Bush's Choice - Safety First

George W. Bush's choice of Washington insider Richard Cheney as his running mate means that the fall election will not be about who Mr. Bush selected as a No. 2. And that's a good thing.

Mr. Cheney - a former congressman, defense secretary, and White House chief of staff - was not the "electrifying" choice Mr. Bush had talked about making. But he brings many attractive qualities to the No. 2 slot. Not the least of them is the comfort that many voters will feel that he could do a capable job as president should that need suddenly arise.

In picking Cheney, candidate Bush passed up the chance to select a running mate from a large state who might bring in crucial electoral votes. Or one that might energize voters - perhaps Elizabeth Dole, who served in the Cabinet of Bush's father; or former Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell (who said "no"), or Sen. John McCain, Bush's primary opponent.

Cheney is likely to neither add or detract politically from the campaign. And that may be just fine with the GOP presidential candidate.

Cheney, a former Wyoming congressman, has a solidly conservative voting record, including strong opposition to abortion. At the same time, he's never been seen as a firebrand and is highly unlikely to stir up fires on the campaign trail that Bush would have to spend time extinguishing.

What little political punditry emerges from this seemingly safe choice in coming days may settle on two issues: Cheney's health and his considerable defense and foreign-policy credentials. He experienced physical problems more than a decade ago, but in the interim held a demanding post, helping to conduct the Gulf War. This issue seems unlikely to concern voters in the fall.

Democrats will try to paint this choice as showing Bush's callowness in foreign affairs and his need to rely on his father for advice (Cheney served in the senior Bush's administration). But voters are just as likely to see Cheney as a smart move that balances the experiences and qualities on the ticket.

Now it is Democratic candidate Al Gore's turn. Will he match this low-key move? Or will he try to gain an advantage through a riskier choice, but one with more star quality?

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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