Cheney's Style: Cool, Methodical, and Conservative

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By Edward Walsh and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 26, 2000

At 2 a.m. on a June night in 1978, Lynne V. Cheney raced down the stairs in the Cheyenne, Wyo., home of Joseph B. Meyer, an old high school friend of her husband, who was making his first race for Congress.

"Dick's got a tingling in his left arm," she told Meyer. They rushed her husband to the hospital, where doctors discovered he'd had a heart attack.

The next day, Lynne Cheney sat at the Meyers' kitchen table distraught, wondering about what would happen to their two young daughters, her husband's political ambitions, the fabric of their lives.

But when 37-year-old Richard B. Cheney returned from the hospital, Meyer recalled, he was utterly calm. "He was very quiet about it. They had a family meeting about what to do next. They picked up the reins of the campaign and got on with things."

Cool and methodical, Cheney's response to that potentially life-changing event was characteristic of an operating style that has served him well throughout his career, from White House chief of staff for President Gerald R. Ford at age 34 through five terms in Congress to his current tenure as chairman and chief executive officer of Halliburton Co., an energy services and equipment firm where he has overseen the layoffs of 9,000 employees.

In various ways, some surprising, the 59-year-old Cheney is similar to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, 54. While Cheney from an early age was far more focused and disciplined than Bush, Cheney had his own, shorter version of what Bush terms his "irresponsible" youth.

Cheney--six years ahead of Bush at Yale--dropped out after his sagging grades cost him his scholarship, and he was twice arrested in his early twenties for drunken driving, a fact that Cheney privately revealed when he was nominated to be secretary of defense.

Like Bush, Cheney managed to avoid being drafted for service in Vietnam, receiving a string of student deferments and then, just as married men without children were being called up for military duty, celebrating the birth of his first child. "I had other priorities in the '60s than military service," Cheney said during his tenure as defense secretary.

And much as with Bush, Cheney's pragmatic, congenial manner helps soften an unyieldingly conservative stance. In Congress, Cheney's moderate demeanor helped him get along with those across the political spectrum even as he racked up a conservative voting record that Democrats are already eagerly mining. "He had a very disarming personality," said former House minority leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.). "He could always sit over on the other side of the aisle and talk to the Democrats."

But where Bush is gregarious, Cheney is reserved. In his memoirs, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin L. Powell recalled of Cheney, "He and I had never, in nearly four years, spent a single purely social hour together."

And Cheney, unlike Bush, held back from seeking the presidency when he considered making a run for the White House five years ago. After spending two years visiting 47 states and laying the groundwork for a race, Cheney made the wrenching decision that the personal cost to his family--one of his two daughters is gay, and was not yet public about her sexual orientation--would be too high.

"The more I thought about it, the more the process you have to subject yourself to weighed heavily on my mind," Cheney said at the time. "I concluded I wasn't prepared to pay that price."


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© 2000 The Washington Post Company

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