Just one week after his surprise selection by President Bush, and 10 days after John Tower was rejected by the U.S. Senate, Wyoming Rep. Dick Cheney won Senate confirmation as secretary of defense on a vote of 92-0. What a difference a week or two can make. And Tower, remember, had served for a quarter-century in that very upper house where senatorial courtesy is said to run thicker than blood.
But there are bonds in Washington that can knot even more strongly than senatorial courtesy: Modesty, fair play and knowing your place are important. These things come naturally to Dick Cheney and they paid off for him in the Senate this past week.
The comments of Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced) in a profile of Cheney in Thursday editions of The Times by John M. Broder and Melissa Healy are instructive. Coelho noted that when Cheney first took Wyoming’s at-large House seat in 1979, he already had served as White House chief of staff under President Gerald R. Ford, a position of great influence and one that allowed Cheney to rub shoulders with the most powerful senators and House members. His new colleagues watched to see if Cheney would flex his muscles as a former White House power or behave like any other freshman congressman. “He understood his role and he performed it excellently,” Coelho said. And Cheney rose quickly in the House Republican hierarchy.
John Tower did not understand. His hubris got in the way. And that may be what really did him in.