Cheney, the Virtual President

Unlike in 2000, Dick Cheney was not selected as President Bush's 2004 running mate with any great flourish. After four years of working closely with the president in ways unprecedented for any VP in American history, he was naturally accepted at the Republican Convention Wednesday night as integral to the party's ticket.

Sure, some in the GOP wanted a fresh face to boost Mr. Bush's chances of victory or to set up a presidential candidate for 2008 (Mr. Cheney probably wouldn't run). And despite their lack of proof, some critics continue to mar Cheney's image with accusations that this former chief of Halliburton somehow influenced the firm being selected by the Pentagon for work in Iraq.

Cheney himself didn't help his image by recently using an expletive in anger on the Senate floor. Nor was it smart to design an energy policy in 2000 so secretively and with little input from alternative-energy experts.

But keeping him as the president's top war adviser and go-to guy was essential to the campaign's prime message of continuing stable and forceful leadership in the campaign against Islamic terrorists.

In Washington, where he works both the Hill and the bureaucracy, it's generally accepted that his word is that of the president. He serves as an articulate spokesman for the administration's most controversial policies, although his confidence sometimes comes off as arrogance.

Whether he and Bush win or not, Cheney wins points for his long public-service record, especially in times of war. Few doubt he has the basics to fill in as president, if needed.

Despite all that, voters shouldn't assume too much. In the Oct. 5 debate between vice-presidential nominees, they should size up this Washington insider one more time.

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