two dozen other House members had the courage to vote against this piece of feel-good legislation, because the rest preferred casting stupid votes to casting votes that might make them the targets of editorials penned by vindictive imbeciles.

Cheney didn't vote for a feel-good resolution in support of releasing Nelson Mandela because it also supported his African National Congress. This vote was cast during the Cold War, when the ANC was being run by communists and in bed with the Soviet Union. This may not fit into Bill Clinton's "national conversation on race," but that was the reality of the time. Moreover, while Mandela did not turn out to be a communist tyrant and terrorist when he ultimately became president of South Africa, he gave every indication that is what he intended to do at the time Cheney served in the House.

Moreover, Cheney did not vote against imposing economic sanctions on South Africa because he supported racial apartheid. On the contrary, he did not wish to pretend that throwing already low-income South African blacks out of work would somehow hasten the end of apartheid. Diplomatic pressure contributed at least as much, if not more, to the collapse of apartheid as economic pressure and President George Herbert Walker Bush's policies easing sanctions didn't prevent the end of white minority rule there.

Cheney also was never interested in voting for useless spending programs simply because they sounded pleasant, unlike other individuals on the Republican presidential ticket I could mention. He voted against the Department of Education because it was a stupid and unconstitutional agency, and its defenders would be hard-pressed to document the monumental educational advances this country has made during its 20 years of existence. He voted against Head Start because it ought not be a federal program considering how much better it could be operated at the state and local level, and because of evidence it doesn't even work. Many researchers still contend whatever advantages are brought about by this popular program disappear after the third grade. Former budget director David Stockman noted in his memoirs that Cheney was one of the few Republicans who didn't ask for any pork in return for his votes in favor of Reagan budget cuts.

Dick Cheney is pro-life and voted that way in the House. He is perhaps, at least judging by his record thus far, to the right of Gov. Bush on the abortion issue. So what? So was Ronald Reagan, and he won 44 states in 1980 against an incumbent president and carried 49 states in his reelection bid. Cheney may have opposed federal funding for abortion even in cases of rape and incest; President Reagan's signatures made it law of the land.

Moreover, while Cheney boasted a 100 percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee when he was in Congress back in the 1980s, Al Gore earned an 84 percent rating from the same organization while he served in the House. In fact, when Cheney and Gore served in the House together, they voted identically on 14 out of 15 key abortion-related votes. His votes are certainly controversial, but he isn't pussyfooting around about them.

Finally, when the stakes were high during the Persian Gulf War, Cheney provided tough leadership. He played a critical role managing the defeat of the world's fifth-largest army in roughly 100 days of combat with only 124 American casualties. Not a bad record.

Cheney has done all this without appearing like the Gingrichian monster the Gore campaign is making him out to be. He has been a principled conservative who is genuinely liked and respected by people on both sides of the aisle and with a reputation for getting things done, in government and out. Sounds like something other Republican leaders could take a lesson from. It is revealing that his selection won enthusiastic praise both from GOP media darlings John McCain and Colin Powell and right-wing stalwarts like Alan Keyes, who was finally persuaded to drop his challenge to Bush.

Cheney has a long record of national experience, including service at the highest levels of the executive branch in three Republican administrations. He has substantial foreign policy experience, experience in a leadership position in Congress and spent more than twice as much time in elective office as the top of the ticket. Cheney brings much to the ticket that Bush lacks, including a guarantee that if the Republicans win in November we will see some dignity and self-restraint restored to the White House.

After two terms of Bill Clinton and the specter of Al Gore, I'll take it.

W. James Antle III is a former researcher for the Rhema Group, an Ohio-based political consulting firm. His commentaries now also appear regularly in OpinioNet.

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