“This is a conservative man,” George W. Bush says he said to himself as he reviewed the voting record of his prospective running mate, Richard Cheney. And so Cheney is. With a 90 percent rating from the American Conservative Union for his votes in Congress between 1979 and 1988, Cheney enjoys a title as a conservative that is beyond dispute. Or at least it was. It is precisely his conservative voting record that delights the Democrats. President Clinton chortled last week that he “actually was kind of pleased” with Bush’s selection. The Gore campaign was even more blunt. “Cheney’s a turnout machine — for us,” beamed one of Gore’s spokesmen.
What delights the Democrats about Cheney is not merely that they can now blast him and the GOP ticket as “right-wing extremists” but that they know the ticket and its defenders will try to evade the issue by edging away from and even apologizing for Cheney’s indisputably conservative record. By doing so, the Republicans will implicitly concede that the conservatism Cheney used to espouse is no longer relevant and that the liberalism brayed by their rivals is the only legitimate persuasion in American politics.
And so it has proved. No sooner had Cheney been named as the vice-presidential choice than the Democrats’ tame media torpedoes went to work on him, and no sooner had their badgering of Cheney begun than Cheney himself began to bend and back away.
The Washington Post reported that Cheney had voted against federal funding for abortions, against banning armor-piercing bullets and plastic guns, against funding the Head Start program and against a resolution urging South Africa to negotiate with the African National Congress and release Nelson Mandela from prison. Cheney, one might think, is sounding better and better.
But that’s not how he sounds today. Once the badgering began, the Post reported, “Cheney struggled to explain” his votes. “He said that he could not answer the questions in detail without reviewing the ‘context’ in which he opposed the measures.” But he was concerned whether the United States “could afford various spending programs during a time of growing deficits,” and he “often opposed bills whose sponsors sought to circumvent the normal legislative process.”
As for the single vote that is going to haunt him the most in the coming months, “Cheney also avoided a direct answer to the Mandela question” and insisted that “I don’t believe unilateral economic sanctions work.” As the Post commented, the resolution in question “had nothing to do with economic sanctions against South Africa.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” this week, the retreat continued, with Cheney readily acknowledging that on most of the issues he was being grilled about, he would not vote the same way today.
But of course there are simple and straightforward answers to every one of the questions about Cheney’s votes. On the “Mandela question,” the answer is clear: It is none of this country’s business how a separate and friendly sovereign nation governs itself; the ANC was a communist-dominated terrorist organization armed and trained by the Soviets; Mandela was legally convicted and imprisoned for plotting terrorist crimes. But all the pathetic Cheney could think of to say was that he doesn’t believe sanctions work, though sanctions had nothing to do with the issue.
Cheney has generally chosen to wrap himself in evasion — with answers that reach for the “context” of the times, answers that appeal to procedural propriety, answers that cloak themselves in what is now the standard Republican response to any and every question: It costs too much.
Not once had Mr. Cheney offered a clear answer that not only defended his votes but also challenged the liberal assumptions of the questions hurled at him. Not once has he dared raise questions about liberal support for abortion, liberal endorsement of failed socialist programs like Head Start, liberal violations of Second Amendment rights and liberal appeasement of communism and terrorism. All Cheney has done by his dodging is concede even further the moral monopoly that liberalism claims.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, a co-chairman of the Republican Platform Committee assured the press that the platform this year won’t attack the Democrats too much. “There was a lot of bashing in (the last platform), a lot of complaining about Democrats,” Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina told the Washington Times, but in this year’s platform, “You won’t see any of that.”
The Democrats know that the Stupid Party does not have the brains or the guts to defend the conservatism for which it pretends to stand. Now they know it won’t even attack them for being liberals. No wonder Bill Clinton and the Gore campaign are pleased.