Cheney Makes A Calm Case

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CBSNews.com producer Jarrett Murphy reports from Republican National Convention in New York City.


A few minutes into Vice President Dick Cheney's speech on Wednesday night, a heckler was wrestled to the ground and removed from the Madison Square Garden arena. The crowd jabbed at the air, waving signs, while defiantly shouting "Four more years!"

Dick Cheney took a sip of water.

It was a calm highlight in a calm speech, one abundant in the seriousness that Republicans admire about the vice president but almost lacking in the fire-and-brimstone that had come from the convention platform earlier in the evening.

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey of Massachusetts had mocked John Kerry for stressing what happened three decades ago in Vietnam rather than Kerry's one-time role as deputy to Michael Dukakis. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reprised the charge that the Democratic nominee lacks firm beliefs, with the quip, "I don't want presidential leadership that comes in 57 varieties!"

And then Georgia Democratic Sen. Zell Miller ripped into Kerry in a rousing keynote address that brought full-throated cheers from the convention floor.

Miller excoriated his party for putting partisanship ahead of national security, and lambasted Kerry for opposing particular weapons systems and purportedly advocating a large role for the United Nations in deciding U.S. military action, something Kerry denies.

As well as lacing into popular targets like the press, the French and war protesters, Miller said, "For more than twenty years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure."

It was a tough act for Cheney to follow with a speech that was, for the most part, a calm recitation of the accomplishments of his boss that began with Cheney offering "all that I have" to the campaign.

The vice president extolled the president's education reforms, his tax cuts and his push for tort reform. He turned quickly to the war on terrorism, and his worry that militants might acquire biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

The crowd enjoyed Cheney's reference to Saddam Hussein's being in jail, and to the "mighty debt" owed America's fighting men and women. But the crowd also let out a cheer when, after the heckler had been spirited out of sight, Cheney raised his arms to shoulder height and said quietly, "Thank you."

When it came to the task of contrasting President Bush with Kerry, Cheney hit the familiar marks.

"On the question of America's role in the world, the differences between Sen. Kerry and President Bush are the sharpest and the stakes for the country are the highest," he said. "Time and again, Sen. Kerry has made the wrong call on national security."

Those calls included opposing defense spending, voting against Desert Storm and failing to back the $87 billion spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cheney also lashed out at Kerry for allegedly altering his positions on No Child Left Behind and the Patriot Act.

"Sen. Kerry's liveliest disagreement is with himself," Cheney said, spurring the crowd into waving their arms back-and-forth and yelling "flip-flop!"

But then Cheney ended with a promise to "go forth with confidence in our cause." It left some in the crowd cold.

"It was too calm, as a matter of fact," Joe Messineo, an alternate delegate from New York, said of the speech. "I think he should have attacked Kerry stronger on his policies."

"He hit all the good points for the delegates here tonight," Messineo said. But it should have been stronger, he says, because "Kerry's weak, and we're
strong."

Many Republicans have said that Cheney's no-nonsense approach and lack of flash are what they like about him. This speech fit that pattern, they said.

"I think he just said it well. He's not an exciting orator, but I think the message was very clear," said Curly Haugland of North Dakota.

"I think it was wonderful, because he's such a stable leader," said Beverly Johnson of Tennessee. "He's the perfect leader. What he says is what he means."

Cheney's popularity inside the convention is in stark contrast to his image as a negative lightning rod for the Republican party.

According to CBS News polls, more than nine in 10 Republican delegates view Cheney in a positive light, and better than 6 in 10 Republican voters feel that way.

Among all voters, Cheney's favorable rating has slipped from 44 percent in November 2000 to 29 percent. Over the same period, Cheney's unfavorable rating has about doubled from 18 percent to 37 percent.

For Democrats, Cheney's liabilities are legion. There are his ties to Halliburton, his controversial energy task force and his prominent role in making the case that Iraq possessed banned weapons and may have been linked to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Yet 83 percent of delegates in the CBS News poll believed Cheney should remain on the GOP ticket, to 7 percent who wanted him replaced. The reason seems to be that Republicans view Cheney's no-frills, no-nonsense approach as an asset, not a flaw.

"He's a very focused businessperson that is not a warm and fuzzy people person," said one Indiana Republican before Cheney's speech. "That's one of his strengths. I want someone who's running the country focused on the details of running the country."

"He is the rock of Gibraltar," said Melissa Brown, a House candidate from Pennsylvania, earlier in the day.

Even among those Republicans who were not especially fond of Cheney, there was agreement that the vice president's recent comments on same-sex relationships did much to improve their estimation of the vice president. On Aug. 24, Cheney - who has a lesbian daughter - said people should have the freedom to enter the relationships they choose, and states should decide the legal status of those relationships.

Cheney's comments were in line with what many of the party faithful feel. A combined 47 percent of Republican voters support either same-sex marriage or civil unions. The GOP platform opposes federal or state judges or bureaucrats recognizing "other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage."

Delegates also feel Cheney's background and demeanor will be a huge plus in the contest with John Edwards, especially in their debate.

"I think Cheney is going to wipe the floor with him," said a fan of the vice president seated inside the convention hall on Tuesday night.

But surveys indicate the voters are not so sure. A CBS News poll in July indicates Edwards wins a head-to-head match-up 52-38. But four in five voters said they will make their choice in November based mainly on the presidential nominee.


By Jarrett Murphy
  • Jarrett Murphy

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