George W. Bush had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose a running mate. He chose embarrassment. This doesn't mean Al Gore will be the next president. But that's the way to bet.
Most of the handful of people who have been critical of Mr. Bush's selection of Richard Cheney as his running mate have focused, as I shall, on the most trivial of objections to his candidacy.
Vice presidential candidates are chosen chiefly for their perceived ability to help win the election. But, surely, it is more important that the vice presidential nominee be someone who is qualified to take over if something bad happens to the president, and who can work cheerfully and effectively as a subordinate member of the team if nothing bad does.
A well-respected congressman before becoming one of the finest secretaries of defense in history, a former White House chief of staff, and a successful corporate executive, Mr. Cheney is certainly very well qualified to be president. That is part of the reason why I think Mr. Bush made a mistake in choosing him.
It doesn't do a presidential candidate good to select as his running mate a perceived dunce, as Mr. Bush's dad did with Dan Quayle. But people forget that Bush pere's opponent, Michael Dukakis, also had a veep problem. His running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, towered over him physically and in every other way. Many were the Democrats who wished the ticket had been reversed.
This is a small thing, but not an insignificant one. Seemingly petty details can pack heavy weight.
Mr. Cheney's claim to fame is his management of the Gulf War during the administration of Mr. Bush's dad. This raises questions in the minds of some about who made the choice.
Jack Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson to be his running mate and his brother Bobby to be attorney general because his father told him to. George Herbert Walker Bush is a nicer guy than Joseph P. Kennedy was, but most of us would like to have a president who can make up his own mind.
It would be dismaying for Republicans to learn Dubya is relying heavily upon dad for political advice. The elder Bush pulled off a remarkable feat of political incompetence, plunging in little more than a year from the highest job approval ratings in the history of polling to landslide defeat at the hands of a lying, draft-dodging womanizer.
In selecting Mr. Cheney, Dubya looks less exciting and new, more tired and old. When he peers into the future, does he see 1992?
Many who long for an end to the Clinton administration are not eager for a rerun of the Bush administration. Mr. Bush promised us an exciting choice. The one he made excites those Democrats who have been floundering for something bad to say about Dubya that would resonate with voters. Now they can run against his dad again.
Mr. Bush is hoping he will get credit from press and public for picking a statesman instead of a pol. That may happen. And the moon may be made of green cheese, the tooth fairy may exist, and O.J. may be innocent.
Jack Kelly is a member of The Blade's national bureau.