CHENEY SELECTION CREATES OILY GOP TICKET

The Republican ticket in this year's race for the US presidency has become very oily.

The Republican ticket in this year's race for the US presidency has become very oily.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presidential candidate with roots in the oil and gas business, this week selected former Defense Sec. Dick Cheney as his running mate. Since 1995, Cheney, a former member of the House of Representatives from Wyoming, has been chairman and chief executive officer of Halliburton Corp.

For the oil and gas business, the move has mixed implications.

It probably lifts Bush's chances for election. Cheney, whose government credentials also include service as White House chief of staff in former Pres. Gerald Ford's administration, brings a wealth of federal-level experience to the GOP ticket. He also brings the popular respect he earned through level-headed leadership during the military operation to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991.

Inevitably, Cheney also hauls aboard the Bush campaign some easy smear targets for liberal detractors. His voting record is more conservative than his moderate image. He dodged military service during the Viet Nam era. His government pedigree will be disparaged as evidence of membership in the old guard.

But all that probably gives way to image, which for Cheney is very solid. What Cheney and Bush must worry about where image is concerned is a new burst of mischief from Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein. That Saddam remains in power is a political smirch on the presidential record of Bush's father. Untimely misbehavior by Saddam could become a smirch on the record of the father's secretary of defense.

Otherwise, the Cheney selection has to be seen as good for Bush's chances for election next November. And anything that lifts Bush's prospects is good news for industry representatives convinced that a win by Democrat Al Gore would damage US energy interests.

But a presidency as oily as that of Bush and Cheney would not necessarily help the oil and gas industry.

The Democratic opposition would pounce on any Bush administration move favoring the industry as evidence of favoritism. In fact, Bush and Cheney would have to prove their transcendence by consistently compromising industry positions on important issues.

It happened that way in the administration of the elder Bush. The former president could barely use the word "energy" without drawing accusations of being in the pockets of Big Oil. As a consequence, little happened in the area of policy during the Bush administration that can be credited with having benefited oil and gas.

The same hazards would apply in a Bush-Cheney administration, especially if Democrats regained control of either house of Congress.

So the industry should neither expect favors from a White House occupied by Bush and Cheney nor pursue policies that even look like favors.

What it should do instead is link its policy objectives with broader national interests, especially economic ones.

In fact, that wouldn't be a bad course to follow no matter who runs for or wins the presidency.

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