In straying from the usual party line, Cheney scores points for himself and his president

Comedian and talk-show host Al Franken performed at the PRWeek Awards in 2002.

Comedian and talk-show host Al Franken performed at the PRWeek Awards in 2002.

One of his best riffs was on how President Bush's administration leaders have, he said, been forced to dumb down their own language so as not to make the chief executive seem stupid.

Franken's specific target was Vice President Dick Cheney's adoption of the Bushism "evildoers." Cheney, Franken maintained, could not disguise a grimace whenever he had to utter the denouncement. Cheney's loyalty to his president is well-documented; his consistency with the messages - not only of his party, but also of his guy - has been nothing short of lockstep.

All of which made last week's departure from the script startling. The town-hall format in Davenport, IA, and the relatively relaxed posture of Cheney might lead some to believe that he let down his guard. But we all know he's far too smart for that. So what was the motivation? Was it intended as proof that the man has a heart after all? For sure, it was perhaps the first time that there appeared to be warm blood pumping in those veins. Cuddly he isn't, and to date the best proof of Cheney's humanity was the report that he had hurled an off-color epithet at Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) earlier this summer.

It is hard to see the move as anything but admirable. As the father of a gay daughter and someone who has reason to examine the issues from multiple perspectives, Cheney's moment depicted thoughtfulness and tolerance (and also, not insignificantly, a strict adherence to views he had advanced before, in less personal terms).

But the incident does no harm to his boss, either, whose image even now is dimmed by the perception that he is merely the public face of the Cheney administration. Sure, it is possible that a Constitutional amendment on marriage was one political area that Cheney could not, in good conscience, go. But for a smart man like Cheney, able to muster all manner of faulty rhetoric in the name of party unity, the intangible benefits of making Bush seem a little more like his own man would not go unnoted.

Extreme expectations can cloud true success

Managing expectations has become harder than ever. Pity poor Michael Phelps, a 19-year-old kid with a Cadillac and a perfect swimmer's build, who was set up to beat Mark Spitz's Olympic record of seven gold medals by marketing interests and the media. As a result of the hype, his astonishing performance that netted six golds and two bronzes is bizarrely disappointing to a crowd whipped into an unrealistic frenzy.

The Republican National Convention is having the opposite problem, at least in New York City, where it kicks off this week. Has any convention ever been more laden with dire expectation, fueled in part by the overwhelmingly negative vibe emanating from many of the city residents? While no one is wishing for terrorist attacks, obviously,

or any kind of serious security issues, nothing short of the convention's abject failure will satisfy many of those watching.

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