Memo 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 Street, Brooklyn. He could dig a coal mine 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 donít have many men like that around these days, but Dick Cheney is one of them, and thank goodness Texas Governor 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. Heís 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 twenties when he worked as #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 ten 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 UN Ambassador.)
Iíve always felt the electorate gave Colin Powell high marks for not 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 pre-eminent 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 ten 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 Presidentís 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.