A Cheney Link to St. Louis

Published the week of July 26-August 1, 2000

Jul 26, 2000 at 4:00 am
And now, this week's top two trivia questions:

One, what is the St. Louis connection to what Defense Daily called "the most costly and complex legal dispute in U.S. history?"

Two, who was the fellow whose decision -- protested by St. Louis interests -- triggered the war?

Answer No. 1: Erstwhile St. Louis-based defense giants McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics joined to sue the Defense Department over what they claimed was the illegally handled termination in 1991 of the A-12 attack-fighter program. The hasty cancellation was said to have caused 5,600 layoffs in St. Louis.

Answer No. 2: That would be Dick Cheney.

OK, it's a stretch. But at least there are 5,600 folks -- plus friends and family -- who have one damn good reason to vote against Republican vice presidential nominee Cheney and his former boss' kid in the presidential election.

As President George Bush's defense secretary in 1991, Cheney pulled the plug on the $4.4 billion A-12 attack fighter, citing the little detail that the contractors had failed to deliver a single airplane after receiving more than $2 billion. He also accused the Navy of concealing shortcomings in the program.

The Missouri congressional delegation was outraged at the unexpected and sudden decision. In a story headlined "Rethink A-12, Cheney Urged," the Post-Dispatch reported as follows:

"Rep. William L. Clay, D-St. Louis, said in letter to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney that the termination of the A-12 may have violated the Defense Economic Adjustment Act. That law, enacted last year, requires the Pentagon to give advance notice of any proposed contract cancellation to the Department of Labor, local government officials and affected unions.

"'To my knowledge,' Clay wrote in the letter to Cheney, 'none of the notice requirements of this law have yet been fulfilled.' In a separate letter to Cheney, dated Thursday, Clay had contended that the A-12 cancellation also violated the due-notice requirements in the federal plant-closing law."

Even better yet, there was this:

"Sen. Christopher S. 'Kit' Bond, R-Mo., who has filed a similar letter, met briefly Friday with Cheney on Capitol Hill. Cheney was there seeking support for President George Bush's Persian Gulf policy. Also present, Bond said, was Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., 'who was also pounding on him.'''

How's that for irony? Danforth lobbies Cheney, nine years before they would run one-two in the running-mate sweepstakes for the presidential run of the president's son (who at the time was considered by his mother to be barely streetable at state functions).

In any event, the St. Louis efforts were to no avail, and a monster legal battle ensued. In 1998, a U.S. Claims Court judge awarded the companies $1.73 billion in damages and interest -- an amount that would have been the largest verdict in history against the U.S. government -- and it was based on the judge's view that Cheney and his Defense Department had not given adequate consideration to the contractors' explanations.

Now I ask you, fellow citizens, do we want a hasty guy like that within a heartbeat of our presidency?

Ah, nothing like a good stretch.

It should be noted, perhaps, that the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the judge's decision, and in May -- more than nine years after the original move by Cheney -- the U.S. Supreme Court refused without comment to hear the appeal. Cheney was vindicated.

Then again, it ain't over till it's over. Undaunted attorneys for Boeing (which gobbled up McDonnell Douglas) and General Dynamics say they have other "legal theories" that will "prevail." The government, for its part, still wants $1.3 billion in payments back from the contractors.

Maybe Cheney will be served with a subpoena right around the time of a St. Louis campaign stop.

Isn't it rich that lifelong hawk Cheney made his lasting imprint on our own little burg by acting like some weak-kneed defense-slasher? Sure, he appears to have done the right thing, but only because cuts were necessitated by the excesses of the Persian Gulf War, fought for Big Oil, which he now calls home base.

Significant? No. But in this moribund election year, every little bit of intrigue helps.

Speaking of irony, the decision to whack the A-12 -- painful as it was for those 5,600 families (and their dependents) here in St. Louis -- is one of the few known instances in which Cheney's public-policy conduct has been commendable.

So don't count on hearing about it much now that he has been tabbed as a running mate by Bush.

In his 10-year career in Congress, he compiled a voting record that was rated -- both by liberal and conservative groups -- among the most conservative in the nation. He received 100 percent ratings on the hawkish National Security Index.

He was anti-abortion and opposed to the Equal Rights Amendment. He was pro-gun to the point of being against a ban on cop-killer bullets and on the import of plastic weapons that could escape detection by airport security. He was for school prayer and against sanctions on South Africa. He was for aiding the Contras and against aiding Head Start. He was a booster of Star Wars and an opponent of the Clean Water Act.

All the while, though, Cheney has maintained the same benign persona that endeared him to the Washington press corps when he was a young chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, the last Republican president to embrace the term "moderate." He doesn't "look" like a far-right-winger.

Cheney did, however, vote like one in Congress. So he represents the best of both worlds to Bush: He carries himself like a traditional, pro-business Republican, but he has taken great care to pay homage to the Religious Right.

Besides, he clearly looks and acts like a grownup. One can't imagine him at one of W's rowdy frat parties. They probably won't even bother asking about former drug use.

Cheney doesn't help Bush with his electoral geography, but he might help teach him geography, at least. And having had his charisma removed at a young age, he will certainly not overshadow the underwhelming guy on the top of the ticket.

There you have it: a bland and uninspiring guy, but one with no particular negatives. Presumably that's why Dick Cheney is seen as a good veep choice for Bush.

But that's not going to put any food on those 5,600 tables in St. Louis, is it now?