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Dick Cheney, peace dividend

Posted By Jude Wanniski On 08/02/2000 @ 1:00 am In Commentary | Comments Disabled

To: Political & Financial Writers

From: Jude Wanniski

Re: A Jack-of-All-Trades

My father was a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. He could do
everything passably, nothing to perfection. I could tell countless
stories about him, but my favorite was when he discovered in 1950 that
it would cost him $4 to have a TV repairman fix the set we had bought
just six months earlier. He cut out an ad from a Superman comic book
offering a book for $2 or so on how to fix TVs and sent for it. In two
months he could fix any TV set on the block and did so, for free, for
all our neighbors in the apartment house at 10-42 50th St., Brooklyn. He
could dig a coalmine or build a house with his own hands or sing all the
tenor roles in the Puccini and Verdi operas — Rudolfo in “La Boheme” he
sang when I was a babe in his arms.

We don’t have many men like that around these days, but Dick Cheney
is one of them, and thank goodness Texas Gov. George W. Bush spotted it.
Cheney can do everything well, although he certainly is not the best at
everything he does now — although he will be if he is vice president.
In other words, in all the land, there is nobody better able to be vice
president in a Bush administration than Dick Cheney. He’s not a lawyer,
but he studied a bit of law. He did not serve in the armed forces, but
he was Defense Secretary and knows a thousand times more about national
security than Bill Clinton did when he was elected president.

Cheney was still in his 20s when he worked as No. 2 man to Don
Rumsfeld in the Office of Economic Opportunity, an early affirmative
action agency in the Nixon administration. When Richard Nixon resigned
as president in 1974, Jerry Ford became president and his pal in
Congress, Rumsfeld, came back from Brussels where he served as
ambassador to NATO, to the White House with Cheney at his side as
deputy.

When Jerry Ford could no longer stand the sight of his defense
secretary, Jim Schlesinger, who he inherited from Nixon, he fired him
and made Rumsfeld the Pentagon boss. Cheney, 34-years-old, stepped up to
become chief of staff at the White House — an assignment almost as
difficult as singing Rudolfo in “La Boheme.”

He was good at the job, but not great, as witness the fact that his
boss was defeated by Jimmy Carter a year later in the 1976 elections.
But failure, my dad always taught me, is a great teacher, and it
probably is more important to know today that Cheney was in the center
of a losing cause back then, rather than a winning cause, where he would
not have learned about losing a presidential race. And when Jerry Ford
lost, by being a status quo establishment Republican, extending
price controls on oil when he should have scrapped them, Cheney ran for
Congress in Wyoming and learned how to represent ordinary western folk
in the House of Representatives. He spent 10 years learning that trade,
but it is important to remember that these were the Reagan years, the
Reagan/Kemp supply-side years, and that Cheney had been present at the
Creation when Art Laffer drew his dynamic curve.

When the Bush administration came along, Cheney clipped the $2 coupon
on how to be a defense secretary and in no time at all he was running
the Pentagon. He was not the best defense secretary the nation ever
experienced. But he was darned good, and his experience in all those
other trades showed. More than a year ago, I asked Dan Quayle what kind
of man he would choose as SecDef if he were elected, and he said he
would look for a man like Cheney, who had experience in dealing with the
Congress. My admiration of Quayle, already high, shot up. (It would be
smart if a President GWB would ask Quayle to be his U.N. ambassador.)

I’ve always felt the electorate gave Colin Powell high marks for
going into Baghdad to hunt down Saddam Hussein, for a host of reasons.
For Cheney to have sided with Powell on that decision was a mark of
accumulated wisdom, one that made Cheney a minor hero throughout the
Islamic world. It was that edge that led the ex-SecDef into the private
sector, as CEO of the preeminent Texas oil-service firm, Halliburton –
which has to get along with Arabs/Muslims if it is to remain in
business. In the last five years, as Cheney showed his
business/political skills, the market capitalization of the company he
ran doubled, and he learned first hand what happens when the oil price
falls to $10 a barrel.

For 10 years, I have been preaching about the Peace Dividend that the
United States would enjoy with the end of the Cold War. I did not mean
we would have to spend less money on missiles and tanks and ships. The
real dividend was that the men who had devoted their intellectual
energies as warriors to defeating our adversaries, fascist and
communist, would be liberated from those tasks. They could apply
themselves to repairing the damage at home to our culture, our society,
our economy, our nation. It was a pleasure, then, to hear Cheney this
past weekend answering questions from the Sam Donaldsons of the media on
how he could possibly have said two years ago that a higher OPEC oil
price would be a good thing. He calmly explained that when the price of
oil dropped to $10 a barrel, it was no longer economical for the
industry to explore for oil and to build the infrastructure to produce
it and get it to market. He correctly predicted two years ago the result
would be a world shortage of oil that led to the sharp price increases
this year.

What we have in Cheney is a jack-of-all-trades. He is just the right
man to be at a president’s side, to be able to fill him in on all those
small points that can make or break a government — when to raise or
lower tax rates, who we should bomb and who is ready for a diplomatic
initiative, how to deal with congressional lobbyists and with members of
Congress. It also is comforting to know that the man who probably will
be our next president is smart enough to know that he needs someone like
this at his side. Someone like my dad, except with a better sense of
humor.


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