The Breakfast Table

More Moderate Than Thou

Dear Tim,

It’s official. Bush called Cheney before dawn this morning to ask him to join the ticket, and Cheney said yes. I’m trying to imagine this conversation. “Hello?” “Dick? This is George.” “George? It’s 6 in the morning. I thought you had stopped drinking.” “I have, Dick. I’m calling to ask you to be my running mate.” “George, I thought we agreed on that last week.” “I know, Dick, but our leakers have to tell the press I’ve placed the official phone call.” “Couldn’t we have done this during waking hours?” “No, Dick. Karen says I need to show everyone I’m an early riser.” “George, this isn’t going to become a habit, is it?”

Seriously, I’m happy for Cheney. His loyalty to the Bushes has paid off, his political career is back on track, and he’s $5.1 million richer after selling half his shares in his oil services company last month. He’s even in good health, according to heart surgeon Denton Cooley, who, after speaking with Cheney’s doctor at Bush’s behest, issued this statement: “I conveyed to Governor Bush that in my opinion Mr. Cheney’s health problems in the past should not interfere with a strenuous political campaign.” Wait a minute. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t Cooley be certifying that a strenuous political campaign won’t interfere with Cheney’s health? You have to wonder who wrote the statement and how carefully Cooley looked at it. 

The pundits’ consensus is that Cheney is a “governing” pick, signifying Bush’s confidence that he’s going to win the election regardless of who’s on his ticket. I applaud this from the standpoint of the public good, but politically, I’m slightly amazed. I can’t believe Bush is still leading this race. You’d think the objective factors (prosperity and peace) would be working against him. Yet today’s polls in the New York Times and Washington Post confirm his lead. (They keep saying it’s within the margin of error. But after 20 polls show Bush with the same lead, it’s not much of a margin of error, is it?)

Not that the polls agree on everything. The Post says Gore “must also deal with the public perception that he is too liberal. According to the survey, the proportion of Americans who said Gore was “too liberal” has increased from 30 percent in March back to 36 percent, where it had been earlier in the campaign. … 28 percent view Bush as too conservative, unchanged from March, while 52 percent felt comfortable with his views on most issues.” But the Times says “a heartening sign for Mr. Gore … is that the public’s impression of Mr. Bush’s ideology, while once equally divided between moderate and conservative, is increasingly conservative. By contrast, the perception of Mr. Gore is that he is becoming more moderate and less liberal.”

Thank you, pollsters. When it comes to sorting out ideology, it’s a good thing we can rely on the objective consistency of social science.