The life of the V.P.

Posted: Feb 25, 2002 12:00 AM
Every dog has his day, and these are good days for Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney hasn't always had an easy ride with Team Bush. Wags -- like moi -- thought it was bad form when he vetted No. 2 hopefuls as leader of the Bush running-mate search team, then picked himself. After the election, Cheney had three unenviable roles. He was the lord of the heart attack. Dems labeled him as the brains behind the throne, a label that can sap a veep's power. Cheney was also the Bush administration's energy Grinch. There was no love lost between California and Cheney. He needled Californians about how they were happy to devour electricity, as long as it wasn't generated from power plants near their backyards. He even suggested that if the state really wanted clean energy, it should go nuclear. Then, in the weeks following Sept. 11, his role changed: Critics carped at him for working out of undisclosed locations. This followed on the heels of criticism for Cheney's energy task force meeting behind closed doors. Those days are gone. Now, Cheney's cool with California. He's out of the bunker, pale, rested and ready. Dick Cheney, Man of Mystery. The embodiment of Cardiac Chic. Last Tuesday, he was a hit with Jay Leno; he led "The Tonight Show'' with an "undisclosed location'' joke. On Thursday, he spoke to an enthusiastic gathering of business types at the San Jose Chamber of Commerce meeting. "I never thought I'd be the opening act for a rock band called Creed,'' he quipped. He wooed workers during a short tour of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. Standing with his trademark tilt of the head, wearing a red tie (not the blue tie beloved of other Bushies) and his crooked grin, he asked questions of staffer Mary Carbullido as she showed off Cosmo, the artificial-intelligence robot dog. "It was great because he was very engaged,'' gushed a quite pregnant Carbullido. She might even consider naming her son-to-be Cheney, she said. Cheney Carbullido. Yes, California and Cheney these days are simpatico. The latest Field Poll shows President Bush enjoying a 70 percent favorability rating in California, with Cheney rating a 61 percent thumbs up. That's 14 percent more than Al Gore (remember him?) rated in the same poll. With those numbers, Cheney could quote the GOP trifecta -- Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan and welfare critic George Gilder -- without apology. Cheney obviously connected with Silicon Valley, hooking geek to grunt as he talked up arming soldiers with "precision instruments.'' Perhaps he even thought of himself when he marveled on how "even the boldest predictions'' of technological advances often fall short of the advancements that actually occur. After all, who would have predicted his rave-review performance in California last week? "What is the Zen of Cheney?'' I asked spokesperson Jennifer Millerwise. "His Zen?'' she swallowed. "Let me think.'' After a minute's consideration, she answered: "calm, measured, thoughtful.'' "He's like a Zen Buddhist guru,'' political consultant Sean Walsh said after the San Jose talk. "He tends to calm crowds, and the media.'' Back in Washington, the cries for him to release the list of people who advised his energy task force will start up again. Talking heads will ask him about his ticker and if he had steak for dinner. And he'll be California dreamin', visualizing that perfect nuclear power plant on the beach.