WASHINGTON -- If the GOP was a person, it would have to be committed for psychiatric treatment. For card-carrying, practicing Republicans, some days are so difficult you have to remind yourself that you really aren't self destructive -- you're just a Republican. It's to be expected.
That's how I felt last Tuesday, when Texas Governor George W. Bush proclaimed that former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney would be his running mate. Right from the start, events conspired against the carefully planned announcement. First came William Blythe Clinton's hoarse acknowledgment that his ill-conceived Middle East legacy quest at Camp David had collapsed and that Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak would be leaving without a peace deal. Then came the crash of an Air France supersonic Concorde -- and hours of "Breaking News!" banners and miles of video tape showing molten, smoking wreckage while talking heads blathered on ad nauseam about what caused the disaster and 113 deaths.
All of that, of course, was beyond the control of mere mortals -- even those who run the Bush presidential campaign. So, too, were the attacks on the GOP team by Internet Al and his cronies in the press. All that was to be expected. What made the Cheney announcement so tough wasn't the liberals and Democrats piling on -- it was Republicans, most of them nameless, who flocked like crows to a cornfield to become "GOP sources" for the masters of the media, only too willing to provide a platform for any Republican willing to savage one of their own.
In the hours before Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney appeared together for the Austin announcement, the press wires were virtually humming with critical commentary posing as straight news, and no Republican fish was too small to fry. "As a pro-choice Republican, I'm very disappointed that Governor Bush did not use this opportunity to select a pro-choice Republican woman for the spot on the ticket," groused Roselyn O'Connell of the National Women's Political Caucus. The Cheney choice unites "only 30 percent of the party," whined Ann Stone, Chairman of Republicans for Choice. By the time the day was done, the former Chief of Staff to Jerry Ford, 10-year member of Congress from Wyoming, Secretary of Defense who orchestrated the 100-hour victory in the Persian Gulf War had been described as "an overweight retread from daddy's administration" to the man who would help George W. Bush "build a bridge to the 20th century -- backward," to "a boring guy with a bad heart." The most common Republican complaint: "Cheney won't generate excitement."
Excitement? Give me a break! For nearly eight years we've had just about all the "excitement" we can handle from Clinton-Gore & Co. We've had Waco blazes, interns in the Oval Office, UN-led foreign adventures, fund-raising scandals, impeachment-inspired missile attacks, stolen nuclear secrets, pre-dawn swat team raids and political shenanigans to spare. We're ready for a few boring years of quiet, credible competence in the White House.
And that is precisely why George W. Bush is leading in every nationwide poll -- and why the Cheney choice is so fascinating. "I didn't pick Dick Cheney because of Wyoming's three electoral votes ..." said the governor in Austin. Bush did not pick a "running mate," he picked a vice president. And in doing so, he displayed the confidence that he will win this race on his own, that he was more concerned with building a responsible, competent team with integrity and effectiveness than he was in selecting a candidate who might deliver this state or that, one constituency or another.
Asked aboard Air Force Two for his reaction to the Republican vice presidential choice, Ozone Al, who had described Cheney in 1989 as " ... a good guy. I like him a lot, and he is well liked by his colleagues," was initially stumped. Then, perhaps realizing that he had to say something, the man who regards Bill Clinton as "Our Greatest President, Ever!" blurted out "I've handled my process differently than the Bush campaign handled theirs. I've kept it private and, I hope, dignified out of respect for the individuals, the men and women who are under consideration, and I'm going to continue to approach it that way." Translation: I'm still trying to find a VEEP who is comfortable taking money from Buddhist monks and going to fundraisers at the Playboy mansion in Los Angeles."
Al's pals are now spinning the story that George Bush had to pick Dick Cheney to shore up the governor's fabled frailties in foreign policy. They ought to be careful about advancing that argument too far because if it's true that vice presidents are picked to shore up weaknesses at the top of the ticket, Prince Albert The Inventor has a real problem. Al Gore's most glaring deficiencies are in honesty and integrity -- and Mother Theresa isn't available to run as his VEEP.