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Jewish World Review August 7, 2000 /6 Menachem-Av, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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BOFFO! Cheney wows 'em -- PHILADELPHIA -- There was never any question about Richard Cheney's qualifications for vice president: House minority whip; secretary of defense during Operation Just Cause in Panama and Desert Storm in the Middle East; and Gerald Ford's chief of staff at the White House. He has the resume for the job.

But there's a more important qualification. Call it comfort level. Should he have to step into the presidency, and assure the country's continuity at a time of disruption, he would be a familiar national figure. Americans might not be able to tell you exactly what offices Dick Cheney held over the past 20 years, but he would have their confidence in a crisis.

But there was a question about George W. Bush's choice of this running mate: He's never been a star, just one of the old reliables in group pictures of the Cabinet, a fly fisherman rather than a golfer. Could this effective but low-key executive wage a vigorous political campaign?

That is no longer a question. Not after Dick Cheney's acceptance speech Wednesday night. It was almost severely classical in its simplicity and structure, without a wasted word or needless frill, yet biting in its indictment of an administration that has squandered its opportunity for greatness. "These have been years of prosperity in our land,'' the candidate noted, "but little purpose in the White House.''

If the candidate did not write his speech, he had the judgment to approve it, and to deliver it with a restraint that only added to its power. One was not surprised that, time and again, it set off an almost Greek chorus of approval in the crowded coliseum.

In simple words, Dick Cheney offered voters a glimpse of some things this campaign will be about if the Republicans have their way:

-- Education. "For eight years, the achievement gap in our schools has grown worse ... poor and disadvantaged children falling further and further behind. For all of their sentimental talk about children, Clinton and Gore have done nothing to help children oppressed by bureaucracy, monopoly and mediocrity.''

A decent education has become the most denied civil right in this country. And the whole society, the whole economy, the whole quality of American life has suffered from that neglect -- not just those children isolated in failing schools and denied a way out. Only grudgingly has this administration, which talks a great game about helping the poor and minority groups, accepted the idea of charter schools -- but it still fights the idea of school vouchers for poor families.

--Military preparedness. "For eight years, Clinton and Gore have extended our military commitments while depleting our military power. Rarely has so much been demanded of our armed forces, and so little given to them in return. I have seen our military at its finest ... with the best equipment, the best training and the best leadership. I'm proud of them. I have had the responsibility for their well-being. And I can promise them now: Help is on the way.''

-- Taxes. "We can reform the tax code, so that families can keep more of what they earn ... more dollars that they can spend on what they value, rather than on what government thinks is important.''

But there was one thread throughout Dick Cheney's acceptance speech that held it all together -- the paramount importance of restoring a sense of honor to the country's leadership. Character has turned out to be important, after all. For without it, trust is lost, time is lost, purpose is lost. And all else is cheapened. A people that cannot trust its leaders to tell them the simple truth will always be uneasy, suspicious, divided.

Or as Dick Cheney put it, simply enough: "If the goal is to unite our country, to make a fresh start in Washington, to change the tone of our politics, can anyone say with conviction that the man for the job is Al Gore?''

But the most unkindest cut of all was delivered as Dick Cheney made a political observation almost in passing: "And now, as the man from Hope goes home to New York. ...'' Ooo-wee. He didn't have to deliver any lectures about the rootless nature of political opportunism to make his point.

The first test of a presidential nominee is his choice of a running mate. Is the candidate for vice president not only qualified for the office, but able to wage a vigorous campaign for it, giving as good as he gets and more? George W. Bush just passed that test.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate