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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Profile: Dick Cheney
Paul Reynolds
By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney is a controversial figure in the Bush administration
Dick Cheney has been one of the most influential vice-presidents in American history.

With his quiet but determined demeanour, he has sometimes been seen as an eminence grise behind the Bush presidency.

He was certainly influential in charting the course for war against Saddam Hussein.

And such is his reputation as the "hardman" of the administration that he was used in the Republican Convention to attack Mr Bush's Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry.

Conservative views

He is a man of settled, conservative views and is prepared to act on them.

Such certainty always brings enemies as well as friends, and Dick Cheney is no exception to that rule.

Only rarely does his calm exterior show the feelings underneath. One such occasion came when he publicly swore at Democratic Senator John Leahy. The vice-president said afterwards that it had made him feel better.

There is one exception to his conservatism. He opposed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, a ban supported by President Bush. He did so because he has a lesbian daughter and said that "freedom means freedom for everyone."

Indispensable

Dick Cheney was a surprise choice as a running mate during the election of 2000, but he became such an indispensable part of the Bush administration that his selection for the 2004 campaign was never in doubt.

The appointment of the young North Carolina Senator John Edwards as John Kerry's vice-presidential choice provided a contrast with the older Dick Cheney.

President Bush dismissed suggestions that this reflected adversely on the older man by giving his opinion on the differences between the two: "Dick Cheney can be president," he said.

Health questions

When Dick Cheney was first selected by George Bush, there were questions about his health. He had his fourth heart attack at the end of 2000 and in June 2001 he was fitted with a pacemaker.

But he has shown no signs of further trouble and carried his full share of responsibility in the administration's response to the attacks of 11 September, 2001.

Indeed, a great point was made, at various key moments, of his value as the reliable number two who could become a dependable number one. He was taken to an "undisclosed location" in case something should happen to the president.

This happened so often that jokes were made about the "vanishing" vice-president.

On 11 September itself, Mr Cheney was in the White House and spoke vividly about how two Secret Service agents took both his arms, whisked him off his feet and marched him to the underground command bunker.

Neo-conservative

Dick Cheney has been like a mentor to George W Bush, adding age (he was born in 1941) and gravitas, but his subdued character has also meant that he has never outshone the president.

And yet, he has been more than the steady figure in the background, more than the family friend who was defence secretary and fought the first Gulf War under the president's father.

Colin Powell and Dick Cheney brief the media during the first Gulf War
Cheney was a powerful figure in George Bush Snr's government

He is one of the policymakers known as the neo-conservatives, who believe that their free market and America first principles should lead, not to caution, but to change.

He made important speeches laying out the case against Saddam Hussein. That case has come under question and criticism since, but he has never expressed regret about the Iraq war. There was a sense that he felt that unfinished business had to be completed. He opposed taking the issue to the United Nations, though that was one argument he lost.

Influential

The more influential Mr Cheney has become, the more he has been praised by the right and criticised by the left.

Senator Kerry has attacked his failure to serve in Vietnam. Mr Cheney got several deferments, first because he was a student, then because he got married and had a child.

As vice-president, he led a group looking at future American energy needs.

One of his main conclusions, that the United States needed to drill for more oil and gas, was welcomed by the industry but attacked by conservationists. They said that he was too close to the oil industry, having been chief executive of Halliburton, an oil and construction company, between 1995 and 2000.

When Halliburton won big contracts to help supply the US military in Iraq in 2003, there was further comment, even though Mr Cheney had cut his ties to the firm before the 2000 election.

His supporters see in him the man described by his White House biography: "Vice-President Richard B Cheney has had a distinguished career as a businessman and public servant, serving four presidents and as an elected official. Throughout his service, Mr Cheney served with duty, honour and unwavering leadership."

Insider

He has always been the consummate Washington insider, though his lack of charisma probably meant that he was never destined for the top job by party or voter choice.

He joined the Nixon administration in 1969, working mainly on economic policy. Then, under President Ford, he became White House chief of staff, a position at the centre of power.

His experience also extended to the legislature. He was a Congressman for his home state of Wyoming. He was first elected in 1977 and was re-elected five times before joining the administration of George Bush Senior in 1989.

There is not much that Dick Cheney does not know about Washington.


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