Fly-fishing and finesse

It was mid-morning on a sunny Sunday in 1992, just hours after the US had launched a massive ground assault on Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

The battle's outcome was far from clear - and the president wanted his top aides close by. He asked them to attend church with him. During the service, Richard Cheney, the soft-spoken Secretary of Defense, sat in the pew behind the president.

After a hymn, an aide passed Mr. Cheney the first war news: little opposition, few casualties. Cheney jotted a quick note, surreptitiously slipping it to President Bush. The leader of the free world was relieved.

Eight years later, because of his long-time proximity to power, his noncombative style that puts bosses at ease, and his loyalty to the Bush family, Cheney makes a comfortable fit for Texas Gov. George W. Bush as a running mate. "This is a guy who's smart, tough, and good, especially on the operational side of things," says historian Michael Birkner at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. "He wouldn't be the kind of guy a president sees every day and says, 'Why did I pick him?' "

In many ways, Cheney is similar to Bush. Both went to Yale University. Neither did well academically. In fact, Cheney left Yale after his first year because of failing grades.

Both stayed out of the Vietnam War. Bush joined the National Guard, while Cheney got five student and marriage deferments. He says if he had been drafted, he would have served.

Both made fortunes in the oil business. Cheney recently cashed in about $5.1 million in stock options from Halliburton Co., a major oil-services firm he heads.

Both have western roots and a distrust of big government. While in the House of Representatives, Cheney was one of just a few Republicans who voted against a bill to ban plastic guns, which could be smuggled past metal detectors and on to airplanes. He also voted against banning metal-tipped "cop-killer" bullets.

Yet for all their conservatism, both Bush and Cheney are the antithesis of firebrand Republicans like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"Cheney is a throwback," says Norman Ornstein, Cheney's former colleague at the American Enterprise Institute here. "He's not one of these let's-destroy-the-institution-to-save-it kind of Republicans."

Bush and Cheney also hold loyalty as a cardinal virtue. During preparations for the Gulf War, a top general whom Cheney liked told the press too much about US war strategies. He had crossed the loyalty line - and Cheney fired him.

But for all their similarities, Bush and Cheney have dramatically different experience. Cheney has been a Washington player for nearly three decades. He began government work as a congressional aide. After joining the Nixon administration, he became the youngest presidential chief of staff ever under President Ford.

In 1978 he was elected to Congress from Wyoming. He consistently voted against abortion rights, although he says the GOP should allow debate on the issue. He voted against the Equal Rights Amendment for women. Though one of the House's most conservative members, he remained friendly with Democrats, including then-speaker Tom Foley, a close friend.

"His first interest is in avoiding cheap shots," says Ornstein.

In 1989, he became Secretary of Defense. Cheney is known as a serious work horse. A heart attack during a congressional campaign didn't slow him down. In all, he has had three heart attacks but was just pronounced in good health by doctors.

Cheney can be persuasive. During the clutch hours of Gulf War coalition building, Bush sent him to Saudi Arabia to persuade King Fahd to allow US troops to settle there. With an understated style - and CIA maps that showed Iraq with the power to invade Saudi Arabia - he sealed the deal.

In his free time, he's a fly-fishing fanatic. His Jackson Hole, Wyo., home is often a base for rainbow adventures. When he can't make it to a river, friends find him poring over catalogs filled with exotic fishing gear.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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