Posted on September 11, 2000 in Washington Watch

Back in July, when Richard Cheney was named Texas Governor George W. Bush’s vice presidential running mate, the Republican ticket was ahead by 10 to 15 percent in most national polls.

Cheney, highly regarded, even by his opponents, as a competent and dedicated public official, has had a long and distinguished record of public service. In the mid 1970s he served as then President Gerald Ford’s Chief of Staff. From 1979 to 1989 he served in Congress where he established a strong conservative voting record on foreign and domestic issues. During the Bush presidency, from 1989-1993, he was Secretary of Defense, where he was considered an architect of the U.S.’s Gulf War policy.

Clinton’s former Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, while pointing out Cheney’s conservative record, noted “Dick Cheney is a good man and I respected him a great deal and had a chance to work with him during the time I was in Congress….There’s no question that … he is an honorable person.”

Even with that, media coverage of Cheney’s candidacy has alternated between negative treatment and being ignored.

In the beginning this may have been due to the fact that many were surprised by the nomination. Cheney was, after all, the head of Bush’s vice presidential search committee and it seemed awkward that he would end up as the final choice. Many were expecting a more dramatic pick as vice president (i.e. John McCain, Elizabeth Dole or Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge).

Having served in Congress for 10 years, meant that Cheney had compiled an extensive voting record which Democrats immediately attempted to exploit by pointing out some of his more conservative votes noting, for example, his opposition to efforts at gun control, programs for children, environmental protections and civil rights.

These were very partisan votes, to be sure, and some could only be understood in the context in which they occurred, but to some extent the attacks succeeded in putting the Republicans on the defensive as they were forced to explain each vote and Cheney, himself, acknowledged that in some cases he would vote differently if these issues came up for a vote today.

At the Republican convention in Philadelphia, which showcased Bush’s themes of “moderation, compassion and inclusion,” it was left to Cheney to drive home a hard-line anti-Clinton attack that appealed to the Republicans’ conservative base.

At the conclusion of the Republicans’ convention, Bush and Cheney found themselves with an even larger lead in national polls. The confident Republican nominees embarked on their maiden campaign tour hoping that their lead would only continue to grow in the days before the Democratic convention.

With Al Gore’s surprise announcement of Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, Bush and Cheney were literally bumped from national news coverage. For the next two weeks the national media’s stage was taken over by the Democrats.

Not only has Bush had difficulty getting back in stride, but Cheney has been, with a few exceptions, lost in national news coverage. And most of the Cheney stories that have run have been negative in content. Coverage, for example, of his multimillion-dollar severance package from Halliburton ran for days, forcing Cheney to go on the defensive and renounce the lucrative stock option package given by his former employer. Other negative stories focused on his rather retiring, non-politician approach to campaigning and to instances where he appeared unprepared and unable to provide details of his running-mate’s domestic programs.

To be sure, some of this treatment has been unfair. Cheney has not been used extensively by the Bush campaign. He has been given a limited and lack luster campaign schedule–appearing in small states and small events. This differs significantly from the use the Gore campaign has made of Lieberman who has been given a major piece of the campaign burden appearing at major events and key states with responsibility for presenting major campaign themes.

The notable exception to this has been Cheney’s recent sharp criticism of the Clinton Administration’s handling of defense policy. In what was Cheney’s serious foray into making major campaign news the Republican vice presidential nominee recently accused the Clinton-Gore Administration of “running down the military…to the point that our military has been overextended, taken for granted and neglected.”

Whether this issue will take hold remains to be seen. The Clinton Administration, for its part, defended their record pointing to increases they have made in defense spending. At the same time, some military analysts challenged the notion that the U.S. military is in decline. Republicans in Congress however, appear ready to exploit this issue by holding hearings on U.S. military preparedness during the few weeks remaining in this year’s congressional session.

In all of the discussion about Cheney, since his nomination, only scant mention has been made of the Republican nominee’s past positions on a number of Middle East issues (a complete treatment of Cheney’s views and his record on these issues can be found on the web at (

Some of his more striking comments are listed below.

For example, in 1982, following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Cheney said he was “disappointed that the administration has not been somewhat tougher on Israel.” He went on to say “I think we should have expressed our displeasure in no uncertain terms… Literally thousands of innocent people have been killed or injured. I find that difficult to accept.”

Again in 1982 he noted “Any resolution in this conflict which has lasted for more than 30 years must include the formation of a Palestinian state. But I am frankly not optimistic about any resolution in the near future.”

And in 1989, as Secretary of Defense, in an interview he vowed to “argue as persuasively as I know how” with members of Congress to adopt a “more balanced policy” in terms of U.S.-Arab relations. He went on to note that “I think the United States does have a role to play in the area that does involve providing our Arab friends as well as our Israeli friends with the equipment they need in order to provide for their defense.”

Since these views run counter, in some cases, to this year’s Republican Party platform and since Cheney has neither repeated them nor been questioned about them in recent years, it is uncertain what impact, if any, these views will have in this campaign or on Republican policy toward the Middle East. Should these issues be raised in this year’s debates, it will be interesting to see how Cheney responds.

In any case, the more significant story at this point, appears to be whether or not the Bush-Cheney ticket can regain its position in national polls. With post Labor Day polls showing Gore in the lead (not only nationally, but in key battleground states, as well), the Republicans significant decline during the past month is causing some of the party’s faithful to worry that their candidates may not be able to arrest their slide. Cheney clearly has not been able to help Bush to the extent that Lieberman has provided some spark and an extra enthusiastic campaigner to the Democratic ticket. And it is on this dynamic that the media and the public appear to be focused with less than two months left before the election.

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